The word dissertation fills most students with dread, or at least it did with me. It’s probably the biggest piece of academic work most students would have been faced with and it can be really daunting. I know I was a bit dubious of how I was going to get it done it in time, and how I was going to get my head around the stats! But, using some skills, I muddled my way through, got it done a month before the deadline and somehow managed to get a 1st for it! Now, as I know some of you will be starting your third year at University pretty soon, I thought I’d give some advice that helped me get it done, so I hope this helps!
When you first start third year, the deadline seems a long way off, but trust me, it’ll be here before you know it! My advice is to start it almost as soon as you get there and do it gradually over the year. I knew so many people that left it to the last minute (like, the week before, eek), or even a couple of months before the deadline and it’s not, in my opinion, enough time. I’m going on my experience of a psychology degree, so some dissertations will vary, but chances are you’ve picked your specific subject you want to study before you start your third year. If not, then give it some thought and discuss it with your tutor. If you have picked it, or when you do, you can start writing the majority of the introduction and methodology pretty early on (or whatever parts you do before actually researching something). And once those two bits are done, you’re half way there (anyone else think of Bon Jovi there? Just me?).
References as you go along!
Honestly, before every other essay I wrote I did the referencing last and it was such a pain in the bum. For my dissertation, I guessed the amount of references was going to be ridiculous, so luckily I learnt from my mistakes and did it as I went along, and I’m so glad I did. It helps so much to reference as you go along as a) it helps you find the papers you were referring to a lot easier than just a few names and b) 50+ references all in one sitting when you’re already stressed out? And then not being able to find a really important paper you need? Uh, no, thank you!
Go to your tutor!
Now this is probably pretty obvious but your dissertation tutors are a gold mine of information and support. They’ve all been in the same place as you have and most have done so many research projects as part of their job so they will give you advice. They can also read your work and give you their opinions, although maybe not paragraph by paragraph, dependent on the rules at your university. The rule at mine was that tutors could only read 10%. I also set ‘deadlines’ with my tutor for certain parts of my dissertation so it was extra motivation to get it done, but that might just be me!
When you spend hours on end staring at a page it can be difficult to spot errors. So, I would take a break of a few days from it and try (I emphasise the ‘try’) not to think about it. Then, when I went back and gave it a read over I could spot errors that were only obvious as I hadn’t looked at it in a while. This is really only possible if you take the first bit of advice, as if you’ve left it to the last moment, it can be hard to find a few days breathing space!
Get your friends/family to read it!
Luckily at the same time I was doing my dissertation, my Mum was doing hers, so we did a swap and read each others dissertations, which seemed like a fair trade! I think seeing an independent person’s opinion on a piece of work is always good and helps to see if it’s readable. While they may not completely understand some parts, I think it helps to see what they think. They might be able to spot errors and sentences that don’t make sense that you haven’t spotted.
Read Old Dissertations!
I only read a couple, but it was really useful to see what other people had done for their projects and how’d they presented it. I think this can be really useful if you’re a bit stuck on styling and format.
I had a pinboard at Uni and it really came into its own when I started my dissertation. I put little to-do lists and deadlines up on this board and it helped massively in keeping myself organised. I found it was better than a notebook as I could see it when I was at my desk, whereas a notebook just stayed in the drawer. But, if you find a notebook easier, then I’d definitely recommend getting one of those instead! Also, your study space is really important. For me, I like clean and organised otherwise I can’t focus. I also like having a bit of classical music on to help me concentrate. If you know what works for you to keep you focused, then do that, but if you don’t know, start experimenting and see what works for you.
So, those are my tips for a hopefully less stressful dissertation experience! Let me know if you have any other tips or what you’re studying and what you’re thinking of writing about!
Thank you for reading. 🙂