Writing dissertations

The purpose of the activities in this section is to enable you to produce an effective dissertation, in accordance with the academic writing conventions followed at British universities. You will learn about the different parts of a dissertation and how they relate to each other. You will also have the opportunity to consider different writing styles and choose the most appropriate for your subject area. Finally, you will consider the importance of developing your own study skills and explore some useful dissertation writing tips and techniques.

What is a dissertation?

In this subsection, you will examine the overall structure of a dissertation and the common information elements found in each part. You will also reflect upon a number of important factors that need to be considered when selecting a topic for your dissertation.

Defining a dissertation and its structure

In this activity you will consider, the difference between a thesis and a dissertation. You will also identify different types of research and consider how the type of research affects the overall organisational pattern of the dissertation.

The elements of a dissertation

You will identify the information elements that the different chapters of a dissertation are likely to include. The numbering system that is typically employed for different sections of a dissertation is introduced.

Selecting a topic for your dissertation

Here you will explore the factors which will help you select a topic for your dissertation.

Focusing on a topic

Here you will learn about techniques that can help you focus on a topic for your dissertation: creating mindmaps, formulating and refining research questions, and developing strategies for reading efficiently.

Brainstorming and mindmaps

You will practise using the techniques of brainstorming and creating mind maps to explore the possible areas you wish to cover in your dissertation.

Research questions and hypotheses

Here you will find out how to formulate and refine research questions. The meaning of the term hypothesis is also discussed.

Accessing and organising the literature for the dissertation 

You will explore effective ways to search for information and read efficiently. You will also find out how to manage, organise and record the literature that you access.

Research proposals, dissertation titles and personal journals

In this subsection you will identify the important elements in a research proposal, practise ways of writing an effective dissertation title, and explore the benefits of keeping a personal journal as part of the research process.

Writing a research proposal for a dissertation

Here you will examine the important information elements that should be included in a research proposal.

Writing an effective title for your dissertation

You will find out how to write an effective title for your dissertation and how to present your title page.

Keeping a research journal or diary

You will explore the value of keeping a research journal whilst conducting your research.

The literature review

Different aspects of a dissertation literature review are explored. You will investigate the multiple purposes for which sources are cited in a literature review, explore different techniques for integrating sources into your text, consider the meaning of criticality in a literature review, and learn about strategies for giving your own voice prominence in your writing.

The multiple purposes of a literature review

This looks at how a literature review can be structured. It also considers the variety of purposes for which the related literature is used in a dissertation.

Integrating sources

Different citation practices are introduced and the variety of ways in which the literature can be integrated into a text are considered.

Establishing your own position

You will learn about the organisational and linguistic techniques you can use to establish your own position in relation to the literature you are citing.

How to be critical in a literature review

Here, the meaning of 'being critical' in a literature review is explored.

Making linguistic choices

You will examine some of the linguistic strategies you can use to show your strength of commitment to the work you are citing.


Here, the different purposes of dissertation abstracts are considered. You will identify the common information elements in abstracts and the tense and voice changes that often occur in the text.

The purposes of a dissertation abstract

The various purposes of abstracts are explored. You will also analyse two abstracts to identify the different information elements which can be included.

Choices of verb tense and voice in different parts of an abstract

You will look at the changes in verb tense and voice that are likely to occur in an abstract and consider the reasons for these choices.

Writing and revising a draft abstract

Here you will have the opportunity to write a draft for your own dissertation abstract while considering the common information elements, as well as tense and voice choices.


This subsection explores different aspects of a dissertation introduction. It focuses on its various functions, the common information elements it contains and its organisational structure. The differences between the dissertation introduction, abstract and literature review are also examined.

The purpose of an introduction and different information elements

You will focus on the purposes of dissertation introductions, their common information elements and their organisational structure.

Abstracts and introductions

The differences between a dissertation abstract and introduction are examined.

The relationship between the introduction and the literature review

Here the difference between an introduction and a literature review is discussed. You will also look at examples of how the initial chapters of a dissertation can be organised.

Research methodology

Here you will be introduced to the methodology section of a dissertation. The typical information elements and possible organisational structures will be presented. You will also focus on using appropriate verb tense and voice when describing your methodology.

Typical information elements when describing your methodology

You will be introduced to the methodology section of a dissertation and consider what information elements are typically included. You will then read four extracts and be given practice in identifying different elements. You will consider the different ways that methodology sections can be organised.

Common tense choice and voice choices

You will be given practice in choosing appropriate verb forms to complete short extracts which describe the methodology.

Presenting and discussing findings

In this subsection, you are introduced to the various ways in which findings can be presented in dissertations. In particular, this section will cover the difference between the presentation of findings in a dissertation based on empirical research and in a library-based dissertation. You will also examine techniques for integrating tables and figures into a text.

Presenting findings from empirical research studies

You will explore the various ways in which research findings can be presented in a dissertation.

Including tables and figures in your dissertation

Here important techniques for integrating figures and tables into a text are presented.

Presenting findings in library-based dissertations

You will look at examples from library-based dissertations which illustrate the way findings are integrated into these types of text.

Interpretation and discussion

This subsection examines approaches to the discussion and interpretation of findings. The session includes an overview of the common information elements in the Discussion chapter of a dissertation, an analysis of the different meanings of interpretation, and practice in techniques for expressing different degrees of certainty in your writing.

Common elements in discussion chapters

You will consider the different ways in which you can organise the final chapters of your dissertation. The common information elements of the Discussion chapter of a dissertation are presented and explored.

Different ways of interpreting findings

You will explore the various meanings of interpretation and analyse examples in texts.

Expressing degrees of certainty 

You will practise the various language techniques available for expressing different degrees of certainty about your findings and interpretations.

Conclusions and dissertation writing techniques

In this final subsection, you will examine the role of the conclusion in a dissertation and its links to other sections. Typical information elements will be presented. You will also focus on the need for cross referencing within a dissertation. You will consider a number of general techniques which will help you throughout your dissertation.


You will consider the role of a conclusion in a dissertation and how it is linked to other sections. You will also look at the different information elements often found in a conclusion.

Cross referencing between dissertation chapters 

You will look at how authors refer back to previously given information within a dissertation and consider why it is necessary to cross reference in longer texts.

Time management, dealing with writer's block and revision strategies

Here you will focus on the importance of planning your time carefully during your dissertation. You will then be introduced to a number of strategies to help you keep writing. Finally, you will think about the importance of proof reading your work and making revisions.