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Writing academically Politics and History dissertation session

Monica Fernandes Academic Skills Advisor

Objectives • • • • •

Understand what makes a strong dissertation Discuss the structure of your dissertation Explore how to write critically Understand how to link ideas To reference or not to reference? That is the question

What makes a good dissertation? • A strongly defined and relevant topic

• Reflecting on themes arising from the relevant literature and relating them to the chosen research questions • Widely and critically researched question utilising relevant literature and sources • A clear, thorough and well structured response to this question • A professionally constructed final document

The Importance of Writing • Writing is the basis of your project • The more writing you do now, the less you have to do at the end • Develop the relationship between …

The Writing Process Editing Drafting



1. CONCISE What does this mean?


How can you make your work concise? • Paraphrase instead of using direct quotes • Sentence structure – Ensure your sentences are neither too long nor too complex – Use your active voice- subject and verb placement

• Don’t use ‘big’ words for the sake of it… – Not ‘Ambulation’ but walking

What’s wrong with this piece of work? The civil rights epoch had successions of prominent leaders emerge such as Martin Luther King Jr, who was an American pastor committed against the newly enforced policies of systematic restrictions through nonviolent means.

This means: Martin Luther King Jr, a leader in the civil rights movement, was committed to equality through passive resistance.

2. FORMAL • No clichés- overused phrases that has lost its original meaning – Time will tell; fit as a fiddle; read between the lines; the quiet before the storm

• No contractions – Doesn’t= does not; It’s = it is

• Avoid 1st and 2nd person • No slang or colloquial language

What makesYour writing confusing? turn‌ The civil rights movement had amazing leaders emerge such as Martin Luther King Jr. He was an American pastor who was really light at the end of the tunnel because he didn’t want to conform to systematic restrictions and gave people hope. Which means: Martin Luther King Jr was an influential leader in the civil rights movement who fought against racial inequality in society. The road to hell is paved with adverbs. - Stephen King

How toOBJECTIVE... be objective 3. BE • Look at both sides of argument • Your academic opinion is going to be an informed opinion so good evidence is crucial. • Watch out for emotive words … ‘wonderful’ ‘awful’, ‘amazing’, ‘terrible’, etc.

From opinion to argument ‘Lay’ opinion (personal)

I thought Martin Luther Kings Jr’s life was a tragic but inspirational one.

Informed, researched, academic opinion

Martin Luther King Jr’s political achievements are a result of the political philosophy (Walton, 1971) as well as the charismatic nature and intellect King illustrated (Mattson, 1999).


Look at both levels… • Macro level • Overall structure • Micro level • Paragraph structure • Sentence structure • Sign posting **Remember your structure is going to answer your argument

Dissertations have specific structures‌.

Title Page Acknowledgements Contents Page

The basic structure of a dissertation‌

Introduction Literature Review Methodology

Discussion (Body Chapters) Results and Conclusions

Bibliography Appendices

Let your reader know what you are arguing and what they are going to read‌

Introduction structure

Context Preview Thesis Statement

What’s the backdrop of your study? Your LITERATURE REVIEW…

What is it? • Provide an overview of the main issues relating to your topic. • Which summarises and critically evaluates other people’s work. • It also provides a context for your work



Think of it as an ACADEMIC CONVERSATION Williams


Why is it important? • The aim of a dissertation is to build new knowledge on existing knowledge • To research and write on a topic you need to know: – Research already done on it or relating to it – How has research been carried out – What are the key issues surrounding your topic

• You need to be able to justify – your choice of topic – the design of your research and – your methodology

How to prepare for a lit. review? • The kind of questions that should be asked: – – – – –

What are the origins and definitions of the topic? What are the key sources? What are the main questions that have been addressed to date? What are the main theories, concepts and ideas? What are the main issues and debates about the topic?

• Divide the work into – Themes – Methodology – Chronological

• Consult your Lit. review check list for more questions that should be addressed in your review…

Quick Think • Write down between 3-5 key names of scholars whose work you will refer to in your dissertation ALSO • Write down the main trends/ themes that have been discussed by scholars which is related to your topic

Methodology • What route did you take to answer your dissertation topic?

The methods normally used in social sciences include… The methodology is a piece of writing which is about process and decisions • Interviews • Population and sample • Theoretical approach • Archival and historical research

Your methodology should show the reader… • why you carried out the research in the way that you did • what decisions you made along the way, • when you encountered obstacles and • how you overcame them. • what did you intend to do? • how did you plan to do it? • what were your research questions? • how do these methods ‘fit in’ with your field?

Ethical Considerations • Informed Consent: What are the benefits/risks to participants? • Confidentiality and Data Protection • Research Ethics Form (needs to be signed off by the School) • Find this form on BBL on the ‘Administration Page’

Conclusion • Summarise the main results and ideas of the dissertation • Provide the final conclusion of the dissertation as a whole • Suggest further research which would be needed to take these ideas further

Conclusion Argument Review Consequences

Remember‌.Don’t present new material!

Task • Write down 2 possible conclusions that you think your dissertation might lead to


Link your ideas‌

Paragraph Structure


Statement/Topic sentence


Explanation and Reasoning



STATEMENT/ TOPIC SENTENCE should… • tell the reader what to expect in a paragraph • be a specific statement that will be supported with evidence • Help you in the editing process – Guide you with what needs to stay in your work or be cut out

• NOT opinion or general fact

Most topic sentences are…


Examples Martin Luther King Jr’s political philosophy was closely related to Gandhi’s concept of passive resistance. Martin Luther King Jr was a political figure. Gandhi practiced passive resistence. Martin Luther King Jr’s political philosophy was an excellent approach to the civil rights movement in the USA.

EVIDENCE Use evidence to… • Acknowledge knowledge created by others • Engage with existing research on your topic • Demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about your topic • Create authority and reliability for your work

Integrate your evidence Indirect quotation (paraphrasing) • Demonstrates broad knowledge and understanding • Distils ideas and conserves word count • Allows for sophisticated synthesis of ideas

Direct quotation (in speech marks) • Brings ‘punch’ and interest to a point • Should only be used if you couldn’t have said it better yourself (or if it’s central to your argument)

EXPLANATION • SO WHAT? ….Don’t let evidence speak for itself • Take the extra step to explain your topic sentence • Ask yourself “What’s the significance of what I am saying?”, “What is the point of this reference?”, “What am I trying to say?”

Writing in a Critical Voice • Traditional academic writing only uses the 3rd person e.g. Not YOU think or I think, but SMITH thinks

• Non-personal terms sound more objective: they remove overt indications of personal bias

Signposting language • It improves cohesion and the academic conversation • Indicates to the reader the direction you are going in your work • Examples of signposting words…

In other words

Summary • Academic writing in your disso follows certain conventions… • But it does not have to be boring! Explain why we • • • •

should be interested in the topic Remember your literature review should be an academic conversation Signpost your reader to help your structure and argument Remember to get to the point and be clear Clear structure empowers your essays

Next session • 7 March (Week 24) • The final hurdle! • Finishing touches for your dissertation – Editing and drafting – Technical aspects – How to polish up and finalise your work

For more help: • Check out the PH Blackboard page, @ASKPolHist twitter account • PH Consultation times at MJ 234: – Tuesday and Thursday 15:00-16:30

• Visit ASK appointments: – Monday- Friday 1-3 pm – Tuesday and Thursday evenings 5-6 pm (during term time)

• Email:

Writing academically for your dissertation