The English Dissertation

Second years, beware! Before you realise, you’ll be invited to a college ‘halfway house’ formal, and realise, in consternation, that it’s time to think about your final year…

Fear not – here is a suggestion of how to be ‘that person’ who knows exactly what they’re doing with their life. Starting with a smug satisfaction that they have already got a plan for their diss.

The Dissertation Desk

Firstly, decide on an area. This sounds inane, and is useless if you have no clue where to start, but try this. Think of your favourite module. Why is it your favourite? Is it because of the lecturers, the texts, the theories and approaches to studying those texts? Once you have pinpointed this, you have a start. Even if you only know that O’Neill is bae, it’s useful – he specialises in Shelley, so get reading some of his work, and if you think you could look at this for your dissertation, congrats…you have a topic and a potential supervisor. If you read Shelley and can’t stand him, think about other areas within Romanticism which might be more intriguing. Alternatively, work out why you hate Shelley and base your project around that! While we don’t actually choose the supervisor, we are put with the most relevant expert to the field that we are exploring, so keep this in mind.

If you have a hazy idea of the time period / movement / author you want to study further, ask yourself what drew you to it in the first place…was D.H. Lawrence’s stream of consciousness narrative just so intriguing that you have to know more? Well then, begin researching other examples of stream of consciousness narratives until you have built a reading list for yourself. With this will come more specific questions that you might wish to pursue.

Bingo…you have potential dissertation titles.

Lastly, here’s a caveat: if you are one of the lucky few who already has an exact idea of their dissertation project, it’s still imperative to read around the subject. It may turn out that the brilliant idea you want to pursue has already been more brilliantly written about by an academic, or is limited to that one text you read. Broaden ideas and brainstorm – it will be so important when it comes to doing your research.

Now set aside those seminar topic summatives for a couple of hours and surprise your coursemates by presenting them with your dissertation ideas! Good luck…

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