The dissertation is the pinnacle of your study as an undergraduate academic, giving you licence to extensively explore an area and produce a study which you can be proud of. Whilst writing my undergraduate dissertation I had to balance taught modules, extracurricular commitments, and sometimes my own bad habits. To a large extent, this piece is also serving as a reminder to me for how to approach my Masters dissertation. Of course everyone will handle the process differently, from planning to writing, but I found the last few weeks and months were the hardest for sure. So hopefully this blog will help someone who needs that last little push, or a helping hand from someone who been there, done that, and got the t-shirt (by which I mean the bound dissertation sat on my shelf).
I found I was most effective in my dissertation when I set my own deadlines, and did small amounts regularly; I preferred to do a few hours a day rather than dedicate a whole day to research or writing. In regards to the ‘bad habits’ I mentioned, I know myself best and my tendency to become slack if I lose my drive for the work. To combat this, from the outset, I set deadlines for myself with my tutor so that I felt that pressure that comes with a formal assessment. In an average day I’d research a particular area (for example, the text I was analysing) and then read wider around a specific area in order to construct my own approach. Of course some people, even peers of mine, preferred to dedicate a whole day or two to the dissertation, with the benefit being a more unbroken period of study. There are obviously merits to both methods, or even somewhere between the two, but it is most important to work however you feel most effective.
Of course by this point in the year it’s likely that your dissertation has taken shape – whether that be partially written or just extensively planned. For me the 10,000 word count was incredibly daunting, and I found myself nervous that I’d be far short of that mark. My advice would be to break down the final product into smaller components: chapters, sections, texts, etc. This way the work feels more manageable, with the extra benefit of enabling you to weigh up the sections appropriately before writing. If I could give just one piece of advice to anyone writing their dissertation I would have no hesitation in deciding: make a bibliography and keep a note of everything you read. When you find a missing source of a key quote, finding it again can be an absolute nightmare; it will take just a minute to note the title, publication information, and page number, but it could take you hours to find a book from just an innocuous quotation again.
Though for many the dissertation is a point of stress, working the best way for you can minimise this. Set yourself achievable, regular goals to keep yourself ticking along; make clear lists so that you feel you know what is left to do; try not to get bogged down in the minutia of writing, you can always come back to edit; and most importantly take care of yourself through the process by taking much needed breaks and switching off to make time for you.