It’s dissertation time again

It’s that time of year again when Masters students are busy and engrossed with their dissertations. For many of them, it is their first attempt at doing their own piece of independent research. As a dissertation supervisor and academic skills developer, I really enjoy the process of working with students as they bring their dissertation projects together – it’s really rewarding to see how many of them become so engrossed and passionate about what they are doing. As the dissertation is such a significant piece of writing, there are always challenges along the way with both the writing and the research. So each year, I look for useful resources that might be helpful to students. Often these have a different focus and they cover topics such as such as managing time when writing, writing style, putting together a coherent argument among others. Resources I’ve written about previously are listed here

Obviously, lots of universities have their own useful resources and these tend to be tailored for doing a dissertation in that particular institution.

Others I have come across recently:

Dissertation dos and don’ts from the Guardian: how to write your dissertation  

The No-Fail Secret to Writing a Dissertation – aimed primarily at PhD students but useful tips on writing every day which will also be relevant for Masters students.

Books on writing dissertations which students may find helpful:

Biggam, J. (2011) Succeeding with your masters dissertation: a step-by-step handbook. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Bitchener, J. (2010) Writing an applied linguistics thesis or dissertation: a guide to presenting empirical research. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Bolker, J. (1998) Writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day: a guide to starting, revising and finishing your doctoral thesis. New York: H Holt.

Furseth, I. (2013) Doing your masters dissertation. London: Sage.

Hart, C. (2005) Doing your masters dissertation: Realizing your potential as a social scientist. London: Sage.

Murray, R. (2006) How to write a thesis. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Rudestam, K. (2007) Surviving your dissertation: A comprehensive guide to content and process. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sumerson, J. (2014) Finish your dissertation, don’t let it finish you. New Jersey: Wiley.




Writing and thinking versus speaking and thinking (aka musings on using dictation software)

I haven’t written on this blog for quite a while because I recently fractured my wrist after taking a tumble walking out on the North Downs. It’s my left wrist and I’m left-handed and as it’s a carpal bone it’s taking a long time to heal. One of the many consequences of my injury is that I am unable to hand write or use a keyboard.

After what has seemed like many frustrating weeks of tapping the keyboard with my less than competent right fingers (painfully slowly!), I am now using Dragon software. For readers not familiar with this, it’s very handy dictation software. It’s been taking a bit of getting used to but I am now finding it very helpful and I have written this piece today with Dragon.

However, dictating what goes on a page involves a very different thinking process to handwriting or tapping things out on a keyboard and I’ve been thinking a lot about this difference. For straightforward tasks like the majority of emails dictating them is great and really easy. But when I’m doing more formal academic writing, I find that the actual physical process of writing helps to advance my thinking and to resolve problems. Sometimes I find the best way of getting through writing difficulty is to move away from the computer and take a notebook and pencil and simply write, cross things out and make a mess. Speaking in the form of dictating to the computer is quite a departure and I’ve been finding it a bit more difficult. For example, I’m writing up a report on some surveys for a project I manage so it’s in an academic style. It feels as though dictating what I want to write, saying it out loud is more challenging. Of course, I know from my PhD research that speaking is believed to facilitate the development of understanding (e.g. Barnes, 1992) but this is about speaking with another person and collaborating. I am not so sure about the monologue involved in speaking to the computer. Having said all this, speaking my thoughts about what I want to write is still helpful, it’s just not what I’m used to. One of the advantages I’m finding is that it’s enabling me to write in a more informal style which although not always appropriate, has its own benefits and, it could be argued, is adding a new dimension to my writing. So once my hand is healed, I will probably still find some uses for the dictation software because I think it’s giving me access to a different kind of writing and thinking.


Barnes, D. (1992) The role of talk in learning, IN: Norman, K. Ed. Thinking Voices: The Work of the National Oracy Project. Oxford: Blackwell, 123-138.