writing a history dissertation

Writing a history dissertation

Preparing for a final-year history dissertation you need to bear in mind, firstly, that this is a 9,000 word essay and therefore a substantial piece of work (it is after all, a quarter of your assessed work for the year), and secondly, that to do it justice you need to give adequate time to think about your topic, the approach you intend to adopt, the sources you might use, and the way in which the dissertation is going to be dissertation supervisor should be able to help you with this, once you have decided on a suitable topic and approach. The historiography of your topic is likely to be a significant part of the dissertation and this will come from the secondary y source materials are far more varied.

Some of you will be looking at a set of them in connection with your special subject; you may also have encountered examples elsewhere in your history modules.

Before starting an interview, you should get permission from the person involved, see whether they mind being recorded or notes being taken, and ask whether they have any objection to being named in your dissertation.

If you decide that this is the case, you should fill out an undergraduate research ethics you come to draw up the bibliography at the end of your dissertation you should divide your entries between primary and secondary sources (most academic books do this, so look at how a couple of historians have done it – but keep it simple).

How to write a history dissertation

This can be very rewarding but it is time-consuming (and in terms of travel and somewhere to stay) can be of the important aims of a dissertation is originality.

But, perhaps more often, we are looking for some new source – a collection of letters, say, or a first hand account of some kind – that adds a new dimension to an existing field of scholarship or which tackles a topic that no-one seems to have looked at before or thought to be of much g a 9,000 word dissertation requires not just researching a topic but organizing your work effectively.

You will probably need to write a couple of drafts, or substantially revise parts of the work, before it is ready for submission. You should have framed your topic (usually) in the form of a question: you (and those who read it) need to be convinced that you have, by the end of the dissertation, adequately addressed and answered that aid to do this is to structure your dissertation into different sections.


In a dissertation of 9,000 words you might have 3 or 4 or 5 of these, each with its own (brief) title. This should help you and your readers to think more clearly about the natural divisions of the topic, the stages in your argument and the balance between different strands of interpretation and are expected to reference your material (quotations, statements of scholarly opinion etc) through footnotes: you can check on how to do this, if you don’t already know, with the ‘undergraduate style guide’ (which can be located on the history website under ‘final year study’ and then ‘final year handbooks’.

This is considered to be bad practice in a piece of history-writing, and you may be marked down for it.

Look at writing by established historians to get a feel for how they do may write up to 9,000 words in your dissertation.

This is a strict upper limit, and marks will be deducted if the dissertation is over-length.

Higher education

You will not gain any extra marks, as such, for an appendix, and it should not be used to advance the argument put forward in the main body of the submitting the dissertation, state the word-count on the title page.

You do not need to bind the dissertation, just present it in a neat ’t forget to leave enough time to proof-read your work: your examiners will not be impressed if your spelling is incorrect or inconsistent or you have clearly not bothered to check dates or obvious facts.

You could (and probably will) lose marks if you don’t pay attention to this kind of y, writing a dissertation should be fun: it should give a real chance to work and think like an academic historian, to experience the pleasure of finding something out for yourself, and to have the satisfaction of presenting a well-researched, thoughtfully written and convincingly argued piece of in doubt about any of this, speak to your supervisor: he/she is there to help you, though not to write the final version for you – that is entirely your cal advice for writing your dissertation, book, or cal advice for writing your dissertation, book, or have a stack of research materials, a nebulous yet promising topic, and a looming deadline.

My work as a dissertation coach and academic writing consultant, i am often asked for concrete strategies for writing.


Have found that the best recipe for sustained intellectual productivity is a mix of structured writing practices, time management strategies, and holistic lifestyle are eight practical strategies for focused, sustained writing—ways to create the space and structure to shepherd unarticulated ideas into a cogently written argument.

While targeted at the dissertation writer, this advice can be used by graduate students drafting their proposal, junior faculty members rewriting the dissertation into a book, and scholars working on articles.

Regardless of the type of project, healthy writing strategies—as opposed to staying-up-all-night marathons—are crucial.

My hope is that these strategies also help advisers to support their phd students through the nuts and bolts of the writing process.

Advice for students

Use a paper or electronic calendar to block out the times you will reserve specifically for this writing project. Use a timer to break down your allocated two hours, for example, into three 40-minute writing sessions. Such short intense bursts of writing will be more productive than spreading your work over long unplanned days. You write more in less time because you have allocated less time to work and thus must prioritize tasks and distill information.

If you are afflicted by writer's block, the problem could be trying to write at the wrong time for you—in the afternoon, for instance, when the body's biorhythms make energy wane.

The operative strategy here is shorter writing times coupled with commitment to a regular writing schedule.

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