Tips for writing a Dissertation – #BEDM

This is a series on my blog that documented my personal dissertation process. It has featured some tips & tricks that I learnt along the way & felt needed to be passed on to other final year students/future final year students. I wrote my dissertation throughout this academic year (2013/14) & tried to document this experience in real time, citing both the good and bad times, the highs and lows, in the hopes of making it easier for fellow dissertation writers to see that they were not the only ones panicking when it comes to this mammoth piece of writing. 

I have been really honest whilst documenting my experience of writing my dissertation this last year. I really do wish I was being melodramatic when saying it was the hardest thing I have ever written and incredibly stressful! I felt underprepared and I know that final piece of work I produced was not to the standard I am capable of, all in all I let myself down!

It is a long path and I know that sometimes it may feel like you will never reach the end, but you will!  *now does the picture above make sense!?

This is why I have decide to pass on some advice and tips to anyone who is about to write their own dissertation, so that you don’t end up in the same boat as I was in;

  • Pick a topic that has literature written about it: Simply if there is not much written about it you are going to struggle a lot when it comes to writing you Rational and literature review! This was the biggest mistake I made and one that created a lot of problems for me further on in the process!
  • Pick a topic that you have a lot of interest in, one which you are excited and passionate about! Don’t just decided on a research idea because everyone else is doing it, or because no-one else has written about it. You want your enthusiasm of the topic to come through in your writing. 
  • Put in place a timetable that you follow. Give yourself your own deadlines to finish certain sections: Whilst you may have a year before you hand it in, you do not want to leave a majority of the writing to the last month! Having your own deadlines means you will get the most out of your dissertation tutor and be working at a pace that suites you. 
  • Remember that it takes time to edit the whole document: Think about how long it takes you to check spelling and grammar for a 1,000 word essay – now think about how long it shall take to do the same for a 10,000 word assignment! Allow time for other people to read and check it through before you print and bind it.
  • Give time to the formatting of the document: Each university has their own requirements of what the document will look like – I actually spent almost a whole day making sure the margins were correct, that I used double spacing and that my contents page matched the rest of the document! It isn’t a 20 minute job at the end but rather something you should try and do from the start!
  • Remember to write you full reference list from the start: Do not fall into this trap! If you do not keep a list of every reference from the start with a link to where you found it, I guarantee that you won’t find it again! My best piece of advice is to keep a separate reference list for each chapter, then bring in into one list nearer the end of the whole process! 
  • Do not delete old versions of your dissertations:  Instead of deleting old versions just save a separate updated one. This way you can go back and see how the work has developed, and you may find pieces of information you decided not to use early on are actually relevant!
  • Do not compare you work directly with other students: Whilst everyone else you know shall also be writing a dissertation there topic will be different. They will work differently to you, and will have set themselves different goals. Just try and do the best piece of work that you feel you can do! 
  • *From Katie Middleton* Do not learn or use a new piece of software unless you really need it: Katie used Mendeley for her references and said it saved a lot of time, but there is no point in learning a new piece of software just for the sake of it!
All that is left me to say is GOOD LUCK & I hope your own experience of writing a dissertation is better than mine! 
Let me know if you have additional tips or pieces of advice that you think I missed & I shall update them to this document! 

You can catch up on my whole Dissertation process & if you want to share your #dissertation story then please let me know in the comments or via twitter. 

  • Katie Middleton

    I used Mendeley for my references and it saved me so much time. It’s a great little piece of software and you can view and highlight pdfs in it.

    But DON’T try and learn how to use a new piece of software to write your dissertation in if you don’t really need to….

  • Liesa V

    Yes! Picking a topic you like or you’re at least interested in will make things sooooo much ‘easier’ or let’s say bare able, haha. xx

  • Becca

    I’ve tagged you to do this πŸ™‚

  • That is a very very good point about only using and learning a piece software if you need it, not just for the sake of it! There were a few piece of software that the university offered for us, but in the longterm it just didn’t make sense to use them as it would have been another form of procrastination for writing the actual assignment!

    Thanks Katie πŸ™‚

  • Ha, bearable is at least better than hating the topic completely at the end of the year!

  • Thanks Becca πŸ™‚ I have know spent quite a long time reading a lot of your posts! Loved the one about Legally Blond!

  • Caitlin! These are great tips, especially the third one. It’s really tricky when you reassure yourself that you still have 5-7-10 months to write your dissertation. It’s not a 800-word blog post that one can churn out 2 hours before the submission. My deadline is 3rd November but I’m already stressing out. Need to plan it well.

  • Exactly Juraj, I made the mistake of thinking I had lots more time! November is a pretty early deadline but good luck! πŸ™‚