Sustainability in Wine: D6 Research Paper for WSET4 Diploma

It is official: I have completed WSET4 Diploma and can now add ‘DipWSET’ to my name. Yesterday I received the results for the D6 research paper I submitted before the summer, and I passed it with ‘distinction’, which is the highest grade awarded in the WSET qualifications. Needless to say: it’s been properly celebrated last night, and we will continue to do so for the rest of the week, and especially next weekend. 😉

Unlike the previous five units, D6 is an independent research assignment on a given topic. It’s the only module without an exam at the end. Each year, two topics are published: one for the January submission deadline; one for July. The 2022 July topic was ‘Sustainability’, so I didn’t hesitate long: this was the one for me. I hindsight I’m happy I chose strategically: a subject I’m passionate about, which made the research, focus, argumentation and writing much more pleasant.

To guide the focus of this paper, we got a few questions that needed to be answered, and – as is the case for the written exams – WSET emphasises that you have to answer the questions as set. They do not reward adding extra information if it is irrelevant to the actual question, no matter how correct or clever it may be. Just like on the exams, the questions have different weightings, and it’s important to take those into account to determine how much you’re going to write for each question. You’re expected to write 3000 words in total, with a +- 10% (= 300 words) margin on each end. So basically between 2700 and 3300 words, not counting bibliography and references, tables, diagrams or appendices. (If you’re reading this ‘in the future’, do check if these 2022 requirements haven’t changed in the meantime!)

Download My Sustainability in Wine Paper

If you would like to see an example of a recent D6 paper, or you’re interested in different aspects of sustainability in the wine business, you can download my paper here:

How I Approached the Assignment

There aren’t many recent example papers out there, but fortunately – thanks to friends online – I got to read two prior papers, one which got a ‘merit’ grade, and one awarded with ‘distinction’. It’s always risky as an outsider to try and pinpoint the differences, but after 25 years in higher education, during which I’ve graded many essays, papers and reports, let me at least try. Both papers were very good, but the ‘distinction’ one showed more depth and breadth in how it tackled the subject: more analysis, critical comments supported with evidence, and a wide range of examples from different businesses and wine regions all over the world. It focused on what was asked, considered the topic from different angles, and referred to a diverse set of credible sources.

So that was going to be my approach as well. I had been collecting random snippets of information and ideas in a notes app on my phone and a Word document on my computer in the months before, while reading and studying for the D3 and D5 modules. Fortunately I’d had the foresight to include the links and references, so basically I had a decent amount of information to start from. I had scheduled just over three weeks (full-time) to actually write the paper, and it took me most of that time. Here is how I went about it:

  • Since 15 of the 100 points are given on presentation, answer structure and style, you can earn a maximum of 85 points over the different questions, and how many strongly depends on the question’s weighting. So I started by calculating the approximate word count I would aim for in each answer section. For a 20%-weighted question, for example, I would aim for roughly 700 words of the 3000 total, whereas a 40% question would justify spending 1400 to 1500 words on it.
    Note: while writing my first draft, I used these numbers as a distant guideline only, because in that stage it’s important to write the information down, and preferably in a coherent manner. However, during the editing stage afterwards, I did aim to get as close to each section’s word count as possible.
  • I combined the snippets and ideas from my phone app and computer document into one file, and backed it up right away so I’d always have the original safely stored. 😉 Then I read through what I’d gathered, clustering things that were similar, conveyed or illustrated the same point, etc.
  • I tried to assign these clusters of information and ideas to one of the questions we needed to answer. If they didn’t fit one of them, I looked if it sparked another, more valid point or supporting argument. If not, I deleted the cluster.
  • Since I was using MS Word, for the clusters that made the cut, I added the information sources to the software’s built-in bibliography and referencing functionality. It’s easy to learn and Word can build your bibliography automatically from there, formatted according to a choice of referencing systems. Check out this Microsoft Support article (incl. demo video) for more information.
  • Then I started writing my first draft. Not editing or second-guessing too much. Just writing. Editing comes later.
  • Where I felt depth and details were lacking, or where one section didn’t link well to the next, I did more research. Google Scholar was a great help.
  • I ended up with a 7500-word essay, which contained everything I could think of on the topics. More than half of it needed to be culled. Once again I saved a backup of the entire document, in case I’d want to recover something at a later stage.
  • Then I returned once more to the assignment brief, carefully checking each paragraph against the question it was supposed to answer. If it was too far off, I deleted it. If it was slightly relevant but not close enough, I tried to rewrite it in a more focused manner. Then I checked again. If it still wasn’t adding significant value, it had to go.
  • Less than a week before our submission deadline (at the end of June for our APP), I still had around 5800 words left. So the remaining days were spent on editing and rewriting, omitting superfluous adjectives and adverbs, condensing information, avoiding repetition and removing the weaker points and arguments, until I ended up just under 3300 words. Phew!

Some Reflections / Decisions I Made:

When I started structuring and writing, I often hesitated between different approaches, when they weren’t explicitly stated in the assignment instructions. As WSET is usually rather precise and detailed in their guidance documents, I assumed this meant it was up to us to fill in the blanks and choose what worked best for us and our specific paper/topic/style.

Disclaimer: I have no idea if the following decisions in the end worked for me or against me, but they clearly weren’t deal breakers for a distinction grade. Nevertheless, I cannot recommend if these are the way to go, nor if they would work in any situation, for any topic or any individual’s style. It will be up to you to determine what fits you and your paper best, and own it. 🙂

  • I didn’t know if WSET expected the paper to have an introduction and a conclusion. In my languages and literature past I was taught to do so, and tend to like this myself in a formal paper or other pieces of writing. It is a good way to set the tone at the start, and emphasise the main takeways at the end. However, it does take up words of your total word count, which aren’t directly answering the questions set. I went back and forth on this one, and in the end decided to retain the introduction and conclusion for the sake of presentation, style and readability. As you can see, I’ve tried to keep them relatively short and most of all: to the point, directly relating to the topic and the main points I was aiming to make.
  • I wasn’t certain if it would be better to incorporate all three questions in one uninterrupted text, or to separate the paper in different sections. In the end, I chose to make a separate section for each question, with further subtitles for clarity and readability.
  • Putting keywords in bold type can be both helpful and annoying. Annoying because it can seem pedantic and sometimes hinder readability; helpful when you’re grading a paper according to a rubric or checklist of topics that need to be included – or rereading to confirm the final marks. I went back and forth on this one as well, but in the end decided to keep the bold keywords, be it selectively. Again, I don’t know if it helped or detracted, but if you’re considering to do this: do not overdo it. Steer clear of a total boldageddon!

One Final Tip…

Read and re-read your most recent WSET guidelines, submission procedure and FAQs, so you don’t miss out on vital pieces of information. Follow them religiously! E.g. for our submission deadline, it was stated that our text should NOT include our name or contact details, only our candidate number. Do check if this – or other requirements – are valid in your case and at the time of submission.

I hope you enjoy reading my paper and find it interesting. Feedback or comments are always welcome!
Also: don’t forget to have some fun if you’re writing your own D6. 🙂


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