Writing your first chapter: A student perspective 

Becci Clarke, third-year undergraduate, tells us about her experiences so far of the capstone of the Newman degree: the Dissertation. 
Deep breath, you’ve done months of reading, now the dreaded time has come to write the first chapter of your dissertation. The vastness of a blank page can make you want to cry and head for the nearest student bar, but fear not, it’s not that bad once you get going. Here is my experience in writing my first chapter.


It’s something you try and put off, but the best way to start is to get into that mind-set of ‘ I actually have to do this’, taking the plunge is the first step to writing your first chapter. I consulted my plan first and organised my notes and primary sources, out of the massive stack of notes that you have complied. You only need the most important pieces of information that really back up what you are trying to say. Do this for your primary sources and select only what’s important, it really helps you know what you’ve got in your notes and whether there are any gaps in your knowledge that you need to fill. My dissertation is about, how Neo Confucian values affected the lives of upper class women in Song dynasty China, and my focus will be on the family in particular. Through a lifecycle from birth, marriage to death and the first part of my chapter will focus on the role of the Head wife. So it is important to have your structure in place and a plan before you start, because it will help you get from point A to point B. It’s best to discuss your plan with your tutor beforehand, so they can put you in the right direction.


Having spoken to Dr Charlotte Lewandowski and followed her advice, I started writing my chapter by just spewing words about my topic on the page. It really helps to get your ideas flowing and it saves you drumming your fingernails on your laptop. I wanted to write a killer first sentence to really get me going, but it took me about three tries to write one that could really kick start my chapter. After I felt I was writing a paragraph that could be called acceptable, I stopped to check it through and found that it had strayed from the point I was trying to make and that I could actually spilt that first paragraph into three separate points. This helped me to keep focused on what I was trying to say.


After you’ve put all of that effort in and your dissertation tutor rips it apart, please don’t be disheartened they are trying to help you improve. It can seems like the end of the world and a terrific waste of time, but your first chapter and the rest of your dissertation is going to go through a lot of shaping before it’s finally finished.


Good luck everyone!
Becci Clarke




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