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    So, due to our other terrible third year module options, I've coerced myself into picking the dissertation module. It's not wholely reluctantly, I do think it would be interesting to study something in depth (our dissertation is about 5000-6000 words long) but when we were told that 'it's a good option if you have a special interest or would like to go into further research after undergrad', I was a bit concerned, because neither of those apply to me.

    The point is, I need a bit of help on how to come up with a proposal - even just rough ideas that I can narrow down. I've got a bit of a vague interest concerning early 20th century novels (especially F S Fitzgerald) and war literature, but that is literally as far as I've got. What kind of things did you guys come up with when you were planning yours?
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    You dont have to come up with anything elaborate at this stage. Just thinking 'I want to do something on ....' is enough. Many undergrads think that they have to say something 'new' and come up with something staggering original in their dissertation. You dont. Look at it like 3 x 2,000 essays on one topic. All you have to do is show you can work on your own without being constantly spoon-fed and you have the ability to search out relevant material/resources/texts.

    So, choose an area/topic that you have enjoyed and think about one angle. How does an author treat his female characters across different works? What similar themes do a couple of specific 1920s poets deal with? Etc Etc. What could you come up with about Fitzgerald? Remember it doesnt have to be anything astonishingly original. Look at some critical articles and see what they pick out as significant to give you a start.

    You'll get help in developing a title/question and guidance about structure etc at the start of the course. You dont have to do the entire thing 'on your own'.
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    What returnmigrant said. I'd add that a dissertation is often a wise third-year option, whether or not you've a particular special interest in it, because provided you're thinking about it and doing a modicum of work on it from well in advance it's quite hard to do badly on it. So the fact that you're thinking about it now bodes well, I'd say.

    As for how I came up with the argument for my dissertation... I had mostly vague ideas and odd sets of notes and a working knowledge of some relevant texts until about the late autumn of my third year, when my supervisor suggested I start with some very basic close readings of passages which I liked or found interesting. Those were quite helpful as they showed me some specific ways the themes I was interested in could be worked through in detail with my primary texts. From then on it was a case of working out of how to introduce, justify and carry through those things. So one way into the problem is just to sit down and do detailed close reading/practical crit for a little while and see where your readings are leading. A side-benefit is that often some of this close reading work can be incorporated into the dissertation itself.

    Another way to go about finding ideas is to react to other people. You can hunt down some the recent journal articles and monographs you can find on the texts and topics you're interested in and skim-read their abstracts/introductions to get a rough sense for what's going on in scholarship on your primary texts. This will also give you the beginnings of a rough working bibliography (which will obviously narrow in some areas and expand in others -- and into older scholarship as you continue). You can generate a lot of potential work out of other people's scholarship: you can take an article or a trend in recent scholarship and argue that it's wrong/inadequate, or find an article with a methodology or approach you like which talks about other texts and then apply that methodology/approach (perhaps with your own modifications) to your own primary texts.

    As returnmigrant says, you shouldn't be staggeringly ambitious. 6k words isn't usually enough space to back up any big field-shaking claims anyway.
 
 
 
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