Identify your general area of interest
You will need to sustain this interest for the length of the unit, so choose a topic that really interests you. It might be something you have already come across in your studies and want to investigate further, or it might be something that could impact on your future plans and career path.
- Enable you to demonstrate an in-depth and substantial piece of research.
- Be something that you can locate adequate resources for.
- Be relevant and of interest to other practitioners in your field - it could be the subject of active debate.
Getting from a general idea to a focused plan for a dissertation will take research and planning. You might start by brainstorming ideas, or using mind-maps or other means to generate related ideas:
- Use this time to identify your objects of enquiry (for example, a specific artist or work).
- Use the objects of enquiry in combination with your area of interest to generate key words (for example, feminism, guerrilla girls, performance).
- Use these key words to do a literature search.
Read around your subject to stimulate further ideas
You will need to thoroughly investigate your area of research. Make notes of themes and key concepts in your own words - do not copy chunks or phrases, just changing the odd word. Use the UCA Harvard referencing system to keep records of your sources - failing to do this may lead to plagiarism. If you record a direct quotation, use quotation marks and note down the author's surname, year of publication and page number next to it. You should:
- Organise your notes in a way that is easily accessible.
- Critically analyse as you go along making links and noting down new ideas or questions that arise.
- Update your mind-map/plan with information from your research.
- Ask yourself whether you need to modify your original ideas in the light of your research.
See the Reading and Note Taking study guide for further advice.
Identify the focus of your dissertation
Having read around the subject area you are interested in, you should now be in a position to indicate the focus of your research and write your dissertation proposal.
Based on your research findings you need to be able to identify:
- Key topics to focus on.
- One or two main questions you would like to address.
- Emerging arguments.
- Key issues and debates.
Your dissertation proposal should set out:
- Your area of enquiry (your main idea).
- Your methodology.
- The resources used and an initial bibliography.
You need also to consider timetabling the researching and writing of your dissertation in order to meet the deadlines your course has given for handing in drafts.
Your course may issue Guidelines for Writing a Dissertation Proposal and, if so, you must check these and ensure you comply with them.
The main area of research
This involves indicating:
- Possible questions your dissertation aims to address.
- Your objects of enquiry. These are the particular elements you will examine in order to answer these questions. These may include people (for example, named artists, designers, architects and philosophers), specific fields of work or specific texts.
- The context of your research in terms of the key theories that frame your research (for example, key theorists, artworks and texts) and key debates or arguments within your area of enquiry (consider current issues and debates).
- The parameters you have set to define this area, for example, you may have limited your research to a specific time period.
You might like to indicate your reasons for choosing this topic. For example:
- Relevance to your studio work.
- Relevance to your future plans.
- Relevance to other contemporary practitioners and theorists.
This involves indicating how you intend to go about your research.
Ideally your dissertation proposal might outline a new way of linking and interpreting existing information in order to reach an original conclusion. Consider annotating the key texts listed in your bibliography in order to summarise the main points of interest to you in each text and indicate how they may be useful to support your argument.
At this stage you might also be able to indicate the structure of your dissertation and identify the route your argument will take by:
- Showing how you intend to subdivide your dissertation into sections or chapters.
- Giving a summary of the content of each section or chapter.
There are different ways of thinking about how to order and interpret research material. You could choose to indicate what your approach might be. For example:
- Taking an objective stance and dealing only with facts.
- Trying to identify recurrent themes or ideas.
- Trying to demonstrate some sort of progression.
- Making links and interpreting information with reference to disciplines outside the field of Art and Design.
To do this you will analyse existing texts (secondary sources) and possibly undertake some first-hand research (primary sources). Possible primary sources you may want to consider using include:
- Making your own analysis of a work.
- Visiting galleries, museums or archives to collect information.
- Entering into correspondence with an artist or curator.
- Conducting interviews or surveys.
Initial bibliography and list of resources
You should prepare a comprehensive preliminary list of the material you intend to consult. This must include:
- A bibliography presented using the UCA Harvard system.
- A list of any other resources.