You can set yourself up for earning a first by developing an original and innovative research plan from the start. The best dissertations demonstrate creative, independent thinking. Remember that the dissertation is often viewed as a starting point to a more advanced research career, so proving your ability for original thinking is a great way to show your potential to examiners.
The difference between a 2.1 dissertation and a first class dissertation is often the degree of critical thinking that it demonstrates. You should show an ability to think beyond common knowledge, and deduce conclusions through insightful and analytical applications of theory. Although this may seem challenging, it is a skill that you will naturally develop from wide reading of journal articles in your field. You can also enhance your ability for critical writing by discussing your ideas in seminars and conferences.
Create a Complex Argument – One of the best ways to convey your critical thinking abilities is by creating a complex but coherent argument. This involves combining multiple strands of established ideas to develop a highly specific analytical framework. You should be able to clearly define your overarching philosophy and methodology, and consider how this relates to various theoretical trends in your field. You should avoid convoluted arguments that include too many different ideas; instead choose two or three complementary approaches and combine them to create a unique viewpoint on your subject.
A good way to impress examiners and move from a 2.1 to a first class dissertation is to locate and make use of relatively unknown source material. This can take the form of primary sources obtained from historical archives and research laboratories, or lesser-used secondary sources that you might secure through interlibrary loans. Using these materials will demonstrate your dedication to your research and your ability to judge the value of comparatively obscure sources.
A First Class dissertation will include relevant tables, figures and data sets. These can provide essential information to support your overall argument. It is usually best to include these in an appendix at the end of your dissertation, so that you can refer to the data multiple times throughout the work.
Finally, be sure to write several drafts of your dissertation so that you can refine it to the level necessary to achieve a First. Often students will receive a 2.1 simply because they overlooked small typographical errors or clumsy written expression. By rewriting the dissertation several times you will be able to eliminate unnecessary phrases and increase its overall clarity. It will also give you more chances to receive feedback from tutors, which is essential if you want to move from a 2.1 to a first class dissertation!
David Brigden and Graham Lamont, 2010. Planning Dissertations. Available: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/subjects/medev/Planning_dissertations. Last accessed 08 Apr 2013.
Open University Course Team, 2008. Thinking Critically. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Kjell Erik Rudestam, 2007. Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process. 3rd Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc.
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