Undergraduate 4th year
I supervise at least one undergraduate a year. Many of the same questions come up each year. I have prepared below a set of guidelines to help when starting out on a dissertation.
Please note that this is personal advice and not to be taken as a substitute for the undergraduate handbook and marking scheme.
The points above give you an idea of what to aim for but they don’t provide a method for how to get there. There are many ways to write a dissertation. It may be reassuring to know that there are simple methods that can reliably produce an excellent dissertation. The algorithm below is one method:
You have a first class dissertation!
A common worry among students is whether they are able to write enough words. The longest piece of philosophical writing they may have done so far is 3,000 words. How can you write a sustained argument that lasts for 8,000 words? This turns out to be easier than you might think. Indeed, the difficulty often turns out to be not going over the word limit.
For the sake of argument, let us see how following the algorithm above might work out in terms of word count.
And we are done!
Milestones depend on the specific project and you should talk to your supervisor about your workload and what would be a reasonable plan for finishing the dissertation in the year. Below is a rough plan that one might aim for.
Year 4, Semester 1:
Year 4, Semester 2:
A dissertation in philosophy is a story … like all good stories, it only includes what is essential to the story — Robert Paul Wolff’s astute advice that applies just as well to UG dissertations as well as PhD theses
Be concise, but explain yourself fully — Jim Pryor with an excellent 3-stage plan for writing philosophy
Style is the feather in the arrow, not the feather in the cap — Peter Lipton has some wonderful and concise writing advice
Read your work aloud. … Be firm: take your prose to the gym, and keep working at it until the bones and sinews show through! — Peter Smith, previously editor of Analysis, with some fantastic advice
What is an argument? — Jim Pryor’s guide is essential reading for anyone writing philosophy; it contains a lexicon of philosophical terms and a taxonomy of good and bad arguments, which is useful for classifying the arguments you consider