Student life: how to write a dissertation – top tips
Dissertation deadlines, for many students, are just around the corner. With any luck you’ll have written, honed and perfected your essay and will be all ready to get your magnum opus bound.
However, if you’re still fussing over the finer points of your argument, or, worse still, have yet to start typing, a top professor from the University of Cambridge has compiled a list of top tips to make sure your dissertation stands out.
Don’t save up your killer argument till the end – it has to be right there in the first paragraph. Look at it from the point of view of the reader – let’s face it, an easily bored academic often with poor reading habits.
Think of it as a movie, and not as a documentary. In fact, think of it as a James Bond movie – with the teaser right at the beginning. Start with a bang not with a whimper.
Talking of argument – it has to be strong and coherent (regardless of whether or not it is right). You are relying on the argument to hold together the whole essay.
So long as the core argument is strong you can afford to digress and go off in different directions. Think of it as the recurrent melody of a song (can a song be right or wrong?) or the refrain – which can be restated at different points.
Don’t be too deferential to great authors. You don’t have to be polite or say nice things about, for example, Balzac or Chaucer.
For one thing, they are dead, so they won’t mind. But, for another, everybody tends to agree that they are good anyway, so don’t faff around with the homage. Get to the point.
And, if relevant, what about tossing in noncanonical authors? For example, Jules Verne or H.G. Wells – or advertising, prayers, valedictions of the period.
Be brutal. The point here is that, whatever you say – for example, about Dante’s Divine Comedy – it’s going to be a bit of a misrepresentation anyway. Embrace the unfairness, the injustice and the imperfection. Be selective, be prejudiced.
Crucial. If you are writing an essay on Marcel Proust, don’t try and be Marcel Proust. Obviously, he is better at it than you are. Be more like Ernest Hemingway. Or, OK, if you’re writing about Hemingway, then be like Proust. Or at least different.
Jokes are OK. Occasional ones are definitely permitted. Or wit. Or just style. And don’t keep recycling Wikipedia for goodness sake. And don’t keep going on. Get to the end and then stop.