I loved doing my dissertation. Okay so, at the time I wasn’t sat there thinking, “this is so much fun” but, the more I researched into my topic and the more I put down my key arguments in writing, the more I enjoyed what I was doing.
Lots of Sheffield Hallam students will now be getting started on their final projects and dissertations ready for submission before the summer.
So, here are some of my tips for writing your dissertation, from planning, to doing, taking breaks to compiling research. Everyone is different, every project is different, and every course is different, these aren’t universal, but hopefully there’s something that’s useful!
And don’t forget to check out my Dissertation Tips Moment on my Twitter – @lburdenmedia
- Be patient – with yourself and with others
People are going to ask about your project. They’ll want to know what you’re doing, and you’ll feel that you’ll have to say something clever sounding to impress them, and then they probably won’t understand what you’re on about anyway. Think of something concise to tell people that summarises your project. Also, be patient with your supervisor. This isn’t there only project, they’ll have their own research to do, classes, other work to supervise. Plan your time so that, if it takes them a few days to email you back, it’s not a big deal.
This one’s probably obvious but just in case. Try your best to plan out your time wisely. Remembering all the time that the sooner you start, the more time you’ll have. Setting preliminary deadline dates with your supervisor really helps, as does using a diary or your phone calendar to map out the free time you have and how long you have left until deadline day.
- Not just planning, but doing
Don’t spend all your time planning out when you’ll sit down and get some work done, you also need to sit down and get some work done. It’s all well and good looking in your diary and thinking, it’s okay I’ve got two whole days free next week, if you’ve got some free time this week, get some work done now, as well as later.
- Bitesize chunks
Break your project down into more manageable bitesize chunks. If you’re always thinking to yourself, oh my god, I’ve got to do a whole dissertation project, you’ll constantly be freaking out. Instead, open a blank document, and populate it with some preliminary subtitles – Introduction, Literature Review, Conclusion etc. Complete the project, section by section.
- Start early
Like I said above, the sooner you start, the more time you’ll have to finish. This one really is obvious and you’re probably rolling your eyes and scrolling past this right now but, it really is true. Don’t start when your dissertation module starts. You’ve got the summer before your third year, your whole degree to be thinking about what you want your project to be on and starting some casual research.
- What have you enjoyed at University?
I don’t mean Wednesday nights in Corp. Think back to which modules you’ve found interesting on your course, which assignments have captured your attention, what have you read or discussed that’s piqued your interest?
- You won’t include all the interesting research you’ve done
When you’re really interested in and passionate about a project such as your dissertation, as soon as you read something relevant and interesting, you feel like you’ve struck gold. However, you always need to keep looking back at your dissertation title, abstract and methodology – is the information relevant, does it support or contradict your argument, does it say something new or support a point you’ve already made? You won’t include absolutely everything you read and find, this is how it should be. The trick is figuring out what’s important and what can be left as background reading. Always remember to include research you haven’t directly quoted or referred to, in your bibliography to show the full extent of your research.
- Edit, edit, edit
You will spend more time editing your project and trimming it down, than actually writing. The writing is the easy part. Making it more concise and to the point is the real challenge. My first full dissertation was about 12,000 words and I had a 6,000-word maximum word count! I had to change my project so that it was slightly more focused and really cut down on how I was making each point of my argument.
- Start with something juicy
You’ve done your literature review, abstract, methodology and introduction, now it’s time for the main event. Start your findings and discussion section with something interesting to hook the reader in. Make a bold statement, ask a question, get straight into the whole point of the dissertation, the focus for your research. It’s great to finish with a bang, but firstly, you need to start with one.
- What have YOU done, and why?
Your literature review focuses on what others have said about the topic you’re focused on. Your findings and discussion section will look at what you’ve done, and what you think, based on what you’re read and researched, so make sure this is clear from what you’re writing. Why is your research important? What have you added to the argument or topic?
- Back up EVERYTHING
Back up your project, and then backup your backup. Whether you use Dropbox, a dozen USB sticks, a fancy 2tb external hard drive, it doesn’t matter. Just always keep multiple copies of everything – all your research, project documents, everything. On different devices, different cloud services, different places.
- Read it through and read it again
When you think your project is finished, you’re within the word count, you’ve got all your references down, you’ve included all your research and main arguments, stop writing and start reading. Reading the whole project through, again and again. There will come a point where you won’t want to read through it again and you’re finally happy with it. But first, check your references, spelling, grammar, structure, layout and everything in between, you don’t want to lose out on marks for simple spelling mistakes or messing up your references.