What is a dissertation?
Dissertations are the result of independent research on a sociological topic of your choice, with some guidance from your supervisor. Instead of writing an essay on a pre-determined topic or doing an exam, you get the opportunity to:
- choose the topic
- work out how to study it
- collect and assess relevant information
- analyse and criticise the information
- write the account of how it was all done in 10,000 words
Your dissertation aims to use a selection of concepts, theoretical ideas, observations, statistical findings and your own faculties of criticism and imagination, in order to reach convincing 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.
Choosing a topic
Your dissertation topic should be one that engages and excites you, as well as being practical given the time and resources available. It should also be broad enough to make connections with existing sociological knowledge, while being sufficiently narrow in focus to enable you to deal with questions in depth. You will choose your overall topic by June of your intermediate year of study so that supervisors can be allocated, ideally before term ends.
The Dissertation Process
At the start of your final year you will review relevant literature, using that process to refine your topic and precise research questions, in discussion with your supervisor. By week 7 of the autumn term you will submit a draft of your literature review and your supervisor will provide feedback on this before the end of term. You will then design your methodology and submit your ethics forms for approval, before embarking on investigating your research questions. Some students will decide to generate data to analyse through fieldwork of some kind, some do library-based studies, others work with established data-sets or archives. All ethical approval must have been granted by early in the Spring term, by which time you are likely to be busy with analysis and writing up your dissertation chapters. Before the end of the Spring term you should have discussed some of your analysis with your supervisor, so you can then use the Easter vacation to write everything up. Your dissertation will then be submitted early in the Summer term.
In addition to supervision, you will get support from regular dissertation workshops in the Autumn and Spring terms. Some of these workshops will also address wider issues for final year students in terms of the big ‘What next after University?' question! Typical workshop themes include:
- How to do a Literature Review
- Designing your Research
- Addressing Research Ethics
- Considering Postgraduate Study?
- Maximizing your Employability
- How to do Qualitative/Quantitative Data Analysis
- Tips on CV Writing
- Trouble-shooting, Completing and Submitting your Dissertation