Reflection of Dissertation Proposal

In preparation for our full dissertations which we will write in third year (next year), we were set the assignment of writing our dissertation proposals.

Our proposals were made up of an opening overview, a literature review in the middle, and a research plan to end the essay. It was definitely a tricky one to write, particularly the literature review as I had no idea what one even was up until this task. Before beginning the writing of the proposal, the first thing we had to choose a question or topic to write about. Although I had several ideas, I decided on the topic of subcultures after studying them in Constellation lectures in my first year of university with Cath Davies and knowing that I really enjoyed the subject and found it fascinating – after all, my topic had to be something I was interested by because I am going to be writing an entire book on it.

To help me settle on an exact topic or question which included the subject of subcultures, I filled in a planning form. Although there were five types of dissertation structures that I could choose from on the form, the main two which interested me were the 8000 to 10,000 word thesis, or the 6000 word creative enterprise research proposal (business plan) and presentation. I decided in the end on the first of these two as I realised I had no business of my own to write about. The planning form also included a section in which we could state any areas that we were interested in such as, key designers, artists, theorists, and case studies. I made note of the Punk subculture as a case study as I especially enjoyed looking into them last year with Cath and actually wrote my essay at the time on the group. I also listed graphic designer, Jamie Reid, who was most well-known for his work done in the Punk era, particular his pieces done for British Punk Rock band, the ‘Sex Pistols’ – my thorough favourite out of all his outrageous designs was the album cover he made for the Sex Pistols’ song, ‘God Save the Queen’ which was extremely controversial for its time. I made note of Dick Hebdige as an academic and theorist that I knew wrote about subcultures, particularly in his book, ‘Subcultures: The Meaning of Style’.

After having a meeting with my Constellation tutor, they helped me put my topic into a statement for me to use as a title. I had previously been trying to put it into the form of a question and was, now looking back, making an easy job much more complicated for myself. The statement I decided on was simply: “The relationship between graphic communication and media, and subcultures.” Having linked in my own area of study, graphic communication, into the title, means that I will be able to link my dissertation into my own course work in third year. After handing in our proposal forms, we were assigned individual personal dissertation tutors who were believed to be of most help according to our chosen title. It was of no surprise when I got assigned the subcultural expert herself, Cath Davies. I found that having a personal tutor was great as you knew exactly who you could email or talk to during a mini-breakdown or panic attack over your dissertation planning and having regular meetings with mine, meant that I was able to stay on track and know that I was working in the right direction.

The next step for me was to begin reading – reading absolutely everything! My course was lucky to have workshops set up by our course leaders, with the academic librarian for CSAD, Martha Lee. These workshops motivated me to go away and begin looking for potential useful books for my dissertation proposal. However, after a week or so, I found myself struggling to find books that were useful to me. After sitting around and avoiding the hold-up for another week or so (which was most definitely the wrong thing to do), a peer told me that they’d been to have an individual meeting with Martha who helped them to find plenty of useful books, so I decided to try it out for myself. Sure enough, Martha was great help to me too! She helped me find a few books that were subculture-based, but also showed me how I could narrow down my MetSearches to find more exact results, rather than finding books that maybe said the word ‘subculture’ in them once, on one page out of hundreds, and then didn’t mention the word again. I had my first mini-breakdown at this point (which had been expected to arrive soon-ish), due to thinking I needed to change my topic because there were barely any books which spoke about the relationship between graphics and subcultures, it was more about the textiles world (fashion). Fortunately, my personal tutor did a good job at convincing me otherwise and that it was in fact a good thing that there was not a lot written on the relationship, because I had managed to find a gap to fill in myself. Leaving Cardiff to go home for Easter, I had pages and pages of quotes collected from books and a stack of about ten further books to read at home.

I was struggling to get my head around what a literature review actually was, so instead of getting started on it, I found myself avoiding yet another hold-up (which I seem to be very good at doing) and instead just collecting more and more quotes, some of which I haven’t even used in my finished proposal. I found myself not wanting to start it just because I was scared that I might do it wrong. In the end, I convinced myself to just begin writing the overview at very least, and fortunately I got ‘on a roll’ and realised that it wasn’t that difficult after all. Looking back now, I am so glad that I started it when I did, because I have not had the stress of it being a mad rush last minute – I have just been doing little bit at a time, about 500 to 1000 words a day. Overall, I feel that perhaps the definition of a literature review could have been explained a bit more clearly to us, as I left university still not being 100% sure on how I was writing it. Questions I had included things like, “Am I allowed to put my own personal opinion in it?” and “What person am I writing it in – first person, third person, a mix of both?” It was difficult not being able to get it checked over, however my friends and I were able to peer review and compare each other’s proposals to understand if we were on the right track still.

Final thoughts – “Thank god it’s over… for now.”

Keynotes 3 – Academic Forensics

This week, our keynotes lecture was with Dr. Martyn Woodward and was about academic forensics, specifically the literature review – this means, what is already known? Who knows it? And what is missing?

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a summary of what an existing scholar knows about a particular topic. It is always based on secondary sources – so, what other people have already written on the subject – a literature review is not about discovering new knowledge and information. Because of this, a literature review is a prelude to further research and a digest of scholarly opinions. A literature review should focus on only the relevant academic literature – popular or non-academic sources can be brought in occasionally to prove or illustrate a point, although the core interest is always on the theories put together by experts within the field.

What does a literature review do?

  • It situates the focus of your research within the context of the wider academic community in your field.
  • It addresses your critical review of the relevant literature.
  • It identifies a gap within the relevant literature that your research will then attempt to address.
  • It identifies literature in other fields that may help to ‘fill’ this gap.

What we need to ask ourselves?

  • What questions am I asking?
  • Why am I asking these questions?
  • Has anyone else done anything similar?
  • Is my research relevant to any research, practice or theory within my own field?
  • What is already known or understood about this topic?
  • How might my research add to this understanding, or challenge existing theories and beliefs?

Where does the literature review go?

It will depend on my chosen topic or question, and form of dissertation.

  • It can be a chapter at the start that sets the context – for disciplinary work.
  • It can be spread throughout several chapters – for interdisciplinary work.
  • It can be spread through the entire dissertation – for transdisciplinary work.

Keynotes Lecture 2 – Research

This week, our keynotes lecture was with Dr. Ashley Morgan and was all about research, research, research!

Firstly, what is research?

It comes from the desire to discover meaning, to find out more about a subject, the way that a particular thing works, or the manner in which certain things hand occurred.

When undertaking a dissertation, you need to:

  • Ask the question, what does it mean?
  • Examine, explore, discover and give context to your ideas.
  • Discover what existing academic authors write – what arguments, ideas, proposals, debates, information or background information, is already out there?
  • Find the right contextual research to look into – use peer reviewed texts (use MetSearch).
  • Think about how the research that’s done by others and is already out there, is going to impact on your dissertation.
  • Remember, your research forms a basis for your literature review – it gives you a ‘backdrop’ from which you can write your ideas.

What is not research?

  • An examination of any old text that you might find
  • Newspapers – no Daily Mail!
  • Random trawls on the internet – Google is too big, use Google Scholar for academics
  • Something you do quickly – research takes time; start now!
  • Asking your friends for information which you can then use as ‘evidence’ in your dissertation
  • Asking people questions, posting polls on social media – you need ethical clearance for anything like this

How do I go about researching?

  • Read academic work in the area.
  • Keep thinking of your idea – how can other people’s work that’s already out there inform it?
  • Where do you begin seeking information? MetSearch / Google Scholar – you can use inter-library loan to order in any books or papers that the University library does not have for free.

What am I going to do now?

I have filled in my dissertation planning form – the topic that I am going to look at is: The relationship between Graphic Design and subcultures. I have chosen to not look at how just one inform the other one, but instead at how they both inform each other. I want to look at both older subcultures, such as punk, and more post-modern subcultures such as, hipster, and see if and how the relationships have changed through history. I am going to look back at the bibliography I wrote for my essay on subcultures that I did at Level 4 and see if any of those texts could help me again with my current research. I plan to look into Jamie Reid as one of my designers.

Keynotes Lecture 1 – Dissertation Preparation

 This weeks keynotes lecture was with Sarah Smith and was about dissertation preparation.

This was out first keynotes lecture. The overview of the next upcoming few weeks includes: several keynotes lectures, individual tutorials for initial dissertation planning, allocation of our own dissertation supervisor, and then more individual dissertation tutorials throughout term 2 and 3.

The first and foremost thing we have to do for our dissertation preparation is to fill out a dissertation planning form. We need to hand in the form to our constellation tutors (Cath Davies, in my case) by February 10th. The planning form includes:

  • a possible topic – key designers, artists, theorists, case studies
  • a possible question or angle of investigation
  • associated key words, for your research

Before our dissertation, we have to write and hand in a 4000 word dissertation proposal, as well as an accompanying 1000 word Constellation reflection on our blogs. Fortunately, I am one step ahead as Cath had already told us about the Constellation reflection, so I have already done this blog post. For our dissertation proposal, which will also be our summarative assessment, it will be made up of:

  • an overview (rationale and context for my research)
  • background reading/review of key literature/critical context
  • a research plan (what I plan to do)
  • a bibliography (relevant studies to my research proposal).


  • What type of dissertation do I intend to write? – I think I am going to choose the 8000-10000 word thesis option.
  • What is my dissertation going to investigate, and why?
  • Why am I interested in this topic? Are there possible links to my Graphic Design practice? – I definitely want to pick something Graphic Design related.
  • What is my overall argument and critical position?

Background reading / Review of key literature / Critical context

  • Who has already written about my chosen topic?
  • What key concepts and debates are evident in already existing studies?
  • How will this contextual research inform my own ideas?

Research plan

  • A detailed plan of what case studies/images/designers/branding are going to be discussed in my study, with a rationale as to why they have been chosen.
  • An overview of which theoretical concepts/positions/methods from my background reading section that will be applied to my critical analysis of these examples, and what I expect to come out of doing so.

Key skills for writing dissertation proposal

  • Depth and breadth of contextual research
  • Ability to position my specific angle/argument in relation to wider contextual research
  • Coherent structure
  • Evidence of examples to support my argument
  • Critical reflection on my findings

Initial planning approaches

Most important – background reading in relation to my chosen idea. Do this by finding out:

  • Who has written what already about this area, before I have arrived on the scene? – Do I agree with what they said? Do I disagree?
  • How can this research inform my ideas? How is my study going to be situated in relation to these existing contexts?

What am I going to do now?

My next steps from here is to, firstly complete and hand in my dissertation planning form. I have a rough idea of what I’d like to do – perhaps something to do with subcultures, which was what one of my constellation study groups was based on last year that I found really interesting. I want to aim to somehow link the subcultures to graphic design – maybe looking at how subcultures are affected by graphic design, such as branding in particular. I will need to do some academic research into this possible topic and find some key concepts with it, perhaps a designer or specific subculture or movement – the first thing that immediately comes to mind is some of the album cover artwork of the time, such as the Punk band, ‘The Sex Pistols’. I will also book a tutorial with Cath Davies to talk through my ideas so far to see what feedback she can give me.

Constellation – Goddesses and Monsters

Constellation Study Group Reflections

The  process of completing my columns analysis for my formative assessment:

The columns analysis is made up of three columns: describe, analyse and theory. The method is used to analyse all sorts; from photos, to case studies, to working methods… practically anything and everything. For example, for my formative essay, I was looking at a piece of digital art by Chiara Bautista (AKA Milk), so I used the columns analysis method to analyse it. From the image, I analysed a range of parts to put in my essay, including: the orifice in the figure’s chest, her skin, the red liquid dripping from her eyes, the tentacles in her hair, the chopsticks, the arrows in her skin, etc.


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Difficulties I encountered when filling in the second and third columns:

The third column, which is the ‘theory’ column, is the most difficult column to fill out. I was finding it difficult to find suitable quotes and information in some cases for the highlights that I had picked out from Milk’s piece. I felt that the main reason for these difficulties was that not all of the readings that we had looked at were relevant to what I wanted and needed to write about in my essay.

How I overcame some of these difficulties:

I borrowed loads of books from the library that related to my first and second columns. Rather than look for books specifically relating to each individual point that I was wanting to theorise from Milk’s image, I decided on a more abstract approach and searched for books which had the subject of the ‘grotesque’ – this seemed to work well for me and I was able to include a lot of my readings in my bibliography at the bottom of my essay. When I began to look at the grotesque more widely, the subject became so much more interesting and I suddenly felt that I was finding much more information that I could use.

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Significant concepts/theories that have emerged in my columns analysis and why these have interested me:

During my columns analysis of Milk’s digital illustration, I realised that the ‘grotesque’ in general, rather than ‘glamour’ was something that I found really interesting. In particular, I was intrigued by the idea of skin, and the penetration or destroying of it – the theory that skin is the barrier between the insides and outsides of our body completely captivated me. I focused a large part of my essay on this, as well as the idea of ‘meta-morphing‘ which was a completely new concept to me on finding it in my own research. It is similar to the idea of transformation, which we learnt about with Cath Davies in our study group, from human being to monster. I was surprised at how much the unusual and ugly side of art interests me, because through all its gore and carnage, there is a hidden beauty that really compels me.

How approaches in this study group can help me with the development of my ideas and ways to progress next term, e.g. for dissertation preparation and for my other modules:

I feel that the columns analysis technique that we have been using in our study group will come in handy, not just in constellation, but in my subject and field too, as well as my dissertation planning and writing. I can use the analysis method to analyse my own work in order to help me to understand how the viewer would perceive it when looking at it – it will allow me to take a step back and look at it from the viewer’s perspective, rather than the designer’s.

Learning Process Reflections

How could the concepts and theories from my study group help with developing ideas in my studio practice?

There is certain aspects from this constellation study group that I feel I will not be able to stop noticing in the real world, for example, phallic objects – suddenly they are everywhere. I’d like to hope that perhaps I can even link in the grotesque to my work somehow, just because of the bizarre beauty it has.

What has been useful in the analysis and writing about others’ work in Constellation sessions?

In the same way that I will not be able to stop noticing phallic objects everywhere in the real world. This will most likely be similar for the that I look at my own work within both my subject and field work, not specifically in terms of phallic objects, but in the way that I will be able to assess and analyse my own work in the same way that we analysed other artist’s work and case studies in constellation.