Writing your dissertation can be a daunting prospect. Here’s what I’ve learnt about writing mine. I’m always looking for advice so if you have any tips for dissertations, let me know in the comments. For more advice for uni work and exams see here and here. Plus if you think you could use some one-on-one advice, fill in a request form here to ask for Tyfy mentoring at your uni.
Start planning your dissertation early
I learned this the hard way, but choosing your topic as early as second semester of second year means less pressure when third year starts. I’d also advise using the summer to begin preliminary reading. For English and Film Studies (my subjects) reading or watching the primary texts over summer is a good way to get ahead. Doing some secondary research will also help to decide on a title or question for your dissertation
Do a lot of research
If you think you’ve read enough, read another book. I know it sounds dramatic, but I’m half way through my dissertation and I’m still adding secondary reading to my bibliography. I wish I’d read a lot more before I started writing as it would have made the process much easier. Writing down quotes with the citations as you read makes typing out your dissertation much smoother. The more research you do, the better your argument will be.
Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect
Seriously, just write whatever comes to your mind. My first draft was pretty terrible, but getting my thoughts down on paper made it easier to understand what I trying to say. The sooner you get something written, the sooner you can edit and perfect it.
Speak to your dissertation supervisor often
The supervisor you’re given will be the best person to give advice on how and what to write in your dissertation. See or email them as often as possible (without annoying them). To make meetings productive, think about what you want to ask before hand. Things like advice on critics, formatting and detail are the most useful, especially early on. If you show your supervisor early drafts, ask for detailed and concrete feedback that you can work on.
Get friends or family to proof read
Its easy to start reading what should be on the screen, not what actually is. Getting someone to proof read will flag up errors that spell check can’t see, like putting form instead of from. It also pays to have someone who doesn’t know the subject as well to tell you if what you’ve written actually makes sense. Just don’t pay a service to proofread it, as that often counts as cheating. I’d also advise printing your dissertation drafts every so often as its easy to spot errors. I like to highlight mistakes or sentences that I need to rephrase.
Write little and often (and save often)
10,000 words is a lot, but writing 200-300 words a day, a couple of days a week is much more manageable. Even writing 1000 words a week gets it done in 10 weeks. The second point to this is much more important. Save your work all the time, in multiple places. I have mine saved in sections on my laptop, memory stick and google drive. That way there’s no chance of losing everything if something goes wrong. It’s also easier to edit a chapter at a time rather than scrolling through 12 pages to get to what you want to read.
You don’t have to use everything you’ve read
As much as I advise reading a lot, you don’t need to take a quote from everything you read. Your dissertation should mainly be about your views of the issue, so don’t get bogged down adding critics, or changing your argument because you want to add something from a particular book. Use of critics should enhance your dissertation, not form the basis.
Add to your bibliography and references as you go along
You will be much less stressed if you have the citations and page numbers written down as you go. The last thing you need is to do a final edit and not know where a quote comes from, or be unable to remember the title of a book you need to reference and all you have is a date and page number.
For me, the most important thing is to just do the work. Whenever you can, read a page or write a sentence. It can be hard to prioritize when the due date is so far behind, but I promise you don’t want to have two weeks left and 10,000 words to write. People say they’ve done it, but I’d rather not go through that stress. Remember to look after yourself, and drink plenty of water. Good luck!