A dissertation is a research project completed as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. Typically, a dissertation allows students to present their findings in response to a question or proposition that they choose themselves. The aim of the dissertation project is to test the independent research skills that students have acquired during their time at University, with the assessment used to help determine their final grade. Although there is guidance from tutors, the dissertation project is largely independent.
For most students this will be the longest, most difficult and most important assignment completed at University, requiring months of preparation and hard work.
The type of dissertation completed will vary depending on the programme of study. One of the main differences is between empirical and non-empirical dissertations.
Empirical dissertations are dissertations which involve collecting data. This may mean putting into practice professional and ethical guidelines when collecting data from members of the public. Empirical dissertations in natural and life science subjects may involve, or be entirely centered, on laboratory work.
Non-empirical dissertations are based on existing data and arguments in the work of others. In this type of dissertation, students need to ensure they don’t just describe what others are saying, but critically analyse the work and explore its practical applications.
A well-written dissertation will demonstrate a student’s ability to:
• Define and outline a research area with a clear question
• Identify the leading issues
• Source the relevant information
• Assess its reliability and legitimacy
• Evaluate the evidence on all sides of a debate
• Come to a well-argued conclusion
• Organise and present the outcomes of work critically, convincingly, and articulately