Skip to main content


What is a dissertation?

Dissertations are the result of independent research. You are expected, with occasional guidance from a supervisor, to design and conduct the research yourself. It is not a matter of trying to answer an examination question or writing an assessed essay on a pre-determined topic. On the contrary:

  • You choose the topic
  • You work out how to study it
  • You collect and assess relevant information
  • You analyse and criticise the information
  • You write the account of how it was all done in 10,000 words

Ideally a dissertation should be a sustained argument. This means that it should draw upon the results of your reading, thinking and information-gathering in such a way that it persuades readers to accept your understanding of the topic. The main aim is to use a selection of concepts, theoretical ideas, observations, statistical findings and your own faculties of criticism and imagination in an attempt to reach defensible conclusions about a topic which interests, challenges or puzzles you.

All Single Honours Sociology students must do a dissertation in their final year. Joint Honours degree students may opt to do a dissertation. Please read the Dissertation Guidelines to familiarize yourself with the dissertation procedures

Choosing a topic

As far as the choice of topic is concerned, it should be broad enough to make connections with existing sociological knowledge but also sufficiently narrow in focus to enable you to deal with questions in depth. So, while ‘The selection of sexual partners in Britain’ would be too broad, a study of ‘Some aspects of the selection of sexual partners in a sample of university students’ would be acceptable. Similarly, ‘The modern philosophy of social science’ would be too broad, but ‘Some recent developments in rational choice theories in sociology’ would be acceptable. Your choice of dissertation topic also needs to take account of the resources and time available to you.

By week 7 of the autumn term you are required to submit to your supervisor a draft of your Literature Review and a planned timetable for completing your Dissertation. Your supervisor will provide feedback by then end of the term.

Presenting your research

In terms of presentation, most dissertations are divided into five or six chapters, although other formats could be appropriate for some topics. In any case, you are expected to ensure that your dissertation contains:

  • An introduction explaining your choice of topic and methods of tackling it
  • A justification of the research methods chosen
  • An extensive analysis of the central arguments or findings
  • Some relevant conclusions
  • A bibliography or list of references
  • Dissertation workshops

There are dissertation workshops throughout the Autumn Term to enable students to prepare for their research. Typical topics might include:

  • Getting down to work (Powerpoint Presentation)
  • Different types of dissertation and your questions answered
  • Where after University? Careers and Postgraduate study information
  • Ethical issues in research (Powerpoint Presentation)
  • Problem solving session

Helpful reading


Bell, J. (1999) Doing Your Research Project: a Guide for First-Time Researchers in Education and Social Science, Open University Press. 3rd ed.
Berry, R. (2004) The Research Project: How to Write It, Routledge. 2nd ed.
Blaxter, L. Hughes, C and Tight, M (2010) How to Research, Open University Press. 4th ed.
Rudestam, K.E. & R.R. Newton (2001) Surviving your dissertation: a comprehensive guide to content and process, Sage Publications. 2nd ed.
Preece, R. A. (1994) Starting Research: An Introduction to Academic Research and Dissertation Writing, Pinter
Walliman, N. (2001) Your research Project: A step-by-step Guide for the First-time Researcher, Sage

Web Resources

A survival guide produced by the Higher Education Academy and the Universities of Birmingham and Sheffield Hallam
Useful advice on the literature review

Useful Links

The Peter Gutkind Prize

Module Directors

Andre Celtel and Caroline Wright


This module is worth 30 CATS.