Moving up a Gear: Undergraduate Dissertations and Projects

So it’s the Summer Vacation but it’s not too early to start thinking ahead to the next phase of your Warwick degree course… By Helen Ireland

Recovery mode

OK, so you’ve had a busy year, survived your exams (you hope!) and have already enjoyed a few weeks of total relaxation, recharging your batteries, travelling, catching up with friends, or maybe simply vegetating.  You’ve earned some downtime, focusing on you and not having to worry about deadlines for a few weeks.  Some of you may have vacation jobs to bring in funds, or internships to help with career planning, but you’ll all be ready for a break from studying.

Becoming a researcher

Enjoying a well-earned rest is fine but, all being well, you’ll be back here in October.  You may be a finalist with a dissertation to write, a second-year faced with a long, substantial essay, or be working on an individual or group project. Whatever the topic, this is your chance to delve deep into a subject that really grabs your interest and find out more than the basic facts you needed for last year’s assignments and lab reports.  You’ll be able to work closely with academics and learn why they’re so fired up by their own research – and you may even get the bug yourself and be able to contribute to one of the key research topics at Warwick!

Plan, plan, plan

OK, you have months before your deadline, so you don’t need to worry about it just yet, right?   Well, those months will fly by very fast, especially once you have to start on next year’s modules, so it really does pay off to start early and make the most of all that the Library has to offer.

Deciding on your exact topic isn’t always easy, but you can start jotting down an outline and some objectives.  Discuss it with your supervisor early on so that you can modify it if necessary.  Mind-mapping can be a big help here.

The Library has a good range of books on study skills and dissertation writing, some of them available as e-books, and you can find them by doing keyword searches on Library Search.  You can borrow standard loan books for the whole vacation and access others online so you can start background reading.  You’ll also be able to use other university libraries during the vacation. Check out this post about SCONUL Access, the Vacation scheme, and  other libraries and schemes.

Remember, you can access our e-resources from the comfort of your own home or from anywhere in the world with your Warwick username and password.

Information, information, information

Too much info or too little?  The earlier you start looking for it, the more chance you have of finding useful books and journal articles, having time to read them, and producing a good piece of work. We usually run Library training sessions in Term 1 on finding information in different subjects, but it can pay to get ahead of the game before October and spend some of those long empty days exploring the Library website and gathering ideas and information together.

At this stage you may just want to look at a few articles and get some more ideas.  Library Search is brilliant for finding books and journal articles quickly, and also book reviews to help you decide whether a book is worth the effort of reading it or trying to get hold of it. You can even create lists of book titles in ‘My Library Account’ and add to them as time goes on. However, Library Search doesn’t cover all the articles and databases to which we have access so at some point you’ll need to do a structured search on one or more of the databases themselves. Look at the Library’s subject pages and database lists by subject for suggestions about the best databases to try, and advice on searching. When you find a reference, click on the WebBridge link for access to the full text if it’s available.

Not in stock?

Don’t despair, you can fill in an online book suggestion form, and include your supervisor’s name in case of any query.  Sometimes a book may be very specialised or out of print so that we can’t buy it.  In that case you may need to use Document Supply, but talk to your supervisor first.  If you can’t access a journal article, try Article Reach.  If the PDF is available from there, you’ll receive a link to it very quickly, although again for more specialised articles you may need to use Document Supply.

Organising your references

It’s never too early to get into the habit of being organised and keeping track of the information you find.  Few things are more frustrating than reading a brilliant article or book chapter and then not being able to find it again a few months later.   Work through our tutorials on Referencing and on using referencing software such as Endnote Online, and come back to us if you need more help.


You can contact your Academic Support Librarian even when you’re away from Warwick, email or look at the collection of dissertation relevant advice from other blog posts.


Starting research is challenging but it should also be fun and absorbing.  We’ll publish more posts later about what to do if things aren’t going well, or if you could use some more help, but this should be enough to get you started.  Good luck!


Image: Summer work place/ Wojciech Staszczyk/CC BY-NC 2.0


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