Keeping to your word count when writing your essay or dissertation When it comes to writing an essay or a dissertation you’ll probably have been made aware of the fact that there are a number of key components that make up these two academic document types. For an essay, the key elements that have to be included within the document are; - An introduction which will generally consist of 3 components: a brief explanation of the context of the topic, an outline of your interpretation of the topic, and an explanation of how you are going to approach or examine the topic within this particular essay. - The main body of the essay, where you will discuss your chosen topic, using the approach or means of examination that you have outlined in your introduction. - A conclusion which again generally consists of 3 components: a restatement of the question or task that opens the essay and what you believe to be the important features of the topic that features in this question or task, a summary of the evidence that you have presented throughout the body of the essay, and a statement that summarises your overall ‘concluding’ view of the topic. A dissertation is a more thorough and often more focused piece of academic writing. The structure for such a document is similar to that of an essay, as outlined above. However there are generally specific sub-sections of the main body of a dissertation that also need to be considered. These are; - A methodology which outlines what form of investigative work you are going to undertake to complete your dissertation. This could be a review of pieces of literature, a qualitative study or a practical testing of a hypothesis. - A review of the information informing your methodology. This could be via a literature review for example. - A section dedicated to your findings and an analysis or interpretation of these findings. A well written essay or dissertation will ensure that each of these key components are addressed thoroughly. All very well and good you may think, but how do you give the level of detail needed to be thorough and also stick to a stated word count? Surely content should be more important than an imposed word limit? Unfortunately this isn’t the case. Word limits are set in order to discipline students into being concise in their writing and to analyse a topic carefully, making careful decisions regarding what should be added into an essay or dissertation and what should be left out. If word limits are not adhered to then crucial marks will be lost, and this is a very frustrating way to find your marks knocked down by examiners or tutors. Don’t forget that falling considerably short of word counts is just as bad a practice as exceeding them, for it suggests that you have not examined the topic in sufficient detail. So when writing your essay or dissertation be sure to get as close to the word count as possible…without exceeding it! Also remember that often, references, appendices and footnotes aren’t included in word limits, so use them to your advantage and portray information in these areas of your essay or dissertation. Finally, it is easy to fall into the trap of panicking as you get close to the word limit of your essay or dissertation and cutting the conclusion short. This is never a good idea as it can make the ending of your document seem quite abrupt, and there are always a lot of marks to be gained from a well written conclusion. To avoid this panic approach, as part of your planning process work out approximately how many words you can dedicate to each section of your essay or dissertation, and then stick to these word limits as you pull together the main content of your academic document.
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