Dissertation Series

How to Write a Dissertation – Part 1

Writing a dissertation is possibly one of the most difficult pieces of work you will do over the course of a degree. In the summer of 2014, when my university sent me my dissertation proposal form, I was daunted. I had to write a 10,000 word essay. It was worth a third of my final year marks – it had to be something that I was interested in, but also had to be expansive enough to be able achieve the word count.

Over my year of writing, I learnt a lot about my writing process and what I could achieve in such a short space of time. I also spent a lot of time researching how to write a dissertation. A lot of what I found was good, but not specific – many dissertations are written about scientific subjects where ‘data’ needs to be collected, which did not apply to me. It also took me time to find out what I would write about. In my case, I had an idea that I wanted to write about the translation of Harry Potter into German – Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen was the first full length book I had read in German. The sense of achievement at finishing the story was huge – whilst I may not have understood every word, I had read EVERY SINGLE ONE.

TIP 1: Despite having an idea of what I wanted to talk about, I still needed to find a theory. To anyone studying Translation – especially as a beginner – I would recommend reading the book Introduction to Translation Studies by Jeremy Munday.  It gives a comprehensive overview of different theories in translation studies, but in a condensed form. What’s also useful are the case studies at the end of each chapter, which allows you to see the application of the theory in action. It was through reading this book that I found a theory to apply to my dissertation. Munday uses a norms theory by Gideon Toury and applies it to two Harry Potter books (one Spanish and one Italian). Since there was a case study already provided, I knew that this would work for my situation.

TIP 2: If you don’t have a text in mind, then your task might be slightly harder. At my university we had two options – we could either write a dissertation about an already translated text and discuss that OR we could find an untranslated text, translate it and write a commentary. The latter is known as an Annotated Translation Project (ATP), and is also common at Masters degree level. It is important to bear in mind that a dissertation/project has a high word count. In ATP, about 4,000 out of 10,000 words are actually your translation of a text, the other 6,000 are a commentary in which you discuss theories, alternatives and your decisions. Since the project is up to 10,000 words, there’s no point in choosing a text that you think will make you look good for choosing it if, when it comes down to it, you hate working on it. Although you may have about 7/8 months to write it, time literally does fly by when it comes to assignments. Obvious, but chose a text that you can at least put up with for 8 months – if you hate the text it’ll be unbearable.

Beware!!! If you chose a longer text, you probably won’t need to translate the whole thing – only 4,000 of translation and 6,000 of commentary – however, if you chose something shorter like a play, they might ask you to translate the whole text, and put anything over the 4,000 word mark into the appendix. This might influence your choice of text because you might have to plan a little more if you need to translate the whole thing, rather than just part of it.

TIP 3: Although you may write in your dissertation proposal, that you intend to start in September – in all honesty that is not likely to happen. I consider myself an organised and pro-active person. I planned to start my research in August/September and have it all written up by January. I STARTED writing in January. Part of my problem was knowing where to start. Although I knew I couldn’t start at the introduction or abstract because I didn’t have any findings yet, I still felt that I should start at the beginning and work my way through logically. I wanted to start with my Literature Review and Theory explanation but it just wasn’t happening. The more I tried to do this, the less work I got done. In the end, I knew that I couldn’t put it off any longer, so I started writing about my findings (data).

Originally, I had outlined writing a comparison of the translation methods and norms between Harry Potter book 1 and book 4, because I was concerned about not writing enough. I needn’t have. Because I started writing so late, when I started writing up my findings I wrote 1,000 words in day. And the same the next. By the end of January, I had most of my findings written up, and by this point, without abstract, introduction, literature review, conclusion or background; I had nearly 5,000 words on one book analysis. My last tip for this post would be: Start wherever you feel comfortable and motivated to start – what do you find most interesting? 

Bis bald,



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