How to avoid dumb mistakes when creating an undergraduate dissertation
There are many horror stories of students making dumb mistakes with their undergraduate dissertation. Here’s a handy check-list to ensure that you don’t fall foul of some of them:
- Check the deadline for your dissertation. Sounds obvious, but students have lots of deadlines and it is relatively easy to get them confused. However, dissertations count towards a lot of your marks, and for every day late (after the hand-in deadline); often institutions deduct a certain percentage of marks per day. This is a real waste of marks; you’re just throwing them away. So, use calendars, diaries, electronic reminders, whatever works to ensure you hand in your work before the deadline. Give yourself time to proof-read your final draft carefully to avoid sloppy errors.
- Assume that everything that can go wrong, will, prior to your dissertation deadline. This sounds a little negative and doom and gloom; view it instead as preparing for the worst case scenario and if it goes more smoothly than this, it’s a bonus! So, prepare for the fact that the book you want in the library may be on loan to another user. Prepare for the fact your tutor may go off sick. Prepare for the fact you could catch flu. Expect your printer to break down. Expect your computer to crash. The key to all of this to be prepared, and manage risk and to do everything well in advance of when you need to. Meet with your tutor early, start your work early, get to the library early, save you work on the computer regularly as you go along, and print your work early. If everything is done well before it needs to be, if it all goes smoothly you can sit with your feet up before the deadline. If there are any problems, you’ve time to sort them out without panicking.
- Pick a sensible title/topic – if this is wrong, there’s no rescuing it – and it’s a lot of time, research, writing and effort to put into something. Do ensure you’ve checked your title/topic with a tutor.
- Avoid plagiarism – if you refer to someone else’s work, use their words or ideas, you MUST reference this. If you’re quoting directly then use quote marks for a short quote, indent long quotes and follow whatever referencing scheme has been recommended. If you don’t reference correctly and it appears the work has been plagiarised, you will get zero marks and could be suspended from the course.
- Follow the guidelines – look at course literature for what you need to include, what is being assessed, and how it should be presented and formatted. Stick to the word-count (if you write more, there could be a cut-off point, whereby a tutor will only read up to 10% and ignore the rest).