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Ten tips for writing your dissertation


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I supervise many MSc students in their dissertation projects. Writing a dissertation can be challenging, and students are often faced with many obstacles. Here are ten tips that relate to the writing aspect of the dissertation that I believe are important and will help with writing a good dissertation.

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Ten tips for writing your dissertation

  1. 1. Ten tips for writing your dissertation Joost Rietveld | UCL School of Management | | June 13, 2019
  2. 2. 1. Write, and write regularly  Writing is one of the hardest things to do (esp. for non-natives), and getting your point across takes time and requires constant refinement  By revising what you wrote, you will be able to attain clarity of thought, which will help you to better formulate what you trying to convey  A dissertation is an exercise in writing as much as it is an exercise in research
  3. 3. 2. Never lose sight of your research question  Every chapter serves as a piece of the puzzle you are trying to solve  Every chapter tells its own story and serves as a step towards the overarching research question  If you don’t know why you do what you do, how is your audience supposed to know?
  4. 4. 3. Develop a compelling argument  You should be able to summarize your entire dissertation into a concluding paragraph (or even in a tweet) that conveys a compelling argument about your topic  Every chapter functions as a subplot or as a partial argument to the bigger argument you are trying to develop and convey  This argument should be built by using logic, evidence, and structured writing
  5. 5. 4. You are writing for an audience  Remember the different audiences you are writing for  Ask yourself with every sentence you write: “Am I assuming any existing knowledge on the part of my reader? Are there any leaps in my logic?”  Don’t assume your audience knows what is implicit in your writing!
  6. 6. 5. Your RQ will determine your research design  Just collecting some data (from interviews, surveys or secondary sources) will not get you anywhere unless you know which question(s) you are trying to answer  Once you have collected your data, it’s hard to go back or change the structure of your research design; have a plan before putting in the work  A well-defined question will lead to a more focussed (more efficient, effective and enjoyable) research process, which will result in more interesting findings
  7. 7. 6. Focus!  Answering a well-defined and demarcated research question will result in more valuable answers for a smaller group of people; your audience is often restricted  A business plan written with the aim of raising working capital for a new venture will emphasize different aspects than a business plan written with the aim of exploring how to best enter a new geographical market for an established firm  Trying to do too much signals not having clarity of thought…
  8. 8. 7. Be realistic in your statements  We live in a connected world that has been around for a while; it’s highly likely that there is (or was) someone who has done something similar  Draw from external research (be it market research for practitioners or academic literature) to back up your claims and signal validity  You will be perceived as more credible when you set out to do a few things really well rather than doing many things OK-ish
  9. 9. 8. Communicate your contributions clearly  What is it that we did not know before, but know now after having read your dissertation?  How is this specifically relevant for your intended audience?  Be realistic in communicating your contributions. It is better to over-deliver than to over-promise
  10. 10. 9. Acknowledge your limitations  No dissertation is free from limitations. Especially considering the time-constraints you are facing. Pre- empt your audience’s critical reactions  Limitations give your audience something to work with (e.g., future research, mentoring and support for your company, etc.)  Acknowledging limitations and weaknesses signals credibility and validity
  11. 11. 10. Good writing is rewriting…  “I’m not against thinking; I’m only against thinking that thinking on its own will get you out of a hole. Shovel also needed.” - Scott Westerfeld  “I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” - Vladimir Nabokov  “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour
  12. 12. Joost Rietveld UCL School of Management