Writing a Dissertation

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Writing a Dissertation

Choosing a Topic

Getting the right topic is very important – you are going to be living with this piece of work over the next few months, and picking an interesting area of study that you can really investigate is going to help to sustain your enthusiasm.

There are several approaches to choosing a topic for a dissertation. You might like to pursue in more detail an area that you have touched on in current or earlier modules. You may have identified an issue in the media that relate directly to an area you have studied and which you would like to investigate in detail. You may have covered an area of theory that you would like to apply.

How to choose a topic

Select an area that interests you and for which you can identify a body of relevant literature.

Remember to use course materials you have already covered to assist your thinking.

Prioritize the combination of primary and secondary sources in your research. Primary sources may include, for example, official documents, newspaper or magazine articles, or websites as a basis for content analysis, interviews. Secondary sources will usually be academic books and articles but may include websites and other publications related to your topic.

Think about your methodology/is at an early stage. It is most important that you choose appropriate methodological tools to test your hypothesis/es. A simple way of thinking about the hypothesis/es is as the specific question(s)/problem(s) you are investigating. Remember that you can always discuss possible topic areas with members of staff before you finally commit yourself to one particular topic.

Planning your research and writing

Get organized. From the start. Spend time in the initial stages planning your research and writing schedule. Timing your appointments with your dissertation supervisor is part of this process. You need to be as organized as possible to ensure that you make such appointments at times that will be helpful to you in addressing different stages of the research and writing process.

• It is your responsibility to make regular appointments with your tutor and to keep them. We estimate that you will need to see your tutor at least three times in Semester 2.

Assessment criteria

In general, we will be looking for:

  • An original, intelligent, and knowledgeable approach to the topic.
  • The application of appropriate skills and effort.
  • Identification of an interesting problem and clear definition and contextualization of it.
  • Adoption of an appropriate theoretical approach, adequate methodology, and suitable application of them in a competent and effective manner. Recognition of their limitations and strengths.
  • Understanding, analysis, and synthesis of your research findings to arrive at defensible conclusions derived from them.

An authoritative account of the project presented in clear and cogent terms. Marking will focus on … Argument 1. Is there a basic structure and coherence to work as a whole? 2. Are the underlying issues identified, and are specific problems and questions formulated clearly? 3. Has the research been located within a broader framework of inquiry, and have the appropriate sources been drawn upon? 4. Has the material presented been properly synthesized and evaluated?

Research method

1. How well has the problem been formulated and an appropriate methodology selected? 2. How well have the appropriate existing research literature and other sources been used? 3. Have the sources and evidence used been critically evaluated? 4. How well has empirical testing of evidence (as appropriate to the project) been carried out?


1. Logical chapter structure indicating major themes and arguments of the dissertation? 2. Overall clarity of exposition, and accuracy of expression? 3. Appropriate referencing and bibliography? 4. Appropriate use of graphs and tables within the body of the dissertation?

5. Appropriate appendices to indicate, for example, the nature of questionnaires used, summaries of research results, interview material.


Abstract of no more than 100-150 words summarizing the main argument of your dissertation, the problem, and how you have investigated it and your conclusions. Include a word count for the dissertation (excluding any appendices) on a separate line after the abstract.

Acknowledgments (optional)

You may wish to acknowledge the special help and support you feel you have been given during your dissertation work.

Contents page

A content page with the chapter headings and sub-headings and their first page numbers. List of any illustrations (figures, photographs, plates) by number, e.g., Fig. 1, Fig. 2, with their page numbers.


The whole of the dissertation should be paginated, starting with the contents page and including any diagrams, appendices, etc. Start each chapter on a new page.


A list of all the sources you have cited in the text in alphabetical order as a bibliography.


Relevant supplementary material you wish to include. You do not need to include raw data, but summaries of it may be useful, as are copies of questionnaires used, supporting documents, interview transcripts, etc. Items that clarify your research process/findings and which the reader will find of assistance should be included. However, appendices, where applicable, should not be too lengthy. If in doubt about what to include, ask your tutor. Keep your data and have it ready to discuss it with examiners if necessary.


The main body of the dissertation should be 9000-10000 words in length (+/-10 %). This word count does not include diagrams, tables, graphs, and appendices. The dissertation must be word-processed/typed, double-spaced (1.5 or 2 line gaps). When word-processing, make sure you save your work frequently and make back-up copies (preferably kept in different locations) in case of technical problems. Computer malfunctions are a fact of life and not a legitimate excuse for missed deadlines. Allow plenty of time in the end for the preparation of graphs and tables, and for printing. Make sure that you proof the final version, ensuring that everything is in the correct order. Careless errors detract from the quality of your work. All spelling and typographical errors are your responsibility, and you should ensure they are removed from the final version. You must ensure that the contents are complete. Anything missing cannot be assessed as part of the project.


Use the style of the International Communication Association publications. Two examples are Human Communication Research and Communication Yearbooks. These can be consulted in the library. Do this before you begin your project so that you have a clear sense of the conventions. Make photocopies for reference.

References must always be cited by name, date, and usually page number(s) at appropriate points in the text and in full in the bibliography.

If you have a number of works by the same author published in the same year then use letters after the year 1999a, 1999b, etc. and list them in alphabetical order according to the title of the article or book.


If you cite, the words of another person always include these in single quote marks and give the precise reference, including page number(s). Substantial quotes (say over 40 words or two or more sentences) should be indented in the text, again with the precise reference following in brackets. When indenting quotes, there is no need to use quote marks.

Paraphrasing sources

Following the cited information, give the name of the author, date, and page number(s). Remember that any directly quoted material must be in quote marks, including specific phrases, words, or terminology distinctive to the Author’s work.


List all your sources at the end in alphabetical order according to the Author’s surname, then by date, and if necessary, letter. The reference should give: For books: Author(s) surname, then initials. Date in brackets. Title of the book (in italic or underlined). Edition or volume (if relevant). Place of publication: Publisher.

Example: Giddens, A. (1991). The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity.

For journal articles: Author(s) surname, then initials. Date in brackets. Title of the article. Title of the journal (in italic or underlined). Volume and part number (part number in brackets). Page numbers.

Example: Peterson, V. S. (1995). Reframing the Politics of Identity: Democracy, Globalisation, and Gender. Political Expressions, 1(1), 1-16.

For chapters in books: Author(s) (surname, then initials). Date in brackets. Title of a chapter in Author (s) of the book (surname, then initials). Ed. or Eds where appropriate. Title of the book (in italics or underlined). Edition or Volume number (if relevant). Place of publication: Publisher.

Example: Youngs, G. (1997). Political Economy, Sovereignty, and Borders in Global Contexts in L. Brace and J. Hoffman (Eds) Reclaiming Sovereignty. London: Pinter.

With works that have more than two authors, you can use the abbreviation of ‘Smith et al.’ on second and subsequent references. On the first citation, use all names.

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