Dissertations: How to choose a topic

It’s been a little while now since I handed in my dissertation so I’ve had a bit of room to think about the process and evaluate what I got from it. Whilst it’s still fairly fresh in my mind I want to write a little about my experience of the process and in doing so I hope to reassure and help other students approaching their final year projects.

Having asked around on a few of my social media accounts the most common question that has come up is ‘How to choose a topic?’ so that is what I will focus on for this post. If after reading you have any more queries do feel free to ask.

Looking back I can remember how daunting it seemed at the beginning of the autumn semester – I had to write 8000 words on a topic that was completely unspecified. There were no instructions, no models, just ‘go!’ (like the final Great British Bake Off challenge when they were asked to ‘make a Victoria sponge’ without a recipe).

When I opted to do a dissertation I had no idea what I was going to write on, I just knew that I wanted the experience of doing one and the independence and research skills that I knew it would bring.

The best advice I was given on choosing a topic was to look at the modules that I wished I could have taken but couldn’t fit into my timetable or weren’t on offer this year.

In essence: what would your dream module be?

I took this one step further and started looking at the course catalogues of other universities and seeing what they offered. It was whilst browsing the website of King’s College London that I came across a module about Medievalism. As the start of a dissertation topic it was perfect for me; it allowed me to combine my two favourite modules: Romanticism and Medieval Writing.

I then began reading general texts around the area until I began to get a feel for the field. I noticed what ideas kept reoccurring, what was treated as gospel, and which writers/texts were most closely associated with it.

This eventually led me to choose Keats and his vision of the medieval as the topic for my research. He was a well-known figure who I loved but whose medievalism hadn’t been fully explored (in my opinion at least).

Throughout this process I was in continual discussion with my supervisor. Along with being a fantastic champion and all round morale booster my dissertation supervisor was able to help me get a feel of what was the right size for the range of my work. 8000 words seems a lot at the start but as I soon found out you run out of space very quickly. So rather than trying to cover ALL of Keats’s poems which utilised medieval aesthetics I instead chose just two texts – and even then I struggled to keep myself under the word limit.

Although committing to a dissertation topic is daunting it should also be exciting. It’s a chance to spend a term researching something you love. And remember, however overwhelming it may feel at the start, you will be fine. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you’ll look back to see you have climbed a mountain – or written a 8000 word dissertation at least!

diss-and-me

Everyone needs a photo of them posing with their diss before handing it in

Summer 2016 Plans

Hello Everyone,

Apologies that it’s been a little while but I’ve been out of the country for a bit (Florida to be precise) but now I am back, complete with sunburned feet.

Today’s blog is just to give you a little context for what I will be doing with my summer holiday, my FINAL summer holiday (!!!) before I head back to Norwich this September to start third year.

As I have opted to do a literature dissertation this autumn term I am currently surrounded by piles of books which require reading. I’ll try and keep giving updates about how my dissertation is progressing, both to give some context and advice for any other students reading but also to document for myself how it developed.

I won’t go into the details too much right now, but essentially I have had a think about what it was that I really enjoyed studying this last year, to which the answer is Medieval Writing and Romanticism. I was also advised by Karen Schaller, the Convenor of the English Literature BA, to look around at modules that I would like to have taken but can’t for whatever reason. This inspired to me have a root around the websites of other universities and see what final year modules they offer which I would have been interested in. The long and the short of it is that I’ve decided to research Medievalism, specifically Romantic Medievalism which is the 18th century reimagining of what the Middle Ages were like.

Looking back I realise that later interpretations of medieval life have always fascinated me. Even as a child my favourite books were historical fiction (I read The Other Boleyn Girl when I was 10 which on reflection was definitely too young!).

dissertation reading 1

The very beginnings of the dissertation research

On top of all this reading I also have an interview lined up at my local museum to see whether I can do some work experience with their admin team for a few weeks. As I think I have previously mentioned, I really enjoy doing the behind the scenes work for UEA Drama Society, but looking ahead to the future I think that I might be interested in doing similar work in the heritage sector. Fingers crossed they take me on, if nothing else it will keep my CV up to date and diverse.

And last but by no means least, I will of course be heading up to Edinburgh in August to take the show which I am producing (‘Death and the Data Processor’) to the Fringe Festival. More on that later!

As we are approaching A Level exam results I am aware that a lot of students will be anxiously waiting and worrying about life at uni. As always, if you have any question please feel free to comment on this post or email me at h.armstrong@uea.ac.uk

Best of luck!