It's fairly corny to think of the dissertation as a journey, but when you finish it and look back, it's a pretty good analogy. The reflecting move, which is typically the first paragraph of the acknowledgments section, is where you can let the reader know a little about your journey through the process, its challenges, how you overcame them, and what you learnt. This story is important because of the thanking move that follows. After all, it helps the reader understand why you're thanking certain people and/or organisations and how they helped you with your journey. In terms of word count, this part of the acknowledgments section will probably be around 30% of the word count dedicated to the acknowledgments section. Since such sections tend to be between 100 and 200 words, we would suggest writing between 30 and 60 words. Of course, if you're university or department has told you how long this section should be, take their advice!
To complete this part of the Acknowledgements section, you need to address the following three questions:
Some of the more obvious challenges include: (a) the dissertation being a new process; (b) getting access; (c) time pressures; (d) learning new skills/techniques; and (e) financial pressures. Each of these is discussed in turn:
The dissertation is a new process
Undergraduate students commonly acknowledge in discussions that the dissertation process is not like writing an essay, or any other work they have done in their first or second year of undergraduate study at university (assuming a three year undergraduate course). Whilst master's students have been through the process before, it can be difficult for first timers. Some phrases that may help include:
I didn't know where to start.
I had no experience to rely on.
There were some many more components compared with an essay.
There were so many topics to choose from, it was difficult to know how to narrow these down to something achievable.
It was difficult to know what was achievable in the timeframe available.
If you are collecting secondary data, but especially for those of you conducting primary research, gaining access to data, people and/or organizations can be a very challenging process. It is often more time consuming that expected. Sometimes, access that had been agreed, but it then suddenly rejected. It is probably the stage of the dissertation process that can cause the most significant delays. However, if you were lucky enough not to have access problems, it is probably not worth mentioning at this stage.
At around 6 months long (give or take a couple of months), it can feel at the start of the dissertation process that you have plenty of time. However, at some point, typically during the write up stage, especially towards the end of the dissertation process, there is never enough time. Long nights are inevitable. Balancing the write up with other assignment deadlines can be tricky. Unavoidable delays like difficulties in gaining access to research participants and/or organizations, challenges in analysing data, and so forth, tend to occur. Such time pressures may be worth mentioning at this stage of the acknowledgments section, especially if you expect to be thanking individuals for intellectual and/or moral support they gave that helped you cope with these time pressures. Some phrases that may help include:
Delays in gaining access to the organizations where I conducted my research severely tested the time plan I had put in place.
I didn't expect it would take so long to analyse my interview data, but it was so rich.
Learning new skills / techniques
Whilst you may have written many essays, performed a short critical literature review, and taken an introductory course in statistics, amongst other things, before starting the dissertation process, you may have either forgotten many of these techniques, or lack sufficient understanding of how to do them. Added to this, the dissertation process often involves the learning of new skills and techniques, perhaps the learning of a new software package (e.g., SPSS or NVivo), data analysis technique (e.g., content analysis), or research method (e.g., how to conduct a focus group or interview). If learning such skills and techniques was a challenge, it is worth noting them in this part of the acknowledgments section.
There are some inevitable costs of performing research, including data collection costs, travel costs, data entry and transcription costs, and so forth. However, most students find a way of muddling through, using online survey tools that are free of charge, choice a convenience sample to reduce the cost of accessing research participants, and so forth. If there were particular financial pressures that you faced that hampered your dissertation in some way, it may be worth mentioning them. Otherwise, this is unlikely to be a challenge worth discussing.
In order to overcome some or any of the challenges mentioned above, did you?
Focus on securing access to the research organizations and/or research participants early in the dissertation process.
Narrow down your research aims as early as possible.
Set achievable research questions/objectives.
Avoided the danger of taking on something too broad.
Write up chapter-by-chapter as the research progressed rather than writing up all at once when the data was collected and analysed.
Seek academic and technical advice and support from experts whenever needed.
In overcome the challenges that you faced, did you learn any of the following skills/techniques?
Critical review and analysis.
Bridging theory and practice.
Dealing with people and/or organizations.
How to work independently (perhaps over a long time frame).
How to 'sell' something you were interested in to academics, research participants, and/or organizations.
Having explained you dissertation journey, its challenges, how you overcame these, and what you learnt, you need to move onto the second part of the acknowledgement section: thanking people.