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8 top tips for writing that dreaded dissertation

Dissertation
It's a lot (a lot a lot) of work but will be worth it in the end. Source: Shutterstock.com

With the Christmas break fast approaching, it may be time to begin thinking about your dissertation. It is a daunting task for just about everybody and sometimes it is hard to know where to start.

Here is some advice to help you along the long and treacherous path you are about to walk.

1. Start as early as possible

It seems obvious but this is some of the most solid advice you will receive on dissertation writing – or essay writing at all. No doubt, you have heard stories about a friend of a friend who did it in one night and still managed a 2:1. While it is possible they were just super-human (and super lucky), chances are it’s a lie.

It is never too early to start preparing. Use a little of your summer break to make life infinitely easier for yourself when you come back for the autumn term. You will thank yourself later. If you are in your final year, and it’s too late for that, then start now. Buy yourself a journal or notebook and begin jotting things down. Write down everything. Every little thought about a potential angle, a little reading list, the odd quote you discovered, an interesting article you read on the subject, anything.

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2. Read, read, read (and then read some more)!

The famous saying goes ‘you cannot write if you do not read’. Raid the university library and your local one (you never know what gems might be hiding there). Use your university’s online resources. Search for books, journals and articles which might help. Make a note of everything you find. If you are not looking at an entire book, print your resources off and highlight them, make notes with coloured pens in the margins. Be proactive. If you do this slowly but regularly, you will be surprised at the amount of sources you gather.

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3. Choose a topic you find interesting

Your dissertation is going to take a huge amount of your time. If you aren’t excited by the topic, or at least even interested in it, it’s going to be a long and boring year for you. One of the great things about writing a dissertation is that you get to explore something you personally find fascinating.

Pick something which you can’t wait to discover more about and make your essay something you would want to read. It will make the whole process significantly more enjoyable.

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4. Take advantage of every tutorial

Grasp any opportunity for a meeting with your tutor. Rules vary from course to course and university to university, but whenever you can, meet your dissertation supervisor. If this means you are able to have a two-hour session every other week, fantastic. If you are allowed one meeting a term then make the most of it. Every second of support you can receive is helpful. It could be the difference between a grade.

5. Write your bibliography as you go

This is a common mistake. Leaving your bibliography until the end will be a nightmare. Not only will you most likely have lost track of all those fantastic sources you used, but also it will take you an obscene amount of time.

It might be handy to compile the beginnings of your bibliography before you even begin writing. As you gather your sources, note them all down, properly referenced in a Word document. Add to it as you go – if you don’t end up using a source then just take it out at the end, but at least it is there for reference as you work. This way, when it comes to pulling all that hard work together many months down the line, you will have already done the arduous task of referencing.

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6. Keep track of where you find quotes

Finding the perfect quote is a beautiful moment. It can be easy to get carried away and write it down before discarding the obscure journal in which you found it. In a month’s time when it comes to adding it into your essay and you can’t find who said it, when or where, you will be unbelievably frustrated. Make sure you keep a note of the author, date, title, and page number for citing. You will be eternally grateful for your earlier thoughtfulness.

7. Collect quotes and organise them into subjects

In the spirit of keeping track of quotes and blessing your past self, create a document or page in your journal with all your useful quotes. Divide the quotes into sections and topics regarding the different aspects of your dissertation. This way, as you write you can just lift a relevant quote at ease into your essay.

This can even be one of the first things you do. It will make the whole writing process a lot easier.

8. Remember the importance of breaks

You have definitely already heard this one, but breaks are so important. If you followed this advice and started your dissertation nice and early, you can afford to take breaks, unlike those trying to do the whole thing in a week.

The extra time you have given yourself means you have the luxury of taking regular breaks from your essay, whether that means focusing on other coursework for a week or doing something fun. Either way, you can come back to your work with fresh eyes and a clear head. Taking a step back for a while will make it much easier to proofread when you come back to it. Plus, it is important for your mental health.

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Dissertation students, you’ve got this. By doing little and often, it won’t feel nearly as bad when it comes around to deadline day. You can sit back and grin (a little smugly) in the knowledge your dissertation is good to go.

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