If you’re terrified about writing a dissertation, you’re not alone. As a Master’s student, the prospect still seems daunting, despite the fact I successfully submitted one last year! However, I learnt some useful lessons whilst writing my undergraduate dissertation, and in this blog post I’ll share what I’m currently doing to keep on track of my workload and be as productive as possible.
To provide a brief backstory; I was dreading my dissertation for as long as I can remember. Even during my A-Levels, I was anxious when applying to university because the dreaded thought of writing a dissertation loomed over me. It feels like three years of hard work amounts to 10,000 words – which seems both too much and too little.
However, despite my doubts, I did manage to survive – and in the end, it really wasn’t that bad to write. That hasn’t stopped me being nervous about starting my 15,000 word Master’s dissertation, but I know deep down that if I’ve done it before, I can do it again – and so can you.
My first piece of advice is to remember that you can change your topic essentially whenever you like. Sure, a week before the deadline might not be ideal, but if you find that once you start writing you aren’t satisfied, or if another idea pops into your head, you can always mould your plan to your new ideas. Personally, I really struggled (and struggle) to think of topics to write about when the prompt is so vast, however knowing that I am in control is slightly reassuring. You don’t have to stick with your initial proposal idea, and you’ll probably find it ends up nothing like your original intentions anyway. That’s completely normal!
If you really can’t think of a topic to write about at all, ‘crazy eights’ helped me a lot. Essentially, you set 8 minutes and try to think of an idea per minute. Being under pressure can sometimes make your brain quite creative, and you quickly realise which ideas are more feasible than others. If you can’t think of eight broad topics to work from, that’s okay – just do as many as you can. Try to think of topics that interested you in your degree, or general interests that you have and work from there. Good luck!
Another key factor to consider when writing a dissertation is to set yourself internal deadlines. Sure, the actual deadline may not be until the summer, but you have a lot of chapters to write and things to do before then. If you break down the dissertation into chapters, and then even further into sections per chapter, it seems far less overwhelming. From there, you can set yourself deadlines of when you want certain aspects to be finished, and before you know it, you’ll be done. Another life hack is to just jump into the dissertation and leave the introduction until the very end, largely so that it doesn’t become waffly, but also so that you have a clear idea of what your dissertation is actually about.
After a while, your work will inevitably become sludge to your eyes. You won’t want to write it, you won’t want to read it, and you’ll definitely get sick of it after proof-reading a thousand times and trying to cut down the word count. That’s where your friends come in handy – get them to proof-read your work! It can be beneficial to have a second set of eyes go over your writing, and you can obviously return the favour. Even if your friends know absolutely nothing about your topic, that’s honestly even better because if it makes sense to them, then you know it’s well-written.
If you feel awkward about asking your friends to proof-read your work, then try reading it aloud. Even if you think you can read it back fine in your head, when you have to physically read something you quickly notice all of the grammatical errors that you missed, even after your fifth silent reading of it.
Finally, it’s always good to remember why you’re doing a dissertation in the first place. Maybe you chose to write a dissertation, maybe you had absolutely no choice in the matter because it’s compulsory for your course, but at the end of the day you’re doing one either way. The skills you learn from a dissertation can be easily transferrable, such as being able to self-manage an extended project and come up with an original idea. At the end of the day, it’s your project, and it’s something to be really proud of doing.
Good luck to everyone out there – whether you’re starting to think of ideas, in the middle of writing one or anxiously waiting for the day to arrive where you can’t ignore it any longer.