28 July 2015
‘Dissertation’ had always been a big and scary word. After hearing students in the years above me stressing over their dissertations, and telling stories of not eating, sleeping or being sociable while writing them, the idea of dissertation time filled me with dread.

Yet I was pleasantly surprised with the levels of support we received and how manageable the 10,000 words are if you plan your time well. Writing my dissertation became the most enjoyable part of my degree, after originally being the most feared.

In the summer of second year, I began exploring possible topics through reading and watching relevant media. These topics included consumption practices in charity shops, the experiences of women in the workplace, and a critique of the television programme The Apprentice, which I quickly lost interest in. I thought about the types of questions I wanted answered in the hope that it would keep me inspired and motivated in my research. For me, the concept of the ‘home’ was something I had always been unsure of, with my flatmates returning home once or even twice a week whereas I had no desire to return. Distance away from the family home had always been a factor that I assumed determined the attachment, and so became interested in the comparison between the experiences and understandings of International students and UK students. I had studied the home for one week in a consumer culture and advertising module, but the fact I hadn’t previously studied the home in great depth was refreshing and allowed me to gain enjoyment from exploring and critiquing the concept without prior knowledge.

After submitting a short piece on my area of interest, we were assigned a dissertation supervisor, with whom we would have group tutorials and one-to-one sessions. Each session had an aim and a worksheet to be completed beforehand, with targets such as deciding on a title to be completed by the end of the session. The group format allowed us to discuss ideas with each other and the tutor, as well as giving an informal presentation to the rest of the group where we gained written and verbal feedback. During this time we were writing our dissertation proposals, which we received our grade and feedback from in individual meetings with our supervisor in week 10.

Taking the feedback into account, we could then begin our dissertations. As I was doing a research-based dissertation I had to select eight final year undergraduate participants for my focus group; four of whom had to be International students and the other four UK students, with an equal gender divide within the group. My research aims were to encapsulate the experiences and understandings of the students, identifying any patterns between UK and International student status, and any gender implications. I was also interested to see whether their perceptions of home had changed since their first year of study, and whether it is important to make the university ‘homely’.

I felt a focus group was the most suitable method for my research as it allowed for discussion between the individuals, creating opportunities for debate and support. I made sure all the participants were aware of what the intention of the research was through the information sheet and consent form, in addition to providing cake as an appreciation for their time and participation. The focus group was recorded and transcribed to allow for data analysis to take place. Relevant literature was then applied to the findings. This process took the most amount of time, and was not the most interesting part of the process by far, but it was essential before beginning to write the dissertation.

The way I divided up the word count meant that my biggest chapter was only 2000 words, which made it easy to reach the word count, and even easier to go over it! I had to learn to be concise, and it was heart-breaking to delete over 2,000 words of my methodology section, but you have to be brutal to stay within the limit. I would say the actual writing of the dissertation took the least amount of time, but it is the most important aspect as only your supervisor will know all the background work you have put into it. I had to expand my vocabulary to ensure I wasn’t repeating the same words and phrases over and over again (granted I used the word ‘home’ 418 times in the final version, but that was unavoidable).

After having successfully completed my dissertation, there are a few survival tips I would suggest for future students:

  • Be realistic with your timetable: don’t kid yourself that you will do work when it is likely that you won’t. With other assignments and deadlines over the same period, you need to organise your time well.
  • Participants: avoid asking your friends to participate in studies that can get too personal as it can make things awkward and uncomfortable when you are analysing or being analysed by them. Ask reliable people.
  • Start early: you will more than likely change your idea, and there is a lot of background work that needs doing that isn’t included in the word count so allow plenty of time for changes
  • Reference as you go!
  • Everybody divides up their word count and chapters differently so don’t worry if yours is different; if your supervisor hasn’t flagged it then just focus on your own dissertation.
  • Allocate enough time to reread and edit each chapter! You will get very bored and distracted when re-reading but keep at it. Book a session or workshop with the university writing support staff early for extra opinions.
  • Write an acknowledgements page, it’s not a requirement but it’s nice :)
  • Make sure that you budget enough for printing (preferably in colour for the title page) and binding your dissertation, £10 should be enough for both :)
  • Not to scare you but the dissertation is an eighth of your degree, so give it a lot of attention.

Good luck!! You will be fine :)

By Shannon Regan