✍️ Dissertation Advice For The Home Straight ✍️

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. 

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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.