Dissertation Research Organisation

I’m starting to get into the swing of researching for my dissertation. In the past, I have used the risky technique of researching and writing more or less simultaneously, which has worked most of the time even though it’s safer to read first, write later, but I can’t do that this time. The word count for the diss is a strict 8000, which to me isn’t a great deal of space to get across deep and meaningful findings… This is when planning comes in – I want to get everything I want to say within that word count, and not go severely over like I have done in previous essays. I can’t get away with it this time!

And so… a dissertation is split into 3 parts excluding the intro and conclusion – The ‘Literature Review’ (what literature is helpful or not), ‘Methodology’ (what to do), and the ‘Findings’.

For my Lit Review (2000 words), I have written a list of subjects that I want to research. To avoid putting way too many theories into my work (as I have unfortunately done before, losing marks for losing focus), I am limiting the amount of journals / book chapters to read to 10 for now, with the potential to read more if there are any gaps in my field that could be filled (I also have to say if there are gaps that can’t be filled and why).

Why 10? Well, because of maths. I wrote a concise yet deep (I think) draft paragraph the other day which linked two theories together, and that was around 200 words. My guess is that if I have 200 words for each chunk of analysis within the 2000 words limit, then analysing 10 pieces of literature will help me fill those 2000 words with some efficiency and pace. I probably need to do draft paragraphs then copy and paste them into the final document, so that I have an overview of what connects to (or even contradicts with) what, before piecing them together to make a coherent whole. Because the amount of reviews are limited, I can schedule my work better – Say if I read one essay a day, then in 10 days I will hopefully be ready to write the first draft of the full Lit Review.

And then comes the more strait forward part depending on how much I uncovered during the Lit Review. The Methodology (1000 words = 5 x 200 word paragraphs) will show how I go about turning the Lit Review findings into fully fleshed out ‘important’ Findings. Because my subject deals with real life practice as well as theory, I hope to include primary research as well as secondary – So a discussion of questions to ask professionals in the field, informed by the Lit Review, is a good thing to include. I also want to create a strong structure for the Findings, and from the research I have done so far, I have three academically informed areas to explore and relate to each other. That’s 3 out of 5 parts down to make up the 1000 words, as well as the questions taking up another 1 part. I think the 5th part should maybe talk about brand new theories (if any) I have been inspired to explore.

Now to plan the meat of the dissertation. The Findings (3000 words = 3 x 1000 word areas = 15 x 200 word paragraphs) will show how the Lit Review and Methodology will give way to myself filling the gap (or maybe gaps) in academia that I’ve uncovered. Looking into the future, I have 3 x 1000 word areas, hence I can use 5 x 200 word subheadings for each of the 3 sections. With this in mind, I can create a preliminary contents page (or formula, depending on how you see it):

FINDINGS = [Main Umbrella Idea] = (Area A > Points A1, A2, A3, A4, A5 // Area B > Points B1-B5 // Area C > Points)) // Conclusion (500 words)

With this in mind, the limits to what I can do become quite clear. I can’t write about everything and anything when it comes to 1 area, so the focus of the diss comes into play as I filter out the most important points from my research, and mention them only (a fat free essay). Even though limits are in place, I know that I will end up going off on a tangent as the writing process makes me think of additional ideas – thank goodness for that 10% over the word count rule 🙂

This so called ‘organisation’ is merely speculation and opinion about how I’m going about writing my dissertation, and perhaps after all this planning, I’ll end up playing it by ear, seeing what happens, and hope for the best. My third year will be very busy, and it will fly by, so I would like to be clear about what will happen and when so that nothing gets messed up. This is the year that, to me anyway, counts the most – Hopefully planning ahead will make sure that every day counts.

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