What is a Dissertation at University and Will You Have To Do One

A dissertation, or thesis, is a substantial piece of research that allows students to showcase their abilities and apply the information they have learned across a typical degree length of three to four years. Dissertations are designed to assess a student’s analytical and research skills in the specific field they are in, and they typically range between 8,000 and 15,000 words, depending on your course.

Within a dissertation, there are many factors and components that have to be completed to build up the final piece of work. However, there is always one starting point: a research idea. Before you start anything else, you must have a solid idea for your research project that has to be assessed and agreed upon by your university lecturers and the head of your course. You will then be assigned a dissertation supervisor with whom you can schedule frequent meetings and receive advice throughout the process.

There are several key components that make up a complete dissertation:

  1. An introduction to your topic
  2. A literature review of existing studies and theories relevant to your research
  3. A methodology explaining your approach to research (qualitative, quantitative, surveys, videos, news articles, etc.)
  4. A results section discussing your overall findings
  5. The analysis and discussion of your results tied in with the previous research mentioned in the literature review and what your findings suggest.
  6. A conclusion discussing the overall purpose of your research, the main points discussed throughout, and any limitations of your research

Besides the main areas of a dissertation, at the beginning of your research project, you must include a cover page with your research title, name, student number, and date of submission (this may vary depending on your university), an acknowledgements page to acknowledge any tutors or family members who helped you along the way, an abstract to summarise your research paper, and a contents page of the sections included in your dissertation alongside page numbers.

At the end of your dissertation, there must be a reference list (or bibliography) including every piece of work (book, article, website, etc.) you have cited and an appendix that must include any data extracts, transcripts, or tables used for your study.

Do I have to do a dissertation?

Due to the variety of qualifications you can study at university, it is not necessary or required for every student to write a dissertation. Different degree programmes have different methods of measuring progress and skill. You may have to sit an exam, conduct a presentation, or complete a spoken exam, with many other approaches available.

However, a final exam is necessary to complete your degree and receive the 40 credits you need to graduate. Although there are different types of exams at university, one thing is clear: no matter what approach your course subject takes, the library will be the place you spend most of your time.

Benefits of doing a dissertation

It may not seem like there are any benefits to a dissertation when you spend months writing it, glued to your laptop, and you forget what the outside world looks like.

However, there are many benefits to the process:

  • Extensive knowledge of a specific topic: Whatever topic you decide to research, you will become a pro in the field.
  • Critical thinking: A dissertation requires in-depth analysis and new insights into the field you have chosen to study, which will allow you to master your critical thinking.
  • Time management and organisation: Studying at university will prepare you for the world of work and post-grad study, and writing a dissertation will allow you to take these skills to the next level.
  • Qualifications for post-grad study: To do a master’s degree, you need to have completed your undergrad studies. Completing a dissertation will give you the required amount of credits to do this.
  • Impress employers: Completing a dissertation could help you secure a job after graduation, displaying your skills and dedication to your work to your future boss.
  • Publication opportunities: Completing a unique and thorough study could include findings that are beneficial to your field of study, and you may be encouraged to publish your work, which could help future researchers.