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Dissertation Tips

Having recently been set my third year dissertation, I’ve attended the 301 ‘Dissertation Planning’ workshop, as well as doing some research and asking people for tips! Here is a collection of helpful hints and tips for planning and writing your dissertation.

Picking a topic

  • For many undergrads, the dissertation is your first opportunity to do your own research so it’s super important to pick something a topic you are interested in! You’re going to have to put a lot of time into this topic so make sure it isn’t something that you are going to get bored of in a couple of weeks time!
  • Your dissertation idea should be something novel and original which hasn’t already been covered by the literature. Think of your dissertation as your own contribution to increasing knowledge in your field! As someone studying a science subject this is really exciting to me – what could be better than discovering something new?!
  • I was advised by my supervisor that if you discover a paper that is the same as your dissertation idea then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new direction or an entirely new topic! My own dissertation topic has gone from prehistoric crocodiles to woolly mammoths for this very reason!



  • Read. A LOT!
  • Make notes on what you have read to keep track of what each paper was, this will make writing your dissertation much easier.
  • And make sure the sources you use are reliable!


  • Write little and often. Writing a few hundred words a day or setting yourself a similarly achievable target will be much less stressful than an all-nighter writing 10,000 words the night before your deadline!
  • Reference as you go along… I always leave referencing til last but that is not something you want to do on a piece of work this big! It always takes longer than you think!


  • Avoid awkward silences in 1:1 meetings by thinking about what you would like the meeting to cover. You could even write an informal agenda for yourself.
  • Talk to your supervisor – this is possibly the first time you’ve had this level of 1:1 assistance from a member of staff… Make the most of them by talking through your ideas and asking questions when you are unsure.
  • Don’t expect them to hand answers to you on a plate though – my own supervisor regularly answers my questions with a question to get me thinking for myself.
  • And don’t be afraid to ask other members of staff or reach out to other experts in the field for their input, most people are happy to share their knowledge with you!



With two months until hand in day I’m not sure how many of these I will manage to stick to but fingers crossed for a successful dissertation!



We are 301 Student Skills and Development Centre and we give academic skills advice to our students at the University of Sheffield. We offer workshops and 1:1 appointments.

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