How to research and write a dissertation

by Professor Jill Manthorpe, director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King's College London.

by Professor Jill Manthorpe, director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London.


Don’t leave it too late

You think you will have all the time in the world but it flies away. How do you manage deadlines which appear a long way ahead? Do you work methodically or do little bits here and there? If you leave it too late, you will not have time to do the research; but more importantly, you will not have time to think.

Check and double-check

Ask your friend/mum/partner to read your dissertation too. They will be able to spot mistakes. Does it matter that you have not delivered a near-perfect manuscript? Well, yes, in that the assessor will be awarding some marks for presentation. Why waste them? In a dissertation, getting references correct and ensuring they are included in the text/bibliography are also important. Your marker has probably developed a sixth sense in this area and will spot those that are missing or unobtainable. Don’t annoy them unnecessarily.

In a large piece of work, structure matters

This means being careful about introductions and summaries; about cross-referencing one part of the dissertation to another and using subheadings, bullet points and boxes. Many peer-reviewed articles have got this down to a fine art: see how they do it.

Look at the British Journal of Social Work, the Journal of Social Work Practice, Research Policy and Planning, and Health and Social Care in the Community.

Keep to the point

In a large piece of work it is easy to get off track. Your original plan should be referred to: start by describing this overall plan, perhaps, and then detail the contents of each chapter. Linking each chapter may be a good way of keeping the flow of your argument going (the “bunch of sausages” approach).

A dissertation is your chance to look at things in depth

It provides you with the opportunity to learn about one area, describe and define it, and drill deep. You should be able to identify the main intellectual debates around your subject and provide a critical overview. Now is your chance to be an expert – make the most of it!

Do you have questions about dissertations or essays? Get advice from fellow students on CareSpace.

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