Ah, the dissertation. That one word that everyone dreads to hear when they begin their final year of university. But why is it that we view the dissertation as the essay to end all essays? Is it really that much of a burden? Where do I begin? And may I say it, what even is a dissertation??
When I began my final year, it was the elephant in the room. It was compulsory on my course and no one wanted to be the first person to say the word out loud. Nor did anyone want to put it out there that they actually didn’t really know what a dissertation was (I was one of those people).
We had all somehow made it to final year without ever having written a literature review. I didn’t know what a literature review was, how to write one or what on earth I was doing, yet we were asked to have one written on our chosen subject in two weeks’ time. Not going to happen.
How do I decide on my topic? What will my question be? When do I start? Where do I start? Can someone please tell me what a dissertation is?? – These are just a sample of the questions that were running though my mind during the first ten minutes of my first dissertation class this time last year.
So, what is a dissertation?
Apologies in advance to any lecturers reading this blog post but this will be my understanding of it, in the most simple of terms and do correct me if I have gotten it totally wrong.
You may be already shaking your head at the title of this blog post as it should have taken me more than three weeks to write my dissertation, but that was my timeline and I somehow came out with a first (which is why I feel ok to give some advice on this).
To my knowledge, a dissertation is a large document of research surrounding a question or topic of interest. A dissertation is you, trying to find out the answer to a question that you have or a theory that you are trying to prove.
I have strangely always been interested in women in powerful positions and whether they are married and have children. Growing up, it always seemed to be that in order to be a successful women, you had to give up one to have the other. I’ve just always wanted to carry out a study on it but it had nothing to do with PR so, influencer marketing it was.
Picking your topic
Think of something that you don’t know much about, or you want to know more about, or that isn’t written about much or something that really interests and intrigues you. One thing I really recommend is to make your dissertation something that you are actually intrigued by or interested in because if crisis comms doesn’t incite any feelings for you at all, you won’t want to spend half of your year thinking and writing about it.
Influencer marketing is clearly something that interests me a great deal and particularly fraud, return on investment and advertising all get me hyped up when discussing the matter so thankfully I was actually really motivated by my dissertation and got a lot of inspiration for blog posts on the way to the finish line.
I wanted to know about fraud in the influencer industry and how it can effect brands and return on investment. Return on investment is already quite hard to measure without throwing in influencer fraud so it was quite tricky to get data but interesting all the same!
Take it section by section
The best way to start off is by laying out each section and heading of your entire dissertation. Start off with your question, your objectives and then my layout went as follows: introduction, literature review, methodology, discussion and analysis, limitations, conclusions, recommendations and of course bibliography followed by appendix.
I think it’s a lot more simplified when you lay it out in sections and it also allows you to add things in different places as you go along and saves you from getting bored of focusing on the same section for hours on end.
Change it up a little and take an hour doing your literature review, then an hour analysing your data and so on. There’s a lot of reading to be done, so make sure you factor that into your time too!
Aim for 700 words a day
If you’re aiming to do it within three weeks obviously. It’s really not that much. Don’t think of 10,000 words as horrific. It’s doable. Even make it 500 words a day. If you start with three weeks to go, you can write 10,000 words in twenty days. But some days you will write more than others and your word count will be more like 15,000 by deadline day. My word count came to 17,000 I think by the end of it and I managed to whittle it down to 11,500 when submitting.
I think it’s better to have more words than less but it’s also hard to delete things after as you think everything is necessary and important. Quality over quantity, remember. Just sit, take a few hours and make it to 500 words a day. It shouldn’t take you long and 500 words realistically isn’t that much when it comes to dissertation writing.
Make your lit review an ongoing process
When I started my literature review, I didn’t even know where to begin. We had somehow made it to final year without ever having the need to have completed one before. Our lecturers just assumed that we had all written one before so required no guidance. It was something a lot of us had to figure out by ourselves by reading over a lot of them online.
My summarising of it, is that you have a topic and within that topic, a lot of sub-topics and you just find a lot of literature written about those sub-topics and write what people think of those sub-topics. Aka, ‘this person says this, but this person disagrees and says this, and then this person also agrees with this.’
The main topic of my dissertation was influencer fraud, so I based my lit review all around influencer marketing and discussed the terms influencer marketing, influencer fraud, virtual influencers, return on investment, advertising on social media, the lot.
I would just read a lot of different articles surrounding influencer marketing and then if anything fit into my headings, I would populate my lit review with statements and thoughts that were relevant. I think it made things a lot easier but I also took time to actually research individual sub-topics to find a lot of articles and journals that spoke about different view points. It just helped that I could keep reading along the way and keep adding to my literature review.
Do your research early on
This part helped me a lot with my dissertation. I had traveled to London in early March to meet with my placement team and we had a lengthy chat about influencer marketing and fraud. I recorded the entire conversation on my laptop and that was my primary research sorted.
I then made a survey for secondary research and posted this online around two weeks before my deadline. I ended up with 50 responses, so was more than happy with that.
Carry out interviews or sampling as early as you can so that you have that stored away and ready to analyse when you need to. I think if it comes to April and you still haven’t carried out any primary research, it could get quite stressful.
I had made a dissertation plan back in the first week of university in October and had told myself I would be in London either before or just after Christmas to interview my placement team, but of course that never happened. Just try to do it as early as you can and send out any email questions that you have as early as you can to give your interviewee time to answer them.
Meet with your dissertation tutor on the regular
This part I probably wasn’t the best at and when I did go to my tutor, I didn’t really have that much to show. But leading up to the last few weeks before deadline day, I was scheduling meetings as often as I could, coming in with 100 questions to ask.
Your dissertation tutor is very likely going to be the person that will be marking your dissertation, so listen to everything they say. If they suggest to change something, change it. If they like things a certain way, make sure they are.
They are there to give you advice, answer your questions and steer you in the right direction so listen to them and make the most of the time that they are willing to give to you.
Find where you work best
One thing that helped me most was working in the cafe across the street from my flat. I would turn up there on my day off, my free mornings or evenings and even early on weekends with my laptop, charger and notes and spend a good eight hours from morning to night, typing away.
I probably couldn’t have completed my dissertation in that time if I didn’t have my regular working spot at Root Coffee in Liverpool. I really didn’t like the library as I find it so intimidating walking through the floors to find a free computer, there aren’t many windows, no one brings coffee to your desk and other students are just very distracting.
I used to love sitting in Root, enjoying the best coffee in Liverpool and being able to focus on my diss with a little background noise, some good music and being able to get my favourite ‘Norway Meets Sweden’ breakfast which was eggs, avocado toast and smoked salmon.
If you don’t work well in the library, don’t work there. If you work better in your bedroom, write your diss there. If you work best in the middle of the night, just do it then. Make things easier for yourself, don’t just do what everyone else is doing.
Don’t dread the dissertation, take it in your stride and prepare for it. Take it a day at a time and if I can do it in three weeks, it will be no bother to you if you start thinking about it now. If you have any specific questions regarding the dissertation, email or DM me, and I’m happy to help out with any interviews/data if worst comes to worst and you need primary info.