Everything You Need To Know To Survive Writing Your Dissertation
Whether you’re a super-organised Fresher already thinking about your dissertation or a final year student on the verge of tears at the word alone, this should help you.
1. Plan ahead.
It’s never too early to begin thinking about your dissertation – yes, even in your first year. As you progress through university, make a note of some of your favourite academic authors and topics that you are interested in. This will save you spending hours upon hours stuck in the library, scouring the shelves for books you’ve already read in your first and second year.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If you have any questions on structure, method, theory or readings – even if you feel like they are ‘silly’ questions – talk to a lecturer or your dissertation mentor. They are there to help you. After all, you didn’t get into thousands of pounds worth of debt to deal with it all on your own.
3. Avoid comparing yourself to other people in your year.
OK, this one is pretty hard, especially when Louise tells you she has completed her dissertation by Christmas. Then there’s Charlie, who hasn’t even started it yet. It’s honestly best to stay out of other people’s dissertations and just focus on your own. Everyone goes at their own speed so don’t obsess too much over what everyone else is doing.
4. Make a start on secondary reading ASAP.
Secondary reading is, arguably, the most important part of writing a dissertation. It forms the basis on your research and helps to enhance arguments and theories. So, it’s never too early to start compiling secondary reading. Yes, even avid Freshers can start putting together a list.
5. Focus on a topic that genuinely interests you.
This sounds a bit obvious but it needs mentioning that when writing your dissertation, you need to choose a topic to research into that genuinely interests you. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck writing about a boring topic for months on end instead of being excited by the research you are conducting. The marker can also tell if you’re passionate about your topic as this will show in your writing!
6. Make notes of anything relevant in a Word document.
Making notes on your laptop is the easiest way to compile all your information and research into one place. It makes it really easy to organise your thoughts and will make you feel in control.
7. And for crying out loud, back everything up.
Everyone has heard a dissertation horror story where that one student didn’t back up their dissertation and then their laptop broke so they lost all their work. It’s like the infamous “you’ll die if you swing on your chair” tale. In all seriousness, back everything up – even your research.
8. Make use of your university’s facilities.
The library will become your new home. Embrace it. Also, your lecturers and dissertation mentor might be able to view certain studies or academic articles that you, as a student, aren’t able to without paying a hefty fee. Talk to them about it and you never know what they might uncover.
9. You’ll soon find Google Books and Google Scholar to be your best friends.
Both of these features are great at providing you with eBooks and academic articles (and even some dissertations) that your university library might not have access to. They are completely free and you get to “copy and paste” the correct reference to save yourself some time.
10. Remember page numbers.
When doing your secondary reading, make sure to jot down the page numbers next to your stand-out quotes. This will save you loads of time later when you panic that you have fantastic quotes but can’t remember where they came from.
11. And reference as you go – you will thank yourself later.
Similar to remembering page numbers, make sure to reference as you go. It will save you loads of time and you won’t panic having to sort out your bibliography last minute.
12. Split your dissertation into manageable sections.
At the very beginning, split your dissertation into distinct sections. By doing this, it makes it appear less daunting and more manageable. Also, it allows you to focus your attention on one section at a time, so you have a better chance of perfecting each section.
13. When the sections are finalised, put them together.
When you and your dissertation mentor have finalised each section, put them together in a Word document and read through your dissertation as a whole. This gives you the chance to make it flow collectively and point out any issues.
14. Don’t forget to take breaks (to stay sane).
It isn’t healthy to stare at a laptop screen all day. Remember to take regular breaks, preferably away from your study space entirely.
15. And don’t beat yourself up for having a day off.
Your dissertation is not supposed to take over your life. After all, it’s your final year at university so enjoy it. If you don’t, you’ll be graduating and wishing that you spent more time savouring the experience and less time alone in the library. It’s all about balance.
16. But equally, don’t leave everything until the last minute.
Everyone has heard the stories. There’s that one guy who was in a national newspaper for getting a 2.1 in his dissertation even though he wrote it 24 hours before it was due in, fuelled on Red Bull and a packet of crisps. Don’t even try and attempt to be that guy. After all, you are given months to write your dissertation for a reason.
17. Finally, reward yourself!
You’re going to need to motivate yourself and what’s a better way to motivate than rewarding all your hard work? You got this.