download (1)

What Is A Dissertation?


A dissertation or final year project, as a form of assessment differs from other module assessments. The expectation is that you, the learner, take responsibility for your own learning and that you produce a literature review, you choose a method for undertaking a study, write up your findings and discuss the outcomes in a discussion section. So this part of site provides you with a better understanding of the following:

  • What a dissertation is
  • Why you are required to do a dissertation
  • What your dissertation may look like
  • How to set about your initial reading and writing

This video clip contains comments from the following academics:

  • Dr Iain Garner
  • Dr Malcolm Todd
  • Shawna McCoy

Why does my degree programme include a dissertation?

Traditionally, an undergraduate degree in the social sciences and humanities uses a dissertation for a final piece of study. The degree might also offer other alternatives such as the option of an extended essay, or an independent learning project, or a senior paper. This is because the process of producing this type of assessment enables you to:

  • Identify your own area of interest.
  • Explore an area in depth.
  • Define your own question.
  • Experience the process of producing knowledge.
  • Manage a project from beginning to end.
  • Consolidate your communication, information-seeking and intellectual skills.

In many ways this is about doing social science rather than writing about the social science that others have produced. Some of these skills are clearly academic and related to your discipline. Others are much broader and develop your effectiveness in collecting, manipulating and interrogating information, its application and the production of reports – all of which are useful skills in employment.


For many undergraduate degree students, a significant element of final year study is an independent learning project. According to Todd et al (2004) while these projects may vary greatly in scope and nature (e.g. a large-scale written assignment such as a dissertation or extended essay; the design and production of some type of artefact) most share a number of key characteristics.

  • First, the learner determines the focus and direction of their work.
  • Second, this work is carried out on an individual basis – although usually with some tutor support and direction provided.
  • Third, there is typically a substantial research component to the project, requiring the collection of primary data and/or the analysis of existing/secondary data.
  • Finally, learners will have a more prolonged engagement with the chosen subject than is the case with ‘standard’ coursework assignments such as essays or reports, with the work consequently expected to be more ‘in-depth’.

Ultimately you will be drawing together issues of theory, method and methodology and bringing them to bear on your chosen topic. Those dissertations that can best accomplish this integration or even synthesis are often the most conceptually and methodologically accomplished pieces of work.