Your Dissertation Part One: What Is a Dissertation?

Most of the time in the UK and at the University of Portsmouth in particular, a dissertation is your final piece of study at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. This final piece of work will demonstrate the intellectual, research and presentation skills that you have developed throughout your degree, whilst also letting you create something which is uniquely your own. Oh yes, you read that right, you are the one that sets the direction of your dissertation so that you can focus on a subject that you are passionate about. Since this will be the largest, most important and generally most dreaded project you have to complete during your time at university, it seems fair that you get to set your own topic.



While dissertations tend to vary greatly depending on your field of study, here are a few general rules that apply to all:

Word Count:

  1. Undergraduate: 10,000 Words
  2. Masters: 15,000
  3. Masters of Research: 20,000 – 25,000
  4. PhD Theses: 80,000

No need to worry, though! That substantial word count will fill up pretty rapidly (I know from personal experience that the first draft of my supposedly 10,000 words BSc dissertation was, actually, 38,000 words in length), since you will most certainly feel the need to sustain your analysis and interpretation over a greater range of data and academic material.


Deadlines for undergraduate dissertations are somewhere during the second half of April, in your final year of the course; eleven months after the start of your course if you’re doing a Masters, and approximately three years after the start of your PhD (although deadlines for doctorates are flexible).

But what is a Dissertation?

So, we know a dissertation is a large written project, but what about? Well first it begins by identifying an area of inquiry within your field of study, and a gap in the literature around that subject. Your dissertation is therefore an attempt to try and fill that gap in literature, answer the questions that are unanswered or perhaps even ask important questions that others haven’t yet thought of.

It is very important that you are passionate about your project, and about developing knowledge concerning that particular topic. I know from experience that, while the dissertation process is lengthy compared to all other coursework you will have to complete, time flies a lot faster when you have a genuine interest in your subject area. Your passion will also be reflected in the thought you put in creating and planning the project, as well as in writing up your findings – so it will also translate in a higher grade!

That concludes our post on just what a dissertation is, have a look here for our next post on planning your project!

Alexandra Maria Uibariu