Where to begin? How to begin? What to do next? Writing a dissertation is quite intimidating especially if you have no idea what it is exactly, let alone the first stage of writing an undergraduate dissertation. Unfamiliarity might make you think that it is a typical research paper, wherein you have to discuss whatever is said in the books, journals, and internet. That is partially true because a dissertation is indeed a research paper, but it is more specific, elaborate, planned, and most importantly, original; and like academic research projects, writing a dissertation requires a student to, first and foremost, read A LOT before following this guide:
Come up with a topic
For you to have an idea regarding the first stage of writing an undergraduate dissertation, you have to understand that unlike typical research papers, the topic of your study is not readily available for you. You have to come up with your own topic, and it cannot be anything that has been well-researched already. This is the main difference between a research paper and a thesis or dissertation. You have to create a study on a topic that is at least ONE of the following:
- Entirely new. No objective data available. Most common type of research topic being proposed by students taking Science courses.
- Relatively new. Little data is available, thus, hypotheses regarding aspects of this topic are still unproven.
- Gap filler. Dissertations cannot cover every aspect of a topic and in the published study, researchers often state the research gaps in their dissertations. You can address that gap.
- Recommended continuation. Again, since a single dissertation cannot cover all aspects of a topic, researchers write recommendations for other researchers so the study can be more profound.
- The Golden Rule: Find a topic that interests you so it would not feel that you are doing this because you are required to do so, but because you really want to know more about it.
Formulate your research question/s
To ensure focus, you need to carefully think about what it is exactly that you want to answer. You can start with just one question because as you do your research, it is inevitable that you will find another question to address, however, it is recommended to not go beyond four questions. Since we are talking about a dissertation that is a requirement at your university, you have a limited time to do your research.
Plan out your variables
Dissertations vary, but these are covered by two umbrella types – qualitative and quantitative research. Keep in mind that once you have chosen which umbrella you will go under, you have to stick to it, otherwise, you will have to start from square one. Think of it this way, qualitative research equals people, places, and things; quantitative research equals numbers, scales, and percentages.
Find the best research method
Now, this is an essential part. Writing a dissertation is not like writing your usual research paper. Dissertations require the presence of first-hand data that is directly extracted by you, the researcher, through surveys, questionnaires, interviews, or group discussions depending on the type of your study.
Plot your timeline
As mentioned, you have a limited time to do this dissertation, hence, time is of the essence. Now that you have your questions, your methods, and your target respondents (or planned variables), you can now set target dates for your to-do list. Finally, write down all these items as if it is an actual chapter of your dissertation. Be formal and organized. You now have your proposal.
All these are the main elements of a dissertation proposal. Read the full guide on how to write a dissertation proposal now.
- Do not forget to take notes. Note everything you feel you need to note – the bibliographical details of your sources, the links, the potential topics, important names, and important dates, among a lot more.
- If you like what you have been reading, tendency is your mind will wander, and in the end, you will have all those wonderful topics, and you cannot decide which one to settle with. Do not panic. Jot them down and carefully evaluate each topic’s significance. From there, work your way out by merging correlated ideas and eliminating well-researched topics.
- Be honest. Never start writing if you know that you have not read that much yet. The more intricate and planned your proposal is, the better chance that your panel will approve of it. It is one step closer to graduation.
- Do not be afraid to ask questions. Talk to your professors, talk to your seniors, talk to other researchers, and you will find yourself acing this slowly but surely.
- Accept criticisms gracefully. Remember that the first draft is always rough. After you are done, you can proceed enhancing and revising it. You can congratulate yourself a little for now you are knowledgeable about the first stage of writing an undergraduate dissertation.