Red Pen Editorial

Drafting your dissertation

Somenoe writing with a pen on paper, with a cup of coffee nearby

1. Plan your approach

Check your module handbook to see what’s required and how to present it. Work out the sections you need to build your argument: it must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Think about how to structure the middle bit first – your discussion and analysis, the substance of what you are saying.

2. Plan your content

Work out the sections you need to build your argument – use section headers in your draft so you can track what you’re doing (and you can delete them at the end of the process). You can always move them around later, too.

3. Allocate a rough word count to each section

You don’t need to stick to this – in fact, it’s better not to, but if you have a rough idea of how many words you have for each stage of your discussion it will help you organise your thoughts. That said …

4. Write too much!

You won’t need to slow yourself down at this stage by counting words – that can always be adjusted later. The important thing is to get words down – a good draft will always be too long, and preferably way too long. When you come to edit it, you can cut it down and polish it.

5. Don’t edit as you go

Try to write quickly and get a flow going – if you try to edit as you write, or put in your references, you will interrupt your train of thought.

6. Save multiple copies and back them up

I always save a new version at the end of each working session, even if it’s only been a couple of hours. If I then decide that I went off at a tangent it is very easy to go back to an earlier version, rather than trying to unpick work or track back to readjust my argument. I number them ie Work v1, Work v1a, Work v1c etc, and then when I make a significant change as the argument develops, I’ll move on to Word v2 and so on.

As well as saving multiple copies, save them in at least two locations – so for example on a USB stick as well as on your hard drive and in cloud storage if you have it. You really don’t want to lose it!

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