Ten Key Characteristics of Final Year Undergraduate Dissertations and Projects, please react

Please send suggestions for changes and edits to Mick Healey.
A dissertation or final year project will usually have several key characteristics which are common to most, though not necessary all, disciplinary or interdisciplinary areas whether undertaken on campus, in the workplace or in the community.  Dissertations and final year projects are likely to require:

  • An extended piece of work
  • Research and inquiry
  • An element of originality, innovation or creativity
  • A discipline-based or interdisciplinary topic
  • Work which is underpinned by relevant sources
  • Critical thinking and assessment
  • Contextualisation and recognition of the provisionality of knowledge
  • Methodology
  • Self-reflective commentary
  • A build-up to conclusions
  • It needs to be an extended piece of work.

1. This means that the dissertation or project tackles a central question or issue in depth.

  •  It needs to be research or inquiry based.

2. There are a great variety of approaches to research, but central to all of them is a desire to find out something significant about ourselves or our world. For example, research can be qualitative, quantitative, laboratory based, design based, artistic, ethnographic, participative, action research, research ‘on’, ‘for’ or ‘with’ people, first person inquiry, or any other scholarly approach.

  •  It needs an element of originality, innovation or creativity.

3. Dissertations and final year projects need to go beyond stringing together facts from books. The originality could come from, for example, the application of a theoretical framework to new data, critical evaluation of the arguments surrounding a controversial issue, bringing together information from multiple sources and presenting it in an innovative way, or applying theory to real-life issues.

  • It needs to be relevant to a discipline or take an interdisciplinary approach.

4. The student usually has the opportunity to choose their subject matter, but it should be relevant to the student’s areas of interest and hence maybe disciplinary or inter-disciplinary in nature. Sometimes the project’s focus may be work or community based.

  • It needs to be underpinned by a range of relevant sources.

5. Sources that inform dissertations and projects include textbooks, journal articles, interviews, experiments, blogs, wikis, practice reports and direct personal experience. What is appropriate depends on the situation and the purposes that the source is being used for, and it should be recognised that all sources have strengths and limitations.

  •  It needs an element of critical thinking and evaluation.

6. Students are required to consider and examine relevant sources, questioning what they learn and the ideas which are presented to them. They should consider a variety of ideas, leading up to their final and reasoned conclusions and implement the skills that they have accumulated throughout their degree to research, analyse, and discuss.

  • It needs to be contextualised and show recognition of the provisionality of knowledge.

7. It is essential that students understand and demonstrate the context of the work on which they draw and are contributing to within their fields. Dissertations and final year projects in higher education should recognise that knowledge is uncertain and provisional.

  •  It needs a clearly defined methodology and appropriate methods

8. These provide a structure, purpose and rationale for the dissertation or project and should be appropriate for its aims and objectives.

  •  It needs to be supported by an element of reflective commentary

9. This helps to understand the student’s reasoning and to place the dissertation or project in its setting.

  •  It needs to build up to its conclusions.

10. Dissertations and final year projects should build on all the above points to reach a coherent set of conclusions which relate to both the particular topic and the research process.

This is a draft list of characteristics.  Please send suggestions for changes and edits to Mick Healey.