Ok, apologies this one is a little late! It has been relatively intense lately what with the dissertation deadline.
For those who aren’t sure what a dissertation is, it’s essentially a large piece of work that you conduct in your final year. It’s an individual project that you see through from conception to completion, and it’s something you work on for the entire year. Needless to say, it can be quite stressful when deadline day looms.
Anyway, it’s in!!! Submitted!! Done!! Yay!
I, therefore, thought that it would be appropriate if I were to compile a few tips on how to survive writing a dissertation. It may be a way off for some of you, but I guess this is something that can also be applied to essays/reports/submissions in general.
1. This first one is a bit of an obvious one: Start as soon as you know what your topic is. Starting is always the most daunting part of any project – this is the point at which you’ve got the most work ahead of you. But it’s also one of the most exciting. Why? Because it’s all new! You’re finding things out for the first time. I would suggest starting with a bit of light reading. All you have to worry about at this point is taking an interest in the area. Familiarise yourself with the niche terms and what they mean. Get to grips with the main papers and their findings. Nothing too stressful.
2. Make notes throughout. As you start your reading stage, have a notebook next to you and note down any findings you think are of particular interest. If any thoughts or ideas come to mind, again note them down – it doesn’t matter if they’re good, bad, or vague – literally, note everything down. Also, note down questions that you want to explore more. I find that it’s through this process of recording all my thoughts, that is the source and inspiration for creativity. I can start to formulate ideas and piece different research findings together if it’s all there in front of me. (For more on my thoughts of creativity and research, see my blog on ‘5 Things I’ve learnt about Research since coming to Cardiff’ see link at bottom of the article)
3. Which brings me nicely onto the next tip: Record all references and what the papers found. The number of times I’ve written down a research finding and not referenced who it was by, is a frustratingly high number of times. If you haven’t got the reference, you can’t put it in your work. Sometimes it’s pretty easy to locate the paper again, but more times than I’ve liked, it has been incredibly difficult. So make sure you note down all the references!
3. Make a plan. When do you need to get everything done by in order to leave yourself enough time for actually writing the dissertation? How long do you have to decide what you’re going to study? How long will it take to get ethical clearance? How long do you have to recruit participants? These are all questions that need to be considered if you’re going to be able to get your final draft handed in on time. I would also advise over-estimating the amount of time it takes to complete each task – especially the ethics clearance procedure – mine took a good 3 months in total!
4. When you have to get research proposals in, write them in detail! This is the time to really understand why you’re testing what you’re testing. Have you considered the literature in enough detail? When you’re detailing what your study will entail, do exactly that – detail it! If you write a thorough and considered proposal, not only will it help you get your research proposal ethical clearance, it will be a lifesaver later when it comes to writing it. It’s so much easier to start writing from premature detailed descriptions than from a blank piece of paper.
5. Don’t leave it until the last minute. I know this sounds really obvious, but it is something to consider. Why? Because sometimes you can’t help it! For example, my research involved the use of children as participants. This meant a LOT of time was taken up by gaining ethical clearance, finding schools who would be happy to facilitate my study, travelling to these schools as well as the process of testing the children. After that, I had to mark all participant’s scores, input them into the computer, run a large number of analyses on the data AND work out what it meant. If I hadn’t started super early, I would not have been able to get my results collected and analysed in time to even start writing up my project. Therefore, when I say don’t leave it to the last minute, I’m talking about every step of the way! It’s just over 6 months you have to do this project, which in reality is not a large amount of time!
6. When it comes to the write up, don’t spend ages trying to perfect each sentence. Try to keep moving and get as much done as you can. Perfecting can come later. This relates to what I was saying in point 4, in that it is much better to have a full first draft to work from, as opposed to one perfect paragraph.
7. Finally, when you hand it in, don’t plan to do work the next day. Do something fun! You will definitely have deserved it. Plus, if you’re anything like me…make sure you find time to schedule sleep in – you’ll be glad to have made room for some rest time for yourself!
I hope all of this helps – it may be a way off for a lot of you, but maybe there are a few things you can pull from this to help you with coursework throughout your degree.
As per usual, if you have any questions feel free to leave me a comment.
If no questions for now, well I guess I’ll speak to you soon