Turning your dissertation into a 2:1
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Published: Thu, 09 Mar 2017
Title: Dissertation Copy Writing.
How to turn your dissertation from a 2:2 to a 2:1
When you are given your first piece of coursework as an undergraduate, you are also given (or should be) a copy of the marking criteria which will be applied when your work is assessed. Although by the time you reach the point of writing a dissertation you will be approaching the culmination of a course of study, the same basic judgements will be made. Of course, there is always a margin allowed for tutors and lecturers to apply their own judgement, it is never simply a ‘numbers game’, and the dissertation you present will always be marked by more than one person, but basically the same criteria will be applied at whatever level you are working.
So, how do you raise your dissertation from the mediocrity which is represented by a 2:2, to the degree of excellence represented by a 2:1? Essentially, the difference in terms of actual marks is often minute: a 2:2 would normally be the result of a mark between 50% and 59%, whereas a 2:1 represents a mark between 60% and 69%. Look at the borders here, not the maximum of each: the difference between a 2:2 and a 2:1 could be as little as 2%. In reality, however, this is rarely the case. Your work will be marked interpretively and therefore in order to be sure of upping that grade, you need a comfortable difference not a borderline one.
Approach this logically and you will see that you need to consider how your work can be improved in each of the applicable criteria in order to raise your grade and you should think about this from the outset. Before you begin your dissertation, look carefully at the marking criteria and note where the differences between a 2:2 and a 2:1 lie. You’ll notice that the criteria for either a 2:2 or 2:1, requires the following:
- Understanding of the question
- Identifying the major themes
- The ability to develop a well-structured argument
- The inclusion of supplementary evidence from primary texts, correctly referenced
- A strong conclusion
- A bibliography using the referencing style of your academic institution.
Having probably been in academic life for some time before attempting a dissertation you should be thinking ‘this is all pretty standard’ – and if you are not, then that 2:1 is just a dream because the way to turn a 2:2 into a 2:1 is down to your ability to recognise just where each of these basic requirements needs to be expanded.
In general, the key differences between a 2:2 and a 2:1 exist in the depth of research and the quality of analysis. That being the case you should focus on your level of research and your analytical ability to improve your grade. Also, this ability to research and analyse must be linked seamlessly to your argument. To earn a 2:1 you must make your points cogently and show that you have expanded your reading beyond the merely required towards the comprehensive. A good way of doing this is to look at the bibliographies of a primary text because you will then be using a credible source to develop your research base. From here, you can begin to analyse, i.e. literally take apart and comment critically on the evidence so that it informs your dissertation argument and never at any point appears separate from the central themes.
A 2:1 dissertation reflects a much deeper level of thought than a 2:2, which is why it is the minimum requirement of most respected universities in order to carry out post-graduate research. However, even within the 2:1 there are divisions of which you should be aware in order that you are sure of your 2:1, rather than hoping just to scrape through. In other words, you need to be aiming for a mark in the region of 65% to 69%. To achieve this, you need to demonstrate:
- that you can not only develop an argument but that you have anticipated some of the possible challenges to it
- that your reading goes beyond the basic in both collation and coherence
- that your analysis has added to your argument and developed your thinking
- that you have produced a conclusion that does more than just summarise your argument but also provides a genuine synthesis of wide-ranging yet focussed thought.
Remember, that the award of a 2:1 grade reflects on the level of excellence of the academic institution to which you belong as much as you so it will not be given lightly but that, of course, is what makes it worth having, isn’t it?
How to turn your dissertation from a 2:1 to a First Class
In order to preserve their quality benchmark, most universities strictly limit the number of First Class degrees that they award and this is reflected in the assessment of a First Class dissertation. When you think about it, you wouldn’t really want it any other way because the expansion of the number would devalue the inherent status that achieving a First Class degree carries and the key to this is the ability to research and write a First Class dissertation. For this reason, if for no other, you need to work not only harder to achieve a First Class dissertation grade but also in a very specific way. Let’s examine precisely how by taking the structuring of a First Class dissertation step by step.
You will have at your disposal a marking scheme with which by the stage in your academic career when you are required to write a dissertation, you should be very familiar. You need, now, to look at this more closely, even analytically, than you have ever done before, so that you isolate the features which separate the wider excellence of the 2:1 from the specific excellence of the First. Looking closely at the marking levels, you will instantly see that it would be theoretically possible to achieve a First Class dissertation grade by gaining a mark that is anything over 70%. In practice, however, you will more often than not be literally competing for a First against your fellow students because the university might often decide in abstract how many Firsts it ultimately intends to award and your dissertation is a crucial part of this. Therefore, you must ensure that your dissertation stands out from the rest and rather than just edging into the 70s reaches closer to 80%.
The basics should not need to be stated if you are aiming at the highest level with your dissertation so let’s take it has read that you will write well, argue coherently, reference appropriately and correctly and provide a convincing conclusion; even to get a 2:2 you would need all of these to be present. Therefore, it is not on that you should focus for a First but on other factors, not called for in the lower levels, even the 2:1: this extra something is rooted in the demonstration of research abilities beyond the obvious and the ability to find the original in the familiar. In other words, a First Class dissertation will display not only wide reading but also an innovative approach to both the interpretation of the research and its application. Your thoughts need to be both critical and original and whilst the first of these may be familiar, the second will be less so because in all probability you will not have been required to display originality until now. Indeed, you may have been actively discouraged from allowing your own thoughts to enter into your work, as most academic work encourages you to take an objective view rather than a subjective one. You now need to forget that to some extent and begin to allow your personal perspective to enter your work. Of course, you still need to present a balanced argument, well supported by strong evidence in the form of wide and yet focussed reading, but you must now also add to this the evident ability to detect and develop a nuance so that it becomes a uniquely significant imperative in your work that separates it from the work of others. Above all, to obtain a First Class grade for your dissertation, you need to display a scholarly approach, together with an individualistic but grounded and viable methodology which includes evidence of innovation and independent thinking.
This is of course a very difficult task, especially if you are working in a very familiar field. Most of the original lines of approach may appear to have been developed already but this will not be the case. There is not a single topic on which the last word has been said and if you can find and develop an original line of thought which you can support with a strong argument and comprehensive research, then that prized First Class dissertation is within your grasp, all you have to do is go for it!
How to turn your dissertation from a First Class to an Upper First Class
The one word with which you need to engage in order to achieve an Upper First Class dissertation is originality. Everything else that you need to accomplish should be second nature to you at this level and what you want now is to demonstrate how your thinking will add to the body of thought on the subject. Indeed, the development of a First Class dissertation to an Upper First Class dissertation may be said to rest if not exactly solely then certainly heavily upon this aspect of your work. One of the main reasons for this, is that the vast majority of Upper First Class dissertations are later developed into theses for post graduate research, may indeed already be part of it, and as the excellence of a university’s research, from its staff as well as students, is the way in which it is ultimately judged in the academic world, it is clear that this grade will not be freely awarded. Therefore, if you are hoping to achieve this level, you will need considerable intellectual insight combined with an innovative approach.
Clearly, the fundamental basis of an Upper First Class dissertation is wide ranging research but you should approach this from the first with an eye to discovering a new approach, something that has not been explored before and that further research will help to develop into a significant contribution to the topic you are studying. This is both challenging and exciting as you have the chance to contribute to a topic for which your attraction has been demonstrated by your having chosen to study it in the first place and reached the level that you have. Also, as has already been mentioned, what you identify as areas of possible future research in this dissertation may well be the basis for further study and you should incorporate this into your dissertation as a fundamental part of its structure throughout, if you are going to achieve an Upper First Class grade, which in most cases will require you to gain over 80% as your final mark.
As research is so vital at this level, it is worth taking a little time to explain how you should go about it when preparing your Upper First Class dissertation. As with the research for lower grades, you should, of course, first consult the primary sources. Every field has its experts and in your search for innovation, you should not overlook the established. However, whilst you are assembling evidence from what has been said, the Upper First Class dissertation student will be looking just as vitally for what has been omitted. Ask yourself the following as you read:
- What is this expert saying?
- Does this expert cover the topic comprehensively?
- Are there any areas of particular interest to me which are absent?
- Can my research develop this further?
- Has anyone else covered the thinking which I believe to be original?
By breaking down your research into this critical approach, you are beginning to work in the way that is needed to obtain an Upper First Class grade for your dissertation.
It should also be remarked that the level of fluid and cohesive argument that you will need to produce in order to achieve an Upper First Class grade for your dissertation must be beyond reproach. There must, of course, be no errors in either the presentation or the structure and careful proof-reading is essential. Also, you must in no way sacrifice the logical and reasoned coherence of your argument to the quest for originality. There is little point in exploring a nuance you have discovered if your basic argument is flawed. Therefore, before you expand your writing and research ensure that you have covered the basics of the topic. Remember that ultimately what is required to achieve an Upper First Class grade for your dissertation is innovative thought coupled with a well-argued central discussion. The conclusions you draw are also a fundamental part of an Upper First Class dissertation as is a comprehensive bibliography so don’t leave either your conclusion or your bibliography until the last minute. Give both the importance they deserve in your dissertation and you will leave your assessor with the desired impression: that they have read an Upper First Class piece of work which is, of course, precisely what you want and which, by following this brief guide, you will have every chance of achieving.
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