By Stella Klein
Once you have your outline sorted and you’ve got a pile of research notes together, it’s time to knuckle down and start writing. You need not necessarily start at the beginning – in fact, introductions are often easier to write at the end when you know how your argument has developed.
Get going on the bits you know you’ll find easy, then use your outline to put them together in the right order. You’ll find areas that need further research, so be prepared to revisit the library as you’re going along.
Your style of writing is crucial to communicating your ideas effectively. A well-planned and researched dissertation can be let down by poorly expressed ideas or unclear phrasing. Allowing plenty of time for writing will avoid this.
Be prepared to work through two or three drafts, refining your work each time, before you are happy with the end result.
Finding your style
During your research you will have read a number of scholarly articles. Select a recommended academic text that you find easy and enjoyable to read. Study the structures and work out how arguments are presented. Collect good examples of vocabulary and punctuation.
Consider how techniques used by the author convince the reader of their argument and see if you can apply them in your own writing.
In an essay of this length, sub-headings are a useful way of breaking up the text and signaling to the reader what stage you have reached. Tweak these sub-headings as you move through each draft to ensure they still provide a useful overview of the section.
Avoid repetition. Look out for any words or phrases that have already been stated or implied elsewhere in the sentence and cut them out.
For example, if you’ve written “Many countries were reluctant to declare war while others on the other hand did not hesitate”, you may like to change it to “Many countries were reluctant to declare war; others did not hesitate”. Reading your work aloud will help you spot clumsy sentence structure.
As you write your essay, it is worth distinguishing the key points in your discussion from less important supporting ideas. Aim to give full weight to your key points by giving them each a sentence of their own. Elaborations and detail can be added in subsequent sentences.
It is a common mistake to think that the longer the sentence, the cleverer it sounds. It is important to remember that every word conveys a unit of meaning on its own, however small, so the more words there are in a sentence, the harder it will be for the reader to grasp the meaning within it.
Instead of adding on clauses, introduce the next point in a new sentence. Connective words and phrases – however, consequently, but, so – can be placed at the start of the new sentence if necessary, to indicate its relationship to the previous one and make your work flow.
Although your dissertation should contain your own original thought, you will also want to refer to the ideas of other writers on the topic.
Your dissertation should critically evaluate those ideas and identify what problems remain in your area of research and what has not yet been explored.
You can also use the work of others as evidence to back up your own argument – when doing this, ensure you add a footnote to signpost clearly to the reader the original source of the point you are making.
Perfect your bibliography
Make sure you have a sufficient number of references to books, articles and sources you have used – check with your tutor what is expected.
Some should be primary sources, which means non-academic material such as newspapers, interviews, cave paintings, train timetables, statistics. You will also quote secondary sources, which are usually academic articles that analyze primary sources.
There are lots of different referencing style guides such as those put out by the AHRC, MHRA and Harvard. Your academic department will tell you which one they use, and you will need to follow instructions to the letter. Consistency is critical, and you’ll have to pay close attention to details such as punctuation.