What's the best way to research and write your undergraduate dissertation? ARU nursing student Jade shares her top ten tips.
From the end of your second year, your personal tutors and lecturers will start to discuss the big one – your Undergraduate Major Project, otherwise known as your dissertation.
Having just completed mine I feel I have picked up information along the way that is still fresh that I can pass on to help you with yours. Here are ten tips to help you prepare and write your dissertation.
1. Start thinking about your dissertation topic early on
I study Adult Nursing and in my case, there is a list of around 30 or so overarching topics that your topic must come under. However, these are very broad and almost any topic of interest related to nursing can be allocated under one of these headings.
It is really important to talk about a subject that you have a lot of interest in. Your dissertation is going to take you the best part of your third year to complete, and you need to have a vested interest in the subject to be able to cope with the amount of research, reading and writing you will do. Try and think back through your training to things you are passionate about, things that have held your interest or things you want to know more about. This will help narrow your focus and make the time spent easier to deal with.
2. Start your research early
...preferably at the end of Year 2 when you have a break in between assignments and starting third year. To some this may seem very early but I can promise you it is worth it. The last thing you want is to be starting your dissertation and then finding that your topic has little to no primary research on the subject, making it very difficult to write a literature review.
When third year starts there's a lot expected from you in placement, so having some research started will save you hours and hours of crucial time, and help you to understand your topic and focus on what to write using the research available.
3. Scan your notes from your research module
Your dissertation is a literature review and it will help for you to brush up on your research studies as you will be critically analysing pieces of primary research throughout your assignment. I would also advise you to take out a couple of books from the library to do with types of research. I'm not saying you need to read the whole book but I used a couple and it made looking up research types, their advantages and disadvantages and criticism of the work a lot easier.
4. Use the University Library research database
Please make sure that you listen to the lectures from the librarians on how to use the research databases properly and effectively. It is very easy to say but you would be surprised how many students – after having this lecture every year – still return to the University Library and ask for extra teaching on this because they did not pay attention.
You'll need to search properly for research and write a section on how you did this in your dissertation. Not only will this give you marks but you do not want to miss out on important pieces of research because you could not use the databases to the best of your ability. Half of your workload and hours for this project will be finding and reading relevant and appropriate literature on your topic.
5. Make proper use of your dissertation supervisor
Many students make the mistake of leaving contact with their supervisor very late or even not at all. Your supervisor is there to help guide you through your assignment and is the most useful tool you have in writing your dissertation. Make early contact once you know who they are, discuss your topic ideas and keep in regular contact via meetings and email after this. You can tell the difference between the work of those students who have worked with their supervisors and those who haven't.
If you have a particular topic in mind before the allocation of supervisors, you can even contact the allocator to ask for somebody who has an interest in your topic. I knew I wanted mine to be cardiac based and I requested the cardiac lecturer for my supervisor and was granted this, which was invaluable to me.
6. Use helpful resources
Use the module guide, lecture slides and the Cluedo board on ARU's virtual learning environment for guidance on structure and writing your assignment.
All of these tools will have information on the exact order in which things should be presented, the format down to margins and font sizes and will give examples of good pieces of writing in each section. I looked at these early on and made notes on each part, giving me a sound structure to follow and helping me get in the mindset for writing my work.
7. Make a plan before you start writing
Make sure you have a plan and a good solid idea of your themes before starting writing your dissertation.
Your themes take up the main part of your assignment and are what the rest of your review and the title will reflect and discuss. Your themes will come best from looking at your research and seeing what is common there. It is much easier to build your themes around what you have found than to make a theme and try and force your research to fit. This will be obvious and not flow very well reducing your marks considerably.
8. Take regular breaks when writing
It is important not to give your dissertation half an hour's attention here and there as this will break the flow of writing. However, do allow yourself time to relax and enjoy things outside of placement and assignments as this will keep your head relaxed and clearer when studying.
9. Back up your work
Send it to your student email, personal email, save it on your personal computer, the University computer and a memory stick. Regularly update them with your current work. I watched several students in my cohort lose sections of their work and have to start again as they could not find them. This is unnecessary stress for sure and a devastating thing to happen. Avoid this at all costs!
10. Celebrate when you finish your dissertation
Finally, make sure you celebrate and treat yourself once it is over and you've handed your dissertation in. This, for most, will be one of the biggest pieces of academic work and achievement in their life so far and should be celebrated. Buy yourself something nice, treat yourself to dinner, celebrate with friends. Mark the occasion in any way as this will give you something to look forward to once it is complete and will feel wonderful.
Good luck everybody!
Jade studies Adult Nursing at ARU in Chelmsford. Find out more about nursing, and other degree courses, at an Open Day.