Dissertation Writing - University of Limerick

Advanced Writing Skills:
Dissertation for a Masters
of Science Degree
Íde O’Sullivan and Lawrence Cleary
Regional Writing Centre, UL
A typology of genres in Nursing
& Midwifery
• Reflective essays
• Care plans
• Case studies
• Care critique
• Portfolios
• Article reviews
• Argumentative Writing
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Dissertation writing
• How will you organise your approach
to this seemingly sublime, looming
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Ways of Ordering
• Writing Process—Planning, Drafting,
(Discussing / Consulting), Revising, Editing and
• Rhetorical Situation—part of the planning
stage and includes an assessment of the occasion
for writing, writer, topic, audience and purpose.
• Writing Strategies—cognitive,
metacognitive, affective and social.
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The Composing Process
Editing and Proofreading
Logical Choice and Unity
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• Planning
– Evaluating the rhetorical situation, or context,
into which you write
– Choosing and focusing your topic
– Establishing an organising principle
• Gathering information
– Entering the discourse on your topic
– Taking notes as a strategy to avoid charges of
– Evaluating sources
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Planning: Assessing
the Rhetorical Situation
The Occasion
The Audience
The Topic
The Purpose
The Writer
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The Occasion
• What has prompted you to write?
• What do I need to know?
What are my obligations?
What are the procedures?
When is it due? How much time do I have?
What’s involved?
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The Occasion
• My guidelines tell me about procedures that
I must follow.
– When do I submit a proposal?
– Do I need to submit project reports? When?
– When do I submit my finished document? Do I
need to defend my discoveries orally?
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The Occasion
• What kind of project will I choose?
• How do I write about it?
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The Occasion
• When we consider the occasion for writing,
we think about
What has prompted me to write?
How much writing do I have to do?
How much time do I have to do it?
How much time should I allot for planning and
organising, and for drafting and revising?
– What tone should I adopt? Formal? Informal?
Authoritative? Conciliatory? Assertive?
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• Your audience affects how you write.
– Terms that need not be explained for one
audience, may need to be explained to other
– General audiences may not have your subject
knowledge, but they are usually thought of as
intelligent, thoughtful readers willing to be
informed or persuaded.
– Your classmates make good audiences. Write
for them. Let them read your dissertation and
give you feedback on the ease with which they
were able to read and understand it.
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• Who am I writing for?
• Can my peers understand what I’m saying?
• Am I fulfilling the criteria established by
my instructors?
How much revising and polishing will be
necessary to meet the instructor’s
What format appeals to my audience?
(from [Ebest et al. 1997, 9])
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• Your topic is something that will have your
supervisor’s approval.
Some things to think about:
– How much do you already know about this
– How much am I going to have to know in order
to do this project and report on it? To say
something meaningful?
– How much research am I going to have to do?
– How much time do I have to do it?
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• Strategies for choosing topics and
narrowing or broadening the coverage you
will give it.
Taking suggestions from your supervisor
Brainstorming (individually or in groups)
Clustering or mind-mapping
Free-writing or discussing
Asking wh-questions—who, what, when,
where, how and why?
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• Topics do not stand in isolation. They
exist in a context.
– What is the relationship of your topic to
your course of study?
– What are people saying about your topic
in the literature you have read?
– What are the issues of concern?
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• What is your purpose for writing?
– To express your feelings?
– To inform?
– To persuade?
• As you draft, revise and edit, make
sure that every contribution to your
report works to realise that purpose.
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• If informing is the purpose of your
report, then the point of order is a
triangulation of your audience, your
topic and your purpose.
– Audience analysis
– Relevance
– Rhetorical appeals
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The Writer
What do I already know about this topic?
How quickly do I learn? Read? Write?
How much writing have I already done?
Have I developed an academic or
authoritative voice?
Have I addressed this audience before?
What are my weaknesses? What are my
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The Writer
• Knowing who I am, how much time will it
take ME to write my dissertation? Am I a
ditherer? A procrastinator?
Having assessed and prioritised my
weaknesses, what should I work on first?
Knowing my strengths, how can I turn this
strength to my advantage?
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Rhetorical Appeals
• Logos—persuade by appeals to
Ethos—persuade by establishing
your own credibility
Pathos—persuade by appealing to
your audiences emotional
attachment to your topic
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Appeals for Credibility
• Use credible sources of information
• Be authoritative
– Do not use personal, self-reflexive pronouns
– Do not refer to your own mental processes (“I
feel…”; “I think…”; “I be loving it…”)
– Do not use conversational markers (“…, you
know?” or “Okay, so.”)
– Avoid quoting—paraphrase and summarise
– Avoid vagueness; don’t hedge.
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Appeals for Credibility
• Persuasive elements in a report like this are
largely restricted to the presentation of
sound evidence, explicitly stated.
– If you need to justify conclusions, use
observable evidence obtained through sound
scientific principles such as observation and
– Methods of analysis and those used for
obtaining data should be repeatable (verifiable)
and should be valued in your discipline.
– Conditions under which data is obtained should
be free of environmental variables (reliable).
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Drafting your Report
• Try to visualise your report. Work toward that
Begin to structure it—establish your section
headings; give them titles. These do not have to be
Examine the logical order of ideas reflected in those
Do not get hung up on details; elements of the draft
are subject to change in the revision stage.
Start to write the sections that you are ready to write.
Don’t try to write the Introduction because it comes
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• Continue to reassess your rhetorical
Does what you have written so far
contribute to the achievement of your
Experiment with organisation and methods
of development.
Don’t get bogged-down in details; focus on
the big issues: organisation and logical
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• How should it look? Do you have a vision?
• What should the dissertation look like?
– Do you know what goes in each chapter?
– What chapters can you already title?
– Do you have a general idea of what they will
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• Is your dissertation logically organised?
– A good way to check the logical flow of your
ideas is to outline your report AFTER you’ve
completed your draft.
• How did you introduce your topic? By
giving it definition? Describing its
development? Explaining what it is?
Does each section contribute to your reader’s
understanding of your topic? Does your
report service your purpose, aims, and
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• Outline each section. How does each
paragraph contribute to our understanding
of the topic of that section?
Take a close look at paragraphs: Does each
paragraph have a central idea? Does it have
unity? Is it coherent and well developed?
Is there a correspondence between the title
of your report, your section headings and
sub-headings and the central ideas in your
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• Do the methods used to illuminate your topic lead
to logical discovery?
No truths are self-evident.
Claims have to be defended with evidence.
– Processes have to be described and explained;
– Design features and research methods have to be justified;
– The justification for generalisations and conclusions need
to be made explicit;
– The criteria used to qualify our results also needs to be
explicitly put forward and evaluated for objectivity;
– Underlying assumptions need to be evaluated for their
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Editing and Proofreading
• Once the report is cogent, it must be made
to be coherent.
Work methodically, checking one feature at
a time.
Do not exclude formatting issues.
Editing and proofreading is more than just
grammar and punctuation; it is also about
voice, rhythm, tone, style and clarity.
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Editing and Proofreading
• Check for ambiguity
• Check for comma splices, run-ons,
stringy sentences and fragments.
• Check for how sentences introduce
new information: is it in the beginning
of the sentence or at the end?
• Check that you use sentence types that
are appropriate for your discipline.
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Editing and Proofreading
• Check word order and usage. Are you
using an indefinite article when a
definite article is more precise.
• Check for agreement: Subject / verb;
pronoun or noun substitute /
antecedent or concatenation.
• Check for bias (gender, race,
religious, creed, persuasion, etc).
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Editing and Proofreading
• Check for obstacles to clarity:
Poorly chosen words
Vague references
Clichés and trite language
Inappropriate connotations
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Editing and Proofreading
• Check for clarity:
Effective subordination and emphasis
Sentence variety
Parallel structures
Choppy writing
Explicit logical links
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Editing and Proofreading
• Check formatting issues (appropriacy
and consistency):
Font (size and style)
Section heading numbers
Paragraph style (block, semi-block,
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Editing and Proofreading
• Check for plagiarism
– Check the form of your in-text citations and of your
full references in your References page.
– Check the content of your citations. Is everything
that should be there there?
– Check that paraphrases are not too close to the
– Check that all figures, tables and graphs are
captioned and cited (below figures and graphs;
above tables)
– Check that any borrowed ideas, words or methods of
organising information are referenced and clearly
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Logical Choices and Unity of
• Every choice serves to defend a claim,
answer a question, or confirm a
– Word, phrase, sentence-structure
• Does the choice satisfy audience
• Does it speak to your authorial credibility
• Does it further your argument, analysis,
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Writing is a Social Activity
• Lexical-grammatical
choices affect the culture
of register, which in turn
affects the culture of
Illustration: (Martin &
Rose, 2003, p. 254 cited
in BALEAP 2007).
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Arguments & Logic
• A good argument will have, at the very
– a thesis that declares the writer's position on the problem
at hand;
– an acknowledgment of the opposition that nods to, or
quibbles with other points of view;
– a set of clearly defined premises that illustrate the
argument's line of reasoning;
– evidence that validates the argument's premises;
– a conclusion that convinces the reader that the argument
has been soundly and persuasively made.
(Dartmouth Writing Program 2005)
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Literature Review & Logic
• The Lit. Review that you wrote for your
proposal will not necessarily be the same
review that you submit as part of your
Think in terms of your argument and the
support that you provided for claims:
– Include a review of all the literature that you
read to learn about your topic and the particular
aspect of your topic that you focus on.
– Include a review of the literature on the
methodologies that you used.
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Methodologies & Logic
• When you know what you need to know in
order to answer a question, then it is logical
to choose methods of inquiry that will
supply the reliable verifiable data that you
need in order to answer the question.
Don’t forget to qualify your data—what
does it tell you and what is it unable to tell
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Methodologies & Credibility
• All data has to be analysed. You need a
methodology for analyses as well.
– Quantitative data: can it be generalised?
– Qualitative data: what criteria will be used to
establish its value?
• Do not overstate your results. An honest,
quality analysis will speak volumes about
your credibility, regardless of the quality of
the data.
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Unity and Coherence
• If information included in your
dissertation does not contribute to an
understanding of the value of your
conclusions and recommendations,
then it only serves to befuddle the
logic of your piece.
• A unified text is a more coherent text.
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Writing Strategies
• Map your paper
– What sections or subsections are completed
(keeping in mind you still have to revise),
– Pick one or two of the holes in your paper that
you would feel comfortable filling,
– Assess the reasons for any anxiety you have
over the unfinished parts that cause you anxiety
• Do you need to read more?
• Do you need to rethink your paper?
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Writing Strategies
• Outline your paper
– Devise headings and subheadings for
uncompleted sections
• This helps you see the logical progression
(or lack of it) of your ideas
• It identifies the main ideas
• It helps detect omissions
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Writing Strategies
• Write about why you are having difficulty
making advances in your paper
– It gets the fingers tapping and the cerebral juices flowing
– An awareness of fears and anxieties helps you to develop
strategies to overcome those emotional roadblocks
– You may discover that the reason that you are having
difficulty is that there is some chink in the logic of your
argument that you must either fill or that requires a major
rethinking of the line of reasoning.
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Writing Strategies
• Don’t allow yourself to freeze up.
When you are feeling overwhelmed…
– Satisfy yourself with small advances until you
feel more confident and unstuck
– Seek help. Talk to friends. Talk about how you
feel, but talk about your ideas as well.
– Eat lots of ice cream and candy
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Works Cited
• Dartmouth Writing Program (2006) “Logic and Argument”
[Online], available:
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~writing/materials/ student/toc.shtml
[accessed 08 Jan. 2008].
Discourse Community Analysis (n.d.) “Discourse Community
Analysis Assignment Sheet”, Center for Writing Excellence,
West Virginia University [online], available:
http://www.as.wva.edu/~lbrady/202discourse.html [accessed
20 Aug. 2008].
Ebest, S., R., Brusaw, T., Oliu, W., and Alred, G. (1997)
Writing From A to Z, Mt. View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.
Glucksman Library (2007) “Cite It Right: Guide to Harvard
Referencing Style”, 2nd edition; University of Limerick’s
Referencing Series [Online], http://www.ul.ie/~library/
pdf/citeitright.pdf [accessed 08 Jan. 2008].
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Works Cited
• University of Hertfordshire (2008) “Describing & Analysing
Language: Handouts”, University of Hertfordshire, School of
Combined Studies, BA (Hons) in English Language for
Commercial Communication [online], available:
[accessed 08 Jan. 2008].
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