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How to Plan a Dissertation

How to begin planning a dissertation:

For me, the summer vac was spent lounging around in jogging pants and snacking on various carbohydrate filled snacks... sounds dreamy huh? Well, not quite. The reason for this is that I have arrived at my final year and therefore the vacation is a just a conveniently placed break from Oxford during which I am expected to plan and begin researching my dissertation. This has proved more difficult for me than I first anticipated, not simply because it is so far into the vacation that I have forgotten how to write but because it is a genuinely hard process. I have a title now, thankfully, but I could have done with some pointers when I was first getting on with the planning stages and that is why I have come up with this five step process for the initial planning stages of a dissertation or thesis (this also works for the Extended Project Qualification). 

  1. Find out the requirements of the thesis from your subject department or project supervisor. These requirements could include word counts, guidelines on inclusion of first hand research and just general pointers regarding the format of the final product. In order to plan your thesis, you must know what is expected and required of you.

  2. Brainstorm topics within your subject area that you have most enjoyed or been inspired by. There is no point trying to write a dissertation on a topic that doesn't engage or push you. You will spend many, many hours reading in depth and studying this subject area and so, for your mental state above all else, choose something that you will actually enjoy learning about!

  3. Within these enjoyable subject areas, think about and zoom in on particular aspects that make you want to ask questions and find out more. Once you have chosen a theme or basic area of your wider subject, it is necessary to zoom even further in to find a question. Think of it like Google Maps - if you want to find out more about the buildings in a certain area for example, it is much more informative to zoom right in to a specific town than to look at the whole country. 

  4. Research Academics at your university in order to find out whether getting a suitable supervisor for your chosen topic is viable. A supervisor is your first point of contact during the writing process of your thesis; they will provide you with useful new ideas, constructive criticism etc... It is therefore very and I mean very important that you find a supervisor who has expertise in an aspect of your work. You may wish to have 2 supervisors if this works better with your topic. Don't expect Academics and Professors to come easily though, you need to really hound them with emails which should present a succinct plan/brainstorm of your ideas.

  5.  Choose challenging command words for your thesis title which will push you to create a more complex write up. Once you have a topic and a supervisor, you need to start thinking about how to word your question. The best way to do this is to think about command words or phrases i.e. discuss, assess the usefulness of. These words will enable you to plan your writing much more easily and provide easy scope for evaluative writing

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