Academic Skills

Helping you get the most out of your studies

Getting started on your final dissertation

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Choosing a suitable dissertation topic may not be a straightforward task as there are many complex factors to consider. However, the earlier you explore and consider possible themes and ideas the better. Firstly it is important to choose something you are generally interested in, and not something that you believe you should be writing about. Remember, you will be focusing a lot of time and effort into this single piece of work over a period of months, thus your interest and motivation are critical to successful completion.

A dissertation can be connected to a future career move, or around focus topics in the ‘real’ and non-academic world, however, more importantly it is first and foremost a work of academic research. Therefore you have to find the right balance of personal interest, and what is available to study. This means that you will have to be realistic about what is achievable within the time you have to complete your dissertation. There could be many areas that may hold your interest, and you think are worthy of researching, but ultimately a dissertation must be attainable.

In addition, you have to be flexible. It is inevitable that your dissertation will change during the course of undertaking it, as you read more literature and discover new research ideas. Being flexible is important in the research process, and is good academic practice but it does not mean that the areas you have worked on already have been a waste of time. They will have helped shaped your research direction, and can also be used as part of your literature review if still relevant.

Finally, it is also important to keep checking the topics and ideas that you are considering with your supervisor, as he or she can guide you in the early stages,  particularly whether your dissertation topic is achievable, and he/she can also provide you with connected areas of research,  key authors and useful sources. This dialogue  is something you should also try to initiate as early as possible.

So good luck, and start reading now!

Dave Evans is a  Graduate in MSc International Development & MA TESOL and Academic Skills Teaching Fellow at The University of Bath


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