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  • Writer's pictureChristie Roberts

My University Experience- Dissertation

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

It's spring, and that means for final year student nurses all over the country, it's dissertation season! I wanted to make a quick post outlining my top tips when it comes to writing and editing your dissertation.

I handed in my diss nearly 3 years ago now (which is mad) and got 86%, which I was absolutely over the moon with. Mine was a literature review entitled 'What are the mental health experiences of patients living with chronic heart failure? A literature review'. I chose this title as CHF was an area of interest, having worked on a research project centred around CHF patients in my 3rd year (which you can read here if you're at all interested, or find out more about how I got involved in this post).

If you want a cute hand in pic but only have online submission, you can just print off the cover page and hold in front of a stack of blank paper....

These tips will apply mostly to literature reviews, which is probably the most common style of undergraduate nursing dissertation. Without further ado...

You need to pick a topic that interests you.

You're going to be spending months of your life researching this topic, so it's in everyone's interests that it's something you're actually interested in. An area you've seen in placement is usually a good place to start, or if you have a particular interest in a specific area of nursing practice or care. I chose to focus on parity of esteem between mental and physical health care as it's an area I care deeply about both personally and professionally, so I knew I would be absorbed in deepening my knowledge. And I chose to focus on heart failure because I already knew a fair bit about it so could cut down my workload; this is why a topic relating to a placement you've been on can be useful (work smarter, not harder).

Ensure that your topic is nursing focused

You need to be able to demonstrate why your review is important for nurses, and what it adds to the body of nursing knowledge. For me, the easiest way to do this was to shape the question around nurses and nursing practices. I developed my question around parity of esteem and holism as this is something that all nurses should be striving for, and I was able to back this up with NMC and government sources demonstrating the importance of these concepts- NMC Code, No Health Without Mental Health (DOH, 2011)- and evidence-based research outlining the relationship with physical and mental health outcomes. Other angles to take could be considering the role of the nurse in MDT settings, considering essential nursing skills like communication or evaluating nurse led services such as long-term condition management, or cervical screening.

Keep a journal

Whether this is on paper or electronic, it's really helpful to be able to keep track of your progress with writing and other things like your search terms and results, and dates of database searches. I work best off paper so kept a written log of my progress and notes, but also had a document with a table outlining all my search terms linked with Boolean operators so I could really easily copy and paste to avoid any transcription errors between databases. I also used my journal to note down interesting points that appeared to contribute to my body of knowledge, and anything that I wanted to come back to in the discussion portion of the paper.

Make accounts on databases to be able to save your previous searches

Similar but different to the last tip, most (all?) databases like PubMed and CINAHL will allow you to create an account so that you can save searches. This is obviously very useful when you've got huge numbers of search terms, which may be changing over the course of your project, and you need to keep track of which search brought up which results.

In the picture below, you can see my list of saves search terms joined with OR, and then these combined with AND, and finally all the terms with limiters e.g., date range applied.

Don't leave it until the last minute

Might seem simplistic, but the time can really start to get away from you. They do say diamonds are made under pressure, but thre's a fine line between healthy, motivational pressure, and crippling, unmanageable pressure- I ended up on the wrong side of this line... I had a 5-week extension due to my mental health nosediving during the semester, and I still ended up submitting it on the day of the new deadline. And I was in such a rush to get everything finished, that I submitted it with the wrong title on the first page. Learn from my mistakes! You want to have enough time to comfortably proofread your work before submitting. Things like spelling and referencing will be the first things to go when the pressure is mounting, and these are really easy marks to bank if you get those little elements right.

Know what works for your productivity

This will look different for everyone, but you've got 3 years’ experience of writing assignments now so you really need to pull together every tip and tactic that you've learnt over the course to foster a productive environment. Do you work best at home, or in the library, or in a coffee shop? Music on or silence? Early bird or night owl?

It can be difficult to try and juggle your optimum working environment with being on placement, or part time working, or being with your family. My prime working hours are 11pm-2am, which doesn't really work when you've got 3 long days on placement coming up. And I somehow thrive working in total chaos, as long as there’s a cat included.

If you tend to get distracted by your phone, the app 'Forest' could be really helpful. You plant a virtual tree, which takes a specified time period to grow, and if you use your phone during that time, the tree dies (heartbreaking). There's also an app that has a timer for the Pomodoro Method if that's helpful to structure breaks throughout the day.

Pay attention to your supervisor’s comments

Usually, your supervisor will be who is marking your dissertation (but will usually also have a second marker), and as we all know, there can be huge variations in how different lecturers want things written and presented to be hitting those top grades. So, try to take advantage of sending sections to your supervisor for comments, and send them in plenty of time so you're not pressuring them into reviewing it a day before the deadline! Just remember to be nice and credit them in your ackowledgements.

Learn the fancy tricks on Word

I would say its 100% worth giving yourself a crash course in Microsoft Word, so you can learn nifty tricks like how to use page breaks to include landscape pages, automatic page numbering and fancy contents tables that take you to the right page when you click on it. Plus, it's transferrable skills!


If you're going to post a picture of your dissertation online, please please please make sure that the title is clearly displayed, so nosy people like me can find out what you were working on.

Hopefully that was helpful! In terms of resources, I would really recommend 'Doing a literature review in health and social care' by Helen Aveyard and 'A beginners guide to evidence based practice in health and social care' by Pam Sharp and Helen Aveyard. I'm not sure what the current edition of either of those are, but they are both briliant books.

I am also more than happy to proofread bits of anyone's dissertation and offer what advice I can; mainly on things like conciseness and clarity; spelling; critical analysis; referencing- rather than content because I obviously can't guarantee that I know much about it. The only payment I ask for is getting to read a completed version when you're done!!!

Any questions, please drop me a message on here, twitter or instagram (@christienursing)

Love, Christie x

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