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10 Top Tips for a Tip Top Undergraduate Dissertation: a Practical Guide


Make the most of Word

Make the most of Word

Throughout writing your dissertation you’ll want to make the most of Word (or whichever word processing tool you’ve chosen). Getting to grips with some of its advanced features at an early stage will save you a lot of time overall, and will allow you to present a much more polished dissertation.

Structuring your document with formatting and styles

DNAIt’s a really good idea to understand the use of formatting and styles in Word. Using styles to edit the look and feel of your text ensures that everything is consistent throughout your document, and means that you can create a straightforward structure very easily. Whilst you could simply write headings in your document and change these to look different from your main text, you’ll quickly find it laborious to do this to each new heading. It’s also then very time-consuming to go back and change all of your headings of you decide on a different approach. Instead, apply styles to different areas of your text. Some key styles are as follows:

  • Most of your text, in the main body of the document, should be in the Normal style

  • Your main headings should use the Heading 1 style

  • Any further sub- and minor headings should use the Heading 2, Heading 3 styles, and so on

To apply these styles to a particular section of your document, place the cursor in the relevant paragraph and select the relevant style from the Styles gallery (in the Home tab). You can change the formatting of a style by right-clicking it in the Styles gallery and selecting Modify. Note that this will change every instance of that style in your document.

Once you have set heading styles in your document, these can be used to write an automatic table of contents. This is produced using the hierarchical heading styles in your document.

Click to reveal an example of a hierarchical table of contents

The table of contents will display the page numbers next to each heading, and will update as you add new sections or expand your existing content to fill more pages. Setting up the styles at the start might seem like an unnecessary extra, but it will most definitely save you a lot of time overall.

Follow your department's style guidelines


You should pay close attention to the style guidelines from your department, and make sure that you apply these correctly and consistently in your document. For example, look out for any guidance on font size, line spacing, margin size, use and location of page numbers, and presentation of graph/charts/figures. Apply these guidelines from the start and you won’t have to unpick them again later. Above all, make sure that you’ve applied everything consistently across the whole document.

Consider reference management software


You might also like to consider using a reference management tool, such as Paperpile or Mendeley, to store your references. Many of these tools interact with word processing software (either Word or Google Docs) to write references for you in your chosen referencing style, saving a great deal of time.

Whether you use a reference management tool or not, why not write your references as you go? That will save you a pretty tortuous task at the end!

Save your work regularly

Floppy disks

Make sure to save regular backups of your work. You likely won’t receive an extension for a broken laptop losing your files, and you don’t want the stress of losing all of your data and writing.

It is advisable to use cloud storage (such as the University’s file store or Google Drive) to save your work rather than memory sticks, as the latter can be easily lost or corrupted.

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