Monday, 11 April 2016

Some Notes on Dissertations

One of the most important pieces of work that our online MA students have to grapple with on our pioneering MA in 3D animation (the first of its kind) is a dissertation.

The dissertation is the academic part of the Master's degree and, while it's not always the favourite part for most digital artists, it's something we have to get to grips with in order to be awarded a degree.

Below are some of the common errors made in the course of dissertation writing, and some tips on how to fix them. The list was compiled by Dr Fil Ieropolus, who is in charge of the academic writing at Bucks New University. It's a great starting point for anyone taking our course who is a bit rusty with their written work.

Avoid cross-referencing.
Always go to the initial source. Try to avoid a secondary source quoting someone else - find the original document or source if you can.

Do not paraphrase when referencing sources.
Use specific quotes in inverted commas, exactly as it was written in the source itself.

Do not skip around between disciplines. 
You cannot quote a mathematician and move onto a sociologist / cultural analyst in the same paragraph without those being well-connected by quite a few explanatory sentences. In your mind they might make sense, but disciplines can be intensely different, even contradictory. Too much pick-and-mixing is dangerous.

Avoid phrases like 'common sense' and terms like “it is widely accepted that….” - even if you have a source to back it up. 
Try to avoid using absolutes, it's always best to relativise your phrasing. This does not mean you cannot have an opinion - just make sure it clearly states that something is your opinion. There is no such thing as “objective truth” in academia.

Do not presume knowledge from your reader. 
Just because you explained in your previous essay what the principles of animation are, it does not mean that this is clear for another essay. Always explain briefly when you introduce terms.

Let quotations breathe. 
Avoid overloading a paragraph with quotes. And, make sure you explain/discuss why a quotation is useful for you. [NB: we appreciate that striking a balance between quotations and your own words is very hard].

Make sure you choose specialists from the right disciplines to make convincing arguments.
A biologist is not the right person to talk about the importance of art and a sociologist should not be quoted analysing acting methods. Cross-disciplinary research is hard, so only go that way if you do quite a significant amount of reading. If you definitely need crossreferencing texts, choose very respected journals, e.g. Leonardo for art & science connections/overlaps [but do keep in mind that those are usually VERY hard to read].

Avoid scientific sources, as you can find yourselves in difficult territory.
If you need to use scientific sources, make sure that you use respectable ones [a lot of online sources are not academic enough] and make sure you research a topic a lot and understand it really well. Also keep scientific sources for discussing hard facts [mechanics, body basics] as opposed to cultural traits / culture-based areas.

Avoid using encyclopaedias, dictionaries and Wikipedia, unless absolutely necessary. 
Wikipedia is frequently good with providing sources, so you can go to the original text relatively easily.

And there you have it! Finally, don't forget the excellent "Skills You Need" website, which has a very useful page offering some helpful advice on how to write a dissertation. It's pretty general advice, but it comes recommended by the academic team at Bucks as being a good starting point for your dissertation journey. To find the site, follow this link. And if you're wondering about how to accurately reference your written work, don't forget this excellent site.

To find out more about Animation Apprentice, click here for a link to Frequently Asked Questions. To sign up for our next classroom at Animation Apprentice, follow this link


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