What to write your dissertation on

How to decide what to write your dissertation on

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have spent the first two years of your undergraduate degree assuming that when the time came, the ideas would pour out of you for your dissertation. It’s been creeping up, and now it’s here. It’s decision time. But what if you can’t think of anything? Or can’t decide? Here are some hints.

Start thinking about it early


The summer before your final year is prime time for thinking about your dissertation. If you start thinking about it now, you won’t have the mad panic come October when suddenly someone wants a dissertation proposal from you and you have nothing to propose.

Look at the modules you’ve done so far

Take a look at an overview of everything you’ve studied so far on your course. Make lists of what you’re good at and what you liked, and what you didn’t like- it can be easier sometimes to work backwards from what you don’t want to do. Was there anything you felt your course was missing, or anything that you felt you didn’t look at deeply enough?

Write everything down

Dissertation ideas will have a habit of coming to you when you’re in no position to follow them through- maybe you’re at work, or at lunch with your nan, when you can’t start scouring the internet for texts and theorists. Jot all your ideas down on your phone, so you can come back to them later and work them through properly. There’s nothing more annoying than knowing you had a diamond of an idea, and not remembering what it was.

Work your ideas through

Once you’ve had a thought you need to spend some time on it. Make a spider diagram or a page of notes surrounding the idea, noting down everything you could cover, maybe some initial ideas of an argument, texts or works you could include, to see if this idea is actually viable. Put bluntly, if you can’t think of anything at this stage, you’re going to struggle later on when it comes to actually writing ten thousand words about this. It can also help to try explaining your thoughts to someone else, to see if you can actually put them into words.

Take your time

You don’t have to go with the first idea you have. This is the whole point of starting to think about your dissertation while you’ve got time. Before I settled on a decision, I changed my mind about my dissertation on average four times a week- that’s perfectly normal! Don’t worry if everyone around you seems to know exactly what they’re doing. It’s okay to spend some time being undecided.

Make the right decision

There does, of course, come a point when you have to choose. Scratch the ideas that you don’t think you can make a huge essay out of. Choose something that is original, that will help you show off your skills to their best advantage, and that you think you can do well on. More importantly, though, choose something you’re actually interested in: this dissertation is going to be part of your life for a long time, and you don’t want to end up hating it. Choose something that you won’t mind spending long hours with in the library, that you won’t mind reading about at 2am, and that will keep you motivated and engaged through the months to come. If you love your dissertation, it will love you back.

Did you know what to write your dissertation on? Tell us in the comments below.

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr

English Literature at Exeter. Online Features Editor, Exeposé. Enjoys a decent mojito, and plays netball, badly.
Also a little obsessed with Virginia Woolf.

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