Slice’s Scholarly Guide to Dissertation Writing.
Part of the requirements of the Information Design course is a 10,000 word dissertation in your final year. I just finished a final draft of mine yesterday, and it’s a pretty great feeling. Very satisfying. Very relieving. Not sure about rewarding just yet, but here’s hoping.
Anyway, considering the arduous process that this has been, I thought it would be helpful to others to document this process and what I found helpful. Hopefully this will help you to avoid writing your Chapter One three times, like I had to do.
So, for all you non-scholarly folks forced to make your way through tedious academic procedures, may I present
Step 1: CHOOSE AN INTERESTING TOPIC.
I can’t emphasise how important this is, mostly for your own sanity. When you sit with a research paper for six/seven months of your life you want to make damn sure that you are not going to get bored with it. Remember to make your topic as specific as possible. This isn’t a Doctorate, or a Master’s thesis – you don’t have the time or the space to be general.
Step 2: PLAN.
Having a solid plan for you to follow makes your life a lot easier when it comes time to sit down and write. And when I say plan, I mean PLAN. Plan out a timeline, figure out what research you need to get, figure out how you are going to get it, and make sure that you know what you want to say. Be very clear with yourself from the beginning what it is you are writing about, because this will guide everything else that you do.
This leads into your research proposal. Spend a lot of time on this, because if it’s good then it’s your Chapter One, done. Again, I’m going to tell you to know what you want to say, because it makes everything else so much easier. When you know what you want to say you plan out how you are going to say it. Get all of your research together and from that filter out key points to support your argument. Don’t even worry about the order yet, just get out everything that you need in order to say what you want to say.
After you have mapped out everything that you want to say, structure your argument. Look at all of the points you have written down, and number them so that you know where in your argument they belong. Make it logical. Anyone should be able to follow your argument. And if you don’t even know what’s going on, don’t expect anyone else to. Just keep reworking it until it works. And you’ll know when it works.
Step 3: FOLLOW YOUR PLAN.
Stick to your timeline.
Stick to your structure.
All you need to do now is connect the dots. Easy, right?
The thing is, if you put your energy into the right place, it really is.
KEEP IN MIND:
Define your terms. Anyone should be able to follow your argument. Therefor, when you use an uncommon or specific term, define it for your reader so that there is no question about what you mean. Also, define your key terms within the context of your study. For instance, I focused on narrative within TV title sequences. Therefor, I had to explain what a title sequence is, what the difference between a title sequence for film and for TV is, and what exactly the term “narrative” refers to. Remember: clarity is key.
Believe in what you are arguing. If you’re not even convinced, how do you expect to convince someone else? If you firmly believe in something, then say so. Just be clear about when something is your own opinion, and about how you make your deduction.
Take advantage of your study leader. They are there to help you. If they don’t want to help you, tell somebody who can do something about it. MAKE them help you. They are being paid to help you. It’s their job. And they know what they are doing, so take full advantage of their knowledge and their resources. Ask for their advice and opinion. Outside input is always beneficial and can help you to gain insight.
Proof read EVERYTHING. THREE TIMES. At least. You don’t want to spend all that time crafting an impeccable argument only to be let down by some stupid typos. It’s a schlep, I know, but it’s worth it. Read it aloud to yourself. It will also make you notice inconsistencies or other small things that you skim over when you just read mentally. Do this as you go along and again when everything is done. Attention to detail is always impressive.
Learn from the experience. It’s what it’s there for, right? When you put that much effort into something and you don’t gain any new knowledge from it, then you’ve chosen the wrong topic. Make it interesting and worthwhile for yourself.
That’s it, folks. I hope my experience can help make yours a little bit easier.