Writing a dissertation can feel like an overwhelming task that never ends.
When it comes to preparing your dissertation, dedicating sufficient time to planning and structuring your work is crucial to your success. It is likely that you may experience some self-doubt and anxiety along the way. But once you’re done, you’ll feel like it’s your proudest achievement to date.
No matter whether you are preparing your undergraduate, master’s or PhD dissertation, we hope you will find the following advice to be helpful in managing your dissertation stress.
1: Decide on your topic carefully
Your dissertations need to be about something that really interests you; it’s going to be a lot of work, so if it is about something you have a passion/interest for so you can enjoy the research. Your dissertation should show off your thoughts and ideas. If you’re stuck for topics, try creating a ‘mood board’ of articles and images that you find engaging and meaningful.
Your dissertation does not have to focus on an area you want to work on when you leave uni. You’ll only pile on more pressure to become an expert in a job you might only be vaguely interested in. Instead, spend time researching about something you’re truly passionate about.
Do your research on industry materials, newspapers, academic journals, and social media to identify current problems in your field. When you look back
Remember to work closely with your tutors to understand what they are looking for. You both should agree on research subjects and discuss the right methods. Tutors will also help you decide on what is achievable in the time frame that you have.
2: Start Early
The earlier you start, the better. You still have other coursework to do alongside your dissertation, so you will want to give yourself a head start so that you’ll have some leeway when things inevitably ‘crop up’.
What you can start off with is familiarising yourself with what is expected of you. Check your dissertation ethic protocols, any module guidelines and university referencing styles to avoid any mistakes that can cost you a good grade.
- What dissertation is and what it should look like in your specialty / area
- What is the word count?
- When and where are your deadlines / tutor meet ups
- What forms of analysis / arguments are appropriate for your project
NTU uses Harvard referencing system. For more tips on how to correctly reference dissertation you can visit Oxbridge Essays website.
3: Plan your time
Once you are clear on the topic, you are ready to write the proposal. The proposal tends to outline the purpose of your dissertation and how you are planning to do your research.
Decide on how long you’re going to spend your research and take the notes. Maybe it’s the whole of the first term, then decide on how long it will take you to write the introduction and a chapter. This will really help in stopping you from tackling everything at one goes and causing you stress and will be an indicator as to how on track or not you are.
Tip: Make sure you are sticking to the plan as much as you can. Changing your goal and structure halfway through can easily lead to feeling overwhelmed with the research and it can devalue the consistency of your argument. Believe in your ideas, stay on track, and enjoy the process.
Some sections you should factor in time for are:
- Reading and research
- Collecting data, analysing, and making notes
- Structuring your material
- Drafting each section / redrafting / creating visual components
- Sending to someone for proofreading
- Editing again
Consider using a free project planning tool like Clickup that will help you with planning your research in a timescale as well as keep you organised.
4: Break it down
Instead of thinking about your dissertation as one huge block of words, approach it as though it’s a combination of separate essays. A 10,000-word dissertation can be broken down into a few separate 1000 – 2,500 words essays.
So, when you start writing your chapters, aim for around 1000 words a week. This can be both motivating and productive. Start writing straight away and enjoy the process of discovering answers as you better understand the subject.
Not only will this help you see the project as more manageable, but it will keep you focused on the concise argument you’re presenting in each chapter, scoring those higher marks.
Tip: Make sure you keep track of what you’ve been reading and where everything came from such as ideas, arguments, images etc. It will save you a ton of hours later when you are going to have to put everything into bibliography.
5: Keep questioning
You should always keep questioning your critical mindset throughout the writing process, your findings and work of others. Keep asking yourself – ‘So what?’ .
Challenge how much you are convinced by the statements, explanation, someone’s idea and why. Explains your reasons of building your strong your argument and provide evidence on how you reached it.
6: Edit, edit, edit…
When you spent so much of your time and effort creating substantial work, it may feel like it’s impossible to improve on what you’ve already done, right? Perhaps you will feel tired and discouraged but you realised that you need to reduce a total number of words by 20% …
In retrospect, editing your work should be easier to go through and improve as the most difficult part – producing the writing – has already been done. Editing your work now should be constructive and thorough so your dissertation is well-structured and makes sense to others. Make sure your piece sounds logical – give it to someone for proofreading and in the meantime, you can check that you have added the right referencing style.
A few editing stages to create a concise dissertation can look like this:
Editing for academic approval: Be sure to document everything you planned to do, to include all your research, and to support all your interpretations and arguments. Everything should sound logical throughout.
Reduce your words if necessary: Eliminate unnecessary explanations and duplications. Even if the material sound very interesting, if it doesn’t back your claim, it should be removed.
Make your material consistent: Ensure there is a consistency in tone of voice, tenses, style, and design.
Make it clear: Briefly summarise what the reader is about to read or has red. In some materials, you should tell your reader what structure your research has been written in.
Check the details: Go through the spelling, grammar, links, references, numbers, and bibliography.
7: Celebrate your wins!
Even if things don’t work out exactly as you had planned, that’s okay! If you used your time productively and sticked to your plan, there is no reason to panic. Keep in mind that you chose your dissertation topic after careful consideration and research so trust the process and enjoy the small achievements you made along the way!
8: Establish your support networks
Your support networks are going to be the ones who propel you through your dissertation. As we mentioned earlier, will want to use your tutor as your biggest point of call for all things dissertation writing and support – and take advantage of that early.
But you’ll also want to establish who are the best people to keep you motivated, the best people to study with, and the best people to give you an honest review and constructive criticism of your work.
If you found it useful, let us know in the comments below. Which piece of advice would you give to students who are struggling to organise their workload?
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