We love Twitter here at Editing Angel. The main reason we love it is that it lets us help people struggling with their writing by giving them advice and support very quickly. And when we get tweets back saying “Thank you so much! That does help, a lot!” or “You da best” it really does make our day.*

We thought we’d start regularly blogging (at the end of every month) the most frequent questions asked by university students on Twitter, to summarise the most common problems you’re having and the most common advice we’ve been giving you, because often the same or similar questions come up. We’ll also try to dedicate some future blog posts to focus more on each problem individually.

This month has been all about dissertations, particularly the first steps in getting started on them. Often the earliest steps are the most difficult to take, but every step, no matter how small, is another bit closer to a finished dissertation.

I don’t know what to write my dissertation on!

It’s very common to be stressed about making a quick start on your dissertation, but what if you can’t decide on your topic? Read past dissertations from former students in your department, and go to the library and read the abstracts of recently written research papers in your subject area. What topics do you find interesting? Do they make any suggestions for further research you could do? You could extend previous research or do similar research but in a different setting. Discuss your ideas with other students as well as your professors and supervisor, and check if your department prefers particular kinds of research. Once you’re getting closer to deciding, consider the practicalities of your choice such as the amount of time you have, accessing any necessary equipment or sample group, possible travelling and costs. Most important of all is that you are interested in your topic. If you don’t see your research as valuable then it will be difficult to motivate yourself as well as convince others that it’s worthwhile.

How do I write a good dissertation title/question?

A common mistake is to make your title or question too big or simplistic. Finding and defining the focus of your dissertation is essential but not always easy. Some students find brainstorming and creating mindmaps useful techniques to explore possible topic areas. You need to narrow down your topic so it can guide you in your research. You also need to ensure that someone reading your title or question will understand your focus. When working out your title or question, think about an issue you want to investigate, what you want to explore, prove or disprove, and the limits of your research (what you won’t be investigating). Thinking of your title or question as a research problem, making sure everything you do addresses it in some way, will keep you going in the right direction.

For more help writing your dissertation, read the following useful guides:
University of Leicester’s Planning and conducting a dissertation research project
University of Cumbria’s Writing your dissertation
University of Bolton’s Preparing for dissertations and projects

If you need help with your dissertation, take a look at our list of useful resources and links on our website, and if you have an urgent question, just tweet us (@EditingAngel).

* Thanks to Caterina and Justin for their kind thanks.