Top Tips on Writing a Dissertation: Choosing your topic

I’m going to do a mini-series on advice for undergraduates (mostly geography but anyone can follow this advice) writing a dissertation. It is probably the biggest part of your degree and if carried out properly, the most rewarding. Here is my tips on the first stage of your dissertation: choosing your topic

Pick something that interests you.

I cannot emphasize this point enough. You are spending a year reading, writing, reading, researching and reading (there’s lots of reading btw) about this. Make sure it isn’t boring to you. I personally find exclusion, inequality and meanings of place fascinating, whilst politics bores me to death. Hence, my dissertation was on homelessness, rather than providing a comprehensive analysis of the Agricultural Policy in Cornwall. Chances are, the things that you are good at, interest you. Think about your strengths, your interests, your career path and pick an idea based on that.

Pick something with a decent amount of research done on it.

There is a hell of a lot of reading involved in a disseration. So please pick something that has a reasonable amount of resources you can draw on. Your literature review will be impossible to write if there are only 4 papers from the 1980’s that have a weak link to your topic. Of course you will be drawing on broader topics, themes and concepts, but being able to find specific papers that directly relate to your project makes it a lot easier.

But not too much!

Don’t just repeat the work that has already been done. The whole point of your dissertation is to provide some new knowledge. So don’t pick a subject that has been done to death. Find something where there are gaps- bonus points if its a new and emerging area of your field. The more original it is, the higher your grade will be.

Pick a good adviser

This is hugely important. My dissertation adviser was the nicest person I could have hoped for. He reassured me when I was convinced everything was rubbish, pushed me so that I developed ideas outside my comfort zone, shared papers, tips and past experiences with me and was everything I could have wanted in an adviser and more. He replied to my emails quickly and was always happy to have a meeting if I asked for one.

One the other hand, one of my friends had a rubbish adviser who showed no interest in her project, insulted her proposals and offered zero support during the write up.If you can choose your adviser, pick someone you know is knowledgeable about your subject, organised, keen to help and you get along with!

Be realistic

It is only a dissertation for an undergraduate degree. It is not a masters or PhD- it does not have to change the world of geography or transform lives. You do not have to cover every single piece of literature ever written and you do not have to find multiple solutions to all your problems. 12,000 words sounds a lot but it is quickly used up! As long as you make some contribution to knowledge then you are fine!

 

Good luck and feel free to ask any questions for further help!

xoxo

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