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Dissertation: how to get you started

Dissertation tips

by Sarah Braun, Chief Editor of the Horizons University Writing Center

Writing a dissertation can at first seem like quite a daunting task. With so much information readily available at our fingertips via a simple Google search, it can be difficult to sift through everything the Web has to offer. A student can spend countless hours reading article after article, web page after web page, yielding very little in quality results. This can be both discouraging and frustrating.

 How can you avoid wasted energy and make the most of your search for quality research?

How to choose your topic?

First, it is important to remember that what you require is not endless amounts of information, but the right information. The best way to ensure you are headed in the this direction is to first choose the right topic. Make sure the research you will be doing is truly something that peaks your interest, is important to you, and will make a valuable contribution to your field (e.g. identifying an existing problem that needs to be solved). Having a concrete idea of what you wish to accomplish in your dissertation is the first step to understanding what kind of information you need to look for within your available resources.

Lists are your best friends

Your next goal is to identify which resources will be the most beneficial to the problem you are trying to solve and the questions you wish to answer. Because you have your topic solidified, you will already be able to narrow your research field. It may be helpful then for you to make a list of your available resources which may look something like this:

  • University libraries and E-libraries

(a list of e-libraries available to Horizons University students can be found in Moodle here, among them BIG, Bookboon and Directory of Open Access Journals)

  • Relevant seminars or conferences that will bring you information on what areas are currently being researched, how they are being carried out, and where the research frontier exists.
  • Journals, working papers, and publications of your peers and professors in the same field. (a great resource for this type of information can be found at and both online platforms that allow you to explore research on various topics and follow the work of others, free to sign up and use).
  • Social networks and email. Reach out and connect with peers, professors, and other students to discuss your topic. (LinkedIn can be a useful tool in starting discussion in relevant groups or sending messages to individuals with similar interests).

Time to write!

This may seem like a great deal of information to sift through, but it is more about revisiting your question against these resources each time that will move you forward. Conversation with your advisor and other individuals is key. Ask questions. Then write, write, write. The more you review your ideas and address the question you are trying to answer with your research, the more refined and solid your argument will be.

This should be enough to get you moving in the right direction. Get excited! You are well on your way to writing a quality dissertation.

Credits: DeathToTheStockPhoto