The five hardest things about writing a Human Geography dissertation

1. Getting the word out there!

After my project was risk and ethics assessed and approved I began searching for international students at my university as interview participants. This was initially straightforward as I had met quite a few international students during my studies. Problems arose however, when I began the second stage of my research with an online survey created on SurveyMonkey. I aimed to get 50 participants but only achieved 28. Even though I advertised it on my social media pages (Twitter and Facebook) and in society emails, the response was fairly disappointing. In hindsight I would have opened the online survey much earlier in the year and kept it running for longer than a month.

2. Finding relevant readings

I have never read more than I have for my dissertation. There is a vast amount of work available on migration and feelings of home and belonging which my study focused on. It was fairly overwhelming to begin with, however having to submit a proposal this time last year meant that I had already started my reading a year before hand-in! It was difficult to motivate myself with such a long time to work on the project and so I broke down readings by week, beginning with core readings recommended by my tutor. I aimed to read one reading per day. Of course this didn’t always happen due to other commitments! There were stressful times where I couldn’t find new readings or felt I was going off-topic. After some mini melt-downs, I organised my readings into themes and looked for references which came up various times to continue my research and build up my literature review.

3. Structure

I had been given a rough guide on how many words there should be per section of the dissertation. Unfortunately, everyone I spoke to had different ideas! I spoke to several students studying Physical Geography who, whilst their structures were similar to mine, were analysing vast amounts of numerical data. In contrast, my project focused on qualitative data and so my tutor advised me to concentrate on the discussion section which would draw on theories to contexualise my data. Writing the thesis involved a lot of moving sections around whilst trying to maintain a steady flow. I found this one of the hardest and most time consuming parts of the project.

4. Word Limit

I never thought I would complain that a 10,000 word limit was not enough, but that’s exactly what I was doing a month ago. When you have worked on a project for almost a year, conducted interviews and other primary research, you want to include everything and analyse it to the best of your ability. I found that my discussion section could have continued for another few thousand words and it was very difficult to delete key quotes from interviews and remain concise throughout. I think critical analysis and editing are perhaps the most important skills I learnt from the project and things I will take forward into my future work.

5. In conclusion…

How do you conclude something which has no clear conclusion? This has been an ongoing question throughout my degree and something which I’m sure many humanities students relate to. There was no clear-cut conclusion in my research and nor should there have been due to the personal and dynamic nature of the topic of home and belonging. I found that the real aim of writing a dissertation was collecting all the skills needed to write it. Skills such as: primary researching, selective reading, data and theory analysis, time management and extensive editing. I was not completely happy with my conclusion section, however I was satisfied with my choice of topic, my approach and what I learnt from those I spoke to,the literature and the writing process. 

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