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Finish your dissertation, don't let it finish you

Updated: Feb 8

It’s here, the exciting, but dreading final year because it means one step closer to the end of your degree but the start of the dreaded dissertation. When your tutors first tell you your dissertation will be around 10,000-12,000 words it can make you want to run for the hills, how could I possibly think of something I can write that much about?! But do not fear, before you know it you are handing it in and cannot believe it is finally complete, however, until then here are some of my top dissertation tips...

The first stage, choosing a dissertation topic…

You have probably been told by your peers and some tutors to choose a topic and complete a literature review the summer before you start third year, which if you can think of something and have the time to do so that’s great, but realistically as students we like to enjoy our long, work free summers.

I remember on my first day of third year it almost became a competition between students of who had done the most dissertation prep over the summer and I sat there and said I hadn’t even chosen a topic yet and everyone looked at me like I’d gone mad. Although there seems to be a significant amount of pressure over choosing your dissertation topic, I would suggest not rushing this process, after all you are going to be writing about this topic for the next 8-9 months. Make sure it’s an area of research you have a genuine interest in and something you can discuss in the future if you go on to undertake post- graduate courses.

Meetings with your supervisor…

My poor supervisor Steve was probably so thankful when I handed in my dissertation because it meant he wouldn’t receive constant emails and meeting arrangements from me, but I cannot stress enough take full advantage of your dissertation supervisor! My tactic was to make a list of burning questions I had and then I would compile them into one email or turn my supervision meeting into a Q&A session. I also arranged a meeting for the second week of my third year to discuss my possible dissertation topics which allowed me to get a professional perspective, rather than diving in headfirst. I would strongly recommend running your topic and research ideas past your supervisor before getting started.

10,000+ words how will I ever think of that many words?!

10,000 or more words sounds like a hell of a lot, how can I possibly write that much on one topic?! However, once this is broken down into smaller sections the hills suddenly don’t seem that steep. I would recommend starting to write as early in the academic year as you can, once your topic has been chosen. Also try to avoid telling yourself you will write 3,000 words in one sitting, as this can be overwhelming, often frustrating and sometimes can lead to a writers block. Even if you write 400 words one day, it is better than no words at all and by chipping away at each section you will soon be able to see the entire project come together. Think little and often!

Hand in your drafts!

When your supervisor gives you a draft deadline try and stick to it, because trust me it will help you out in the long run. It provides you with mini deadlines to avoid you getting overloaded at the last minute before your actual deadline. It also allows your supervisor to provide you with feedback on all of your sections, so you will know you are on the right track and not writing absolute waffle.

If you don’t have draft deadlines due to your course structure, set out your own mini deadlines for each section, again, this will stop you getting overwhelmed at the last minute. After all, time management is key!

Back up your work!

I will never forget when my Mac decided to give up on me mid- way through third year and Apple told me they were going to have to wipe it completely, not what you want to hear when you are mid- way through your dissertation! I remember grabbing my laptop before the Apple staff could get their hands on it and dashing home with a handful of memory sticks to save every inch of work I had. However, this taught me a very valuable lesson that I had never done before, double save your work! Sounds obvious, but sometimes we can assume that our laptops will never let us down and our work will always be safe, get yourself a couple of memory sticks or a hard- drive and save versions of your work on them, this gives you the reassurance and peace of mind that you have extra copies at hand, because unfortunately tutors don’t accept the excuse “my laptop ate my homework”.

Best of Luck! I hope you found some of these tips helpful!


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