Home » Exams & Training » Specialty Training » Current trainees » Dissertations » Dissertation guide » Dissertation Guide: Writing the dissertation
last updated:05/07/2016 @ 8:06 pm
Print this page

Dissertation Guide: Writing the dissertation

If you are in higher specialist training, your educational supervisor must be involved, and will be a valuable source of advice and encouragement. Occasionally it may be necessary to adjust the direction of your work but there is no need to submit a new outline proposal.

The dissertation should be written in a similar fashion to a scientific paper. It will have gone through a similar gestation period and will have followed the same developmental processes. The assessors will view your dissertation as would journal referees. It should be about 8,000 to 10,000 words in length. The number of words should be stated on the title page. Assessors may refuse to assess dissertations that are longer than 10,000 words and no credit will be given for exceeding this limit.

The presentation will be taken into account in the assessment:

  • Word number and other aspects of the format must conform to current MFOM Regulations and follow any relevant guidance associated with the Regulations.
  • Written English must be clear and of good quality, with accurate spelling and grammar, and a clear layout.
  • Tables and figures must be clear and accurate, tidy and well laid out, without duplication of information.
  • The table of contents, any abbreviation list, and the pagination must be accurate.
  • References must be cited according to a recognised convention, and referencing must be consistent and accurate.
  • Quotations from other documents must be correctly attributed, without plagiarism.
  • Candidates should provide an Acknowledgements section containing a detailed statement of their own role in the project and which states clearly the roles of any advisers or colleagues. The respective contributions of other parties should be clear to the assessors.

Most projects can be reported in sections under the following headings:

  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Appendices (if appropriate)

Subheadings within these sections should be used where appropriate to aid clarity and understanding.

Introduction: This should describe the basic problem in the context of your industry/ factory/workplace leading to a review of the literature, highlighting current knowledge, previous investigations, and any conflicting evidence. Strengths and weaknesses of previous investigations and their methodology might be identified. A clearly defined aim for your project should emerge naturally from this assessment; if possible it should be consolidated into a single sentence. Assume the reader does not know anything about the subject.

You should have collected the relevant references and be familiar with their content and applicability to your work, but you need not use all of them, especially in the introduction (the discussion section will normally include a comparison with other findings and another opportunity for expansion). Plan carefully how you use and cite references; you should have seen and read every reference you cite. Ensure that you attribute references correctly, reporting findings or results rather than speculation unless this is appropriate. Are your references a primary source of information or do they quote others? 

Methods: This section will describe in detail the methods used to investigate the problem, including statistical techniques. It will identify the what, how, and when of the data collected, the subjects and their selection (if appropriate), comparison populations and the reason for their selection. Investigations should be defined ‐ again who, where, when, how are the questions to be addressed. Use of questionnaires should be stated together with justification or validation. Ethical issues, permission/consent, and co‐operation from management and trade associations should be covered if appropriate to your investigation and any relevant correspondence with an ethics committee appended. The Methods section should also address the analysis of your data; the methods or tests to be used, justification for the number of subjects to be used; an assessment of the power of your study may be appropriate, together with your strategy to minimise errors and biases. Finally, what external assistance will you be using? Analysis of data and of air samples are two obvious examples where you may need extra help; this is allowed with acknowledgement. 

Results: These must be presented in the most appropriate form. Extensive use should be made of tables, or figures and graphs when these convey the message better. A narrative of the results should be restricted to highlighting the most important results and should refer the reader to tables etc. rather than simply repeat in word form what may be obvious from tables. However, certain differences, say between subjects of interest and referents, or other important comparative information, should be identified briefly ‐ if only to direct the reader to a specific table. A clear statement should be included on the findings in relation to your study question(s). 

Discussion: Try not to repeat your description of results in this section, other than by way of a brief summary or drawing together of the threads. Instead, your discussion should compare your findings with previous work and should identify the strengths and weaknesses of your study compared to others. Methodological problems should be discussed and their likely influence on your results, focusing on such things as measurement error, confounding, biases and statistical uncertainty. Speculation may be appropriate on the reasons for unexpected findings. Finally, you will have to draw the discussion to a close and make firm conclusions on your work. These may be strongly positive, inconclusive, or even negative. Have you achieved your aim? How can your findings be applied? Is further work required, or can you make recommendations for practice? 

References: These should either be in the Vancouver or Harvard style; remember it is quality and relevance of references that count, not quantity.

Appendices: These may be required for very large tables or to record supplementary analyses of background interest which would be inappropriate in the text of your dissertation. Other information e.g. study questionnaires, Approved Codes of Practice, procedural documents, or your research ethics committee approval letter (if required) can also be placed in an Appendix.

Abstract: The abstract should be written last. In it you should consolidate the most important features of the work including the objective, a very brief summary of the methods, principal results, conclusions, and recommendations. The use of structured headings is recommended. It is an exercise in self‐control and good writing to achieve a summary within the limit of no more than 300 words, but it can be done. Many of the papers read in pursuit of your dissertation will have abstracts of varying quality and so you should have an idea of what makes a good abstract and which features to include and which to avoid.

Style: The dissertation should be written concisely in good English. Sentences should be short, precise and of simple construction. (It is a good discipline to go through the text carefully thinking about this, and whether some sentences of tangential relevance could be removed altogether – less is often more.)

You should avoid jargon (both medical and ‘management’) and unnecessary convolution. Where abbreviations are required they should be written in full the first time and followed by the abbreviation in brackets. Subsequently the abbreviation should be used, e.g. Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Follow the normal conventions of scientific writing including standard units of measurement. Tables and figures should be numbered and should have a title. Large tables and figures should be placed on individual pages adjacent to the relevant text. The table of contents and page numbering must be accurate. Citations must be accurate and in the correct style. Each main section should start on a new page.

The essence of a good paper or dissertation lies in its readability. It should be a pleasure to read. If its style is difficult to read, then its message will be hidden and the sympathy of the reader lost. Scrupulous attention to detail must be the watchword at every stage. Proof reading is essential. Get others to proof read it too, including someone divorced from the subject at hand (even a layperson); a fresh pair of eyes may spot where the sense or logic is flawed. Remember that word‐processor spellcheckers will not pick up on inappropriate spellings of words (e.g. principal/principle).