Undergraduate dissertations

Introduction

Many subjects now offer final year students the option of submitting a long essay or dissertation.

An undergraduate dissertation will usually be 5000 words in length. For many students, this will not only be the longest piece of writing they have done at university but the longest piece of writing they will do in their lives.

A piece of writing this long requires a different sort of approach than a standard undergraduate essay. There will be particular things that tutors will expect to see that are very different from a standard essay.

This section analyzes the differences between an undergraduate dissertation and a standard undergraduate essay, and discusses the key characteristics of successful dissertations.

As well as the guidance in this section, you will also be able to find books in your institution’s library that will give useful clues and detailed guidance. Try a catalogue search using the term ‘writing dissertations’ and see what comes up.

Finally, this section is based on analysis of successful undergraduate dissertations submitted in a media studies department. ‘Successful’ means that dissertations analyzed were awarded either a 2.1, a First or a Distinguished First. This does not mean that doing everything in this section will get you a similar mark. It does mean that the section gives you tried and tested benchmarks against which to measure your own work.