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Writing academically Politics and History dissertation

Monica Fernandes Academic Skills Advisor

Objectives • The structure of your dissertation – Macro and – Micro level

• How to write critically • How to link ideas • To reference or not to reference?

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

Let’s start with key tips to help you write academically…

4 characteristics of academic writing 1. 2. 3. 4.

Conciseness Formality Objectivity Structure

1. Concise • Get to the point! • Paraphrase instead of using direct quotes • Ensure your sentences are neither too long nor too complex • Do not use ‘big’ words for the sake of doing so – Not ‘Ambulation’ – But ‘Walking’

What makes writing confusing? A sentence, overly and perhaps overtly complexified, turgid with rarified language, gains the semblance of scholarship though it may indeed lack the capacity to communicate its import to any but a reader utterly dedicated in his attentions. Which means: A complex sentence may seem scholarly but will confuse casual readers. The road to hell is paved with adverbs. - Stephen King

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

2. Formal • Avoid second person- you or we • Be wary of using ‘I’ • Don’t use of slang or colloquial language – Innit, wanna, howzit, dope, dude, fab

3. Be Objective... Not,

‘George W. Bush didn’t like black people’ but, ‘President Bush’s economic policies produced a number of difficulties for more disadvantaged races, in particular African-Americans’

From opinion to argument ‘Lay’ opinion (personal)

I thought the film was really terrible.

Informed, researched, academic opinion

With regard to 3D technology, my reading of the film aligns with recent critics like Kermode (2010) and Johnson (2011) – far too often it stands as a substitute for taut storytelling and polished screenplays.

4. Structure • Remember your structure is going to answer the essay question via… • Macro level – Overall structure

• Micro level – Paragraph structure – Sentence structure – Sign posting

Dissertations have specific structures‌.

Title Page

The basic structure of a dissertation‌

Acknowledgements Contents Page Introduction Literature Review Methodology

Discussion (Body Chapters) Results and Conclusions

Bibliography Appendices

Your introduction‌

The introduction should… • Contextualise your topic • Introduce your argument – It should explain what you intend to do in the dissertation – State your research questions and thesis

• Tell the reader what you will be covering – Outline your main points or factors – explain the focus of your work if your title is broad • give the order in which you will be presenting your work

Literature Review This is like the backdrop of your study‌

Your literature review What is a literature review? • 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

Why do you need a literature review? • In order to research and write on a topic you need to understand: – 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 • On this basis you can argue how your research augments knowledge • Our aim is to build new knowledge on existing knowledge

How do you prepare for a literature review? • Identify key authors in your discipline and on your topic • Ask critical questions such as: – 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? – How have answers to these questions increased our understanding and knowledge?

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?

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?

The methods normally used in social sciences include… • Remember: the methodology is a piece of writing which is about process and decisions • Empirical work (Interview etc.) • Population and sample • Justify approach (subjects, place, how etc.) • Theoretical approach

Task What methodology have you chosen? Why have you chosen this method and what do you want to try find out?

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 • 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/Topc sentence


Explanation and Reasoning



One-sentence paragraph

Topic sentences can… • tell the reader what to expect in a paragraph • be a specific statement that will be supported with evidence • make a clear statement of personal judgement that will be elaborated on • The more specific you make your topic sentences, the better your paragraph will be.

Most topic sentences are


Examples Once Barbour realised his argument had lost, he became a field general in the rhetorical war, devoting himself and his staff to the Medicare cause.

Medicare is very important in America. Medicare is part of the American healthcare system. Barbour’s part in the Medicare crisis was interesting.

Explanation • SO WHAT? ….Don’t let evidence speak for itself • Take the extra step to explain your topic sentence

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

Reference with sophistication

Why do we need references? • • • • •

Acknowledge knowledge created by others Engage with existing research on your topic Become part of the academic community Demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about your topic Create authority and reliability for your work

Intergrate 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)

Sample scenario Lebanon’s constitution is unique in nature. This is due to the fact that constitutional rule in Lebanon is secondary to the consensus of its major religious communities. Hudson suggests “Lebanon’s political recovery after the civil war was partly successful” (1997, p. 120). The history of the constitution proves that this system has worked for Lebanon since the 1920s.

What do you think? A. The reference is incorporated correctly. B. There should be more quotations to back up the student’s ideas. C. The quote is irrelevant.

Answer The quote is irrelevant to the discussion at hand, and should be cut or replaced. This is sometimes called a ‘drop’ quote. Questions to ask yourself: • Am I just dropping the quote in, or am I responding to and unpacking it? • Does the reference add something to what I am arguing? • Is the statement written so well it is worth quoting directly?

A sample scenario Jared is writing an essay about the political history of World War 2. He reads several books and wants to point out in his assignment that the war took place from 1939 until 1945. Does he need to reference this information? What do you think? A. Jared does have to reference this information, because he learned it from the work of other authors. B. This kind of fact is 'common knowledge', and as such does not need referencing. C. Jared should reference one of the history books he's read.

Answer This kind of fact is 'common knowledge', and as such does not need referencing. Questions to ask yourself: • Would this fact be found in any book on my subject? • Does the fact form a part of another author's ideas or arguments? • Do other sources disagree with this statement? Is the information up for debate? • If you are ever in doubt, play it safe and reference it, or see a tutor for advice.

Referencing tips... • When to use ‘et al’ • Alphabetise by author’s surname • Italicise book titles and journal names (NOT article titles) • Include as much information as you can with website sources • Be consistent with your references

Avoid.... Over-referencing • It can undermine your authority • Examiners can infer that you don’t have any of your own ideas • It affects your style of writing with sophistication

Useful Print Resources • Silbergh, D., (2001) Doing Dissertations in Politics: A Student Guide. London: Routledge • Greetham, B. (2009) How to write your undergraduate dissertation. Chicago: Palgrave. • Kjell Erik Rudestam (2001) Surviving your Dissertation. London: Sage. • Swetnam, D., (2000) Writing Your Dissertation: The Bestselling Guide to Planning, Preparing and Presenting First-Class Work. UK: How to Books Ltd.

Next session • 28 February (Week 22) • The final hurdle! • Finishing touches for your dissertation – Editing and drafting – Technical aspects – How to polish up and finalise your work

For more help: • Contact: • Or attend a consultation time either on Monday 11:00-12:00 or Wednesday 14:0015:00 at MJ 243

Writing academically in your Politics and History dissertation