KEY SKILLS IN RESEARCHING AND WRITING YOUR MASTERS DISSERTATION

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1 KEY SKILLS IN RESEARCHING AND WRITING YOUR MASTERS DISSERTATION Simon Lee Key Skills Coordinator The Purpose and Value of Your Dissertation Researching and writing your word dissertation will enable you to demonstrate three elements of your key skills in politics and international studies. (1) Knowledge and understanding of the subject of politics and international studies, specifically: Demonstration of a familiarity and engagement with the nature and significance of politics and international studies; a critical awareness of the contested nature of knowledge and understanding; and a familiarity with a range of key concepts, theories and methods employed in politics and international studies, and the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches. Demonstration of a familiarity and engagement critically with politics and political phenomena. The application of different concepts, theories and methods to the analyses of political ideas, institutions and behaviour. The examination and evaluation of different interpretations of political issues and events. (2) Generic intellectual skills, specifically: Description, evaluation and application of different approaches involved in collecting, analysing and presenting political information. Identification, investigation, analysis and advocacy of solutions to problems. Development of reasoned argument, synthesis of relevant information and the exercise of critical judgement. Reflection on your own learning and how you have sought to make use of constructive feedback. Management of your learning self-critically. (3) Personal transferable skills, specifically: The capacity to communicate ideas effectively and fluently in writing. The ability to use communication and information technologies for the retrieval, analysis and presentation of information. The ability to work independently, demonstrating initiative, self-organisation and time-management.

2 15 Key Skills in Researching and Writing Dissertations (1) TOPIC SELECTION Have you chosen a topic which will enable you to produce a piece of work of sufficient quality that it will yield the mark necessary for you to secure the 60 credits and Masters degree classification to which you aspire? Have you chosen a topic that will enable you to complete your project in the time and number of words allowed? Have you chosen a topic that will augment for your curriculum vitae? A wellwritten, well-organised and well presented dissertation can provide a most effective means to differentiate you from other candidates in a highly competitive labour market, especially in jobs in the media, governmental or public policy fields. If the answer to any of the above questions is less than a clear Yes, it is not too late to change your topic and/or supervisor, but you must inform the Departmental Office and the members of staff concerned immediately of any such changes. (2) SUPERVISOR SELECTION Have you checked that your supervisor will be available to assist when you will be researching and writing your dissertation? If they are not, is another member of staff available who is prepared to fill the gap? Arrange a meeting with your prospective supervisor as soon as possible so that you can discuss a plan of action. (3) TITLE SPECIFICATION Have you identified a clear and concise question that your dissertation will answer? A dissertation is not a report. You cannot choose to write in response to a statement. You must answer a specific question. Any dissertation which is submitted without a proper question in the title will be marked at ZERO. Have you chosen a title and question that will enable you to be analytical and focused throughout rather than descriptive and vague? At the earliest possible juncture, confirm with your supervisor that your title is an appropriate one. (4) COMPLETING A FEASIBILITY STUDY As soon as possible, it is necessary for you to undertake a rigorous feasibility study in the Library and on the computer to establish whether the sources of information are readily available which will enable you to complete your project within the time permitted.

3 If you need specific information from an individual or organisation that is not available in the Library or on the Web, do you need a covering letter of introduction from your supervisor to accompany your own letter to that particular source of information? If you do, get your supervisor to write that letter of introduction as soon as possible, and send off your own letter with your supervisor s letter immediately. Never underestimate the capacity of third parties to take a ridiculous amount of time to respond to your request for information, or to turn down perfectly reasonable requests for information. (5) LITERATURE REVIEW Are you certain that the information that you need to write your dissertation is readily available in the Library? Do you need to order any sources of information through Inter-Library Loan or to visit the British Library at Boston Spa? Have you undertaken a search on the Web to identify whether the sources that you need are available electronically? If certain books or journals are not held by the Library, have you checked whether your supervisor might have a copy to lend you? (6) PREPARATORY READING Have you asked your supervisor which books he/she would recommend that you read first as contextual reading for your project? Have you ensured that you have taken out books or sources which undergraduates might be intending to borrow over the summer months? Planning ahead is vital at this juncture. (7) TIME MANAGEMENT Have you agreed a schedule with your supervisor for the drafting of your dissertation? The deadline for the submission of your dissertation is 21 SEPTEMBER This means you have around 4 months to research, write, and proof-read your work before have it bound according to the University s regulations. The effective management of your time is vital. (8) COMMUNICATION SKILLS Have you secured your supervisor s E mail address and/or office telephone number? One of the most common reasons for under-performance by students, when researching and writing their dissertations, is their failure to maintain a constant and effective dialogue with their supervisors. This is YOUR dissertation and YOUR degree that is at stake, so make sure that your supervisor gives you the full support you need to produce the best piece of

4 work that you can deliver. No less than 60 credits or one third of the total assessment for your degree are at stake in a single piece of work. (9) WRITING AND EDITING When are you planning to start writing your dissertation s introduction? Have you given your supervisor a draft dissertation structure to approve? It is vital that your dissertation should have a well-organised structure, including a clear introduction and a conclusion that is something more than an afterthought. Have you left yourself enough time to re-draft your dissertation before it has to go to be bound? From the very first time that you begin to compile your bibliography or write your dissertation, ensure that you have it backed up on a separate floppy disk or pen drive. It is vital to take into account the possibility that your computer or work might be stolen or damaged, so the possession of at least one separate duplicate copy at all times is a vital precaution. As you approach the completion of the drafting of your dissertation, make sure that you keep checking that the word length has neither significantly exceeded nor undershot the word limit. Your word processing package should undertake this task for you. (10) PROOF-READING Have you proof-read your work? Are you absolutely certain that not a single error of spelling, grammar or punctuation is left in your work? Have you asked a friend to proof-read your dissertation, in return for your proof-reading of their work? Is your dissertation organised into proper paragraphs? Do you need to provide a list of acronyms and abbreviations? As with any other piece of written work for the Department, errors in written English will be penalised. There is absolutely no excuse for the presentation of anything other than an error-free dissertation. Last year s dissertations included the customary appearance of 1980 s instead of 1980 s, or NGO s instead of NGOs ; the use of & instead and in the text; and quotations being substituted for proper sentences. (11) REFERENCING CORRECTLY Have you used the Harvard system or another approved manner of referencing your work? Incomplete or poor quality referencing will be penalised. High quality referencing will be given credit and rewarded. Please refer to the grade descriptors on any of your module reading lists. Are your footnotes clear, concise and a valuable source of information for the Examiners? Have you included any tables, questionnaires or other information as Appendices to your work?

5 If in doubt, have you consulted any of the information on the Blackboard site for Key Skills? (12) PREPARATION OF THE BIBLIOGRAPHY From Day One of your dissertation preparation, have you kept an up-to-date bibliography, in alphabetical order, of all the sources you have used? Incomplete or poorly organised bibliographies will be penalised. Complete and well-organised bibliographies that clearly list a wide range of sources will be given credit and rewarded. Have you double-checked that your bibliography is complete, and in accordance with the requirements of the Departmental or Study Advice Services guides to correct referencing? If in doubt, have you consulted any of the information on the Blackboard site for Key Skills? (13) SUBMISSION OF DISSERTATIONS The Department requires TWO copies of a properly bound dissertation to be submitted, so have you left yourself sufficient time to get your work bound? Failure to submit TWO copies by the specified deadline will be penalised in accordance with the regulations that apply to all other work submitted to the Department. Failure to allow sufficient time for binding is not a legitimate mitigating circumstance. Your dissertation should also be submitted via the Politics Submissions site in ebridge. Does the final version of your dissertation include all the required information on its title page, as specified in the Departmental guidelines? If you have any doubts or questions about the submission of your dissertation, check with your supervisor, Key Skills Coordinator or the Departmental Office. (14) FINAL CHECKLIST Have you proof-read your work? Have you checked that your dissertation does not significantly exceed or undershoot the specified word limit? Have you presented your dissertation in the manner required by the Departmental and University regulations? Have you alerted the Library or another binder of dissertations at least one month in advance that you wish them to bind your dissertation? Have you made at least two bound copies? Are you sure that you are submitting the best possible piece of work that you can produce?

6 Further Information Copies of the Study Advice Services leaflets which address various aspects of academic writing, including dissertations, referencing, plagiarism, time management etc can be accessed from the Study Advice Services pages, (http://www.studyadvice.hull.ac.uk/ ). If you have any further questions about dissertation writing, please contact your supervisor or your Key Skills Coordinator, Simon Lee

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