Not all undergraduates in the UK have to submit a dissertation plan, but those that do should probably consider themselves lucky. In fact, even those studying at universities or colleges where a dissertation plan is not a formal requirement would do well to perform this extremely useful exercise.
A dissertation plan need be no more than 500 or 1,000 words, and taking the time to put together a well thought-out plan is an investment, as it will form the basis of your dissertation proposal and reduce the amount of time you waste once you begin.
So, if you’re going to reap the rewards of writing a dissertation plan, these are the details you need to include:
What’s the dissertation about?
Finding a central theme for your dissertation can take longer than you might like, but you shouldn’t be too concerned if you don’t hit on the perfect topic straightaway. For help finding the right topic for you, consider:
- Topics you’ve always wondered about
- Controversial subjects in your field of study
- Old lecture notes and essays
- Things you feel passionate about
- Journals and news reports related to your subject
Choosing a question
Once you have chosen your topic, you then need to settle on a question you can answer in a specific and focused way. If you usually exceed word limits, think smaller and try to narrow your focus down to one aspect of your topic; if you often fall below word counts, try linking a couple of related areas within your topic together.
At this stage, keep in mind that your question is not set in stone, as you can modify and refine it as you go through the dissertation writing process. Once you think you’ve settled on a question, ask yourself:
- Will it keep me interested?
- Do I have enough resources to answer it?
- Is there someone I can turn to for help if I get stuck?
And, if you’re still struggling to define your question, this video tutorial from the University of Reading might help.
An outline plan
In its broadest form, the general dissertation structure includes an introduction, the main body of your work, and a conclusion. You should include a brief outline of what each of these sections will include in your plan.
As an example, the outline of your introduction should include:
- What you are going to examine
- How you are going to examine it (concepts/theories/studies etc)
The main body should be broken down into:
- Setting out areas of research
- The main argument or theme
- The counter argument or theme
And the outline of your conclusion should include:
- What you expect to find
- How will you have answered the question
Start listing your sources
You’ll have inevitably stumbled across a number of sources in the process of working through points 1-3, but at this stage, you might not appreciate just how wonderful they are. One piece of advice the professional essay writers swear by is to keep track of your sources as you go.
So, when you’re planning your dissertation, keep a note of all the sources and page numbers you think might be helpful. There’s nothing worse than knowing there’s an excellent source out there, but simply not being able to find it. This will also help to compile your bibliography.
Review and adjust
What do they say about the best-laid schemes of mice and men? They often go awry. But the beauty of having a plan in the first place is the potential to adjust the relevant headings when new ideas arise. The result will be a more focused piece of work.