University Guest Post: Dissertation Hints & Tips

I’ve done it before, but now I’m hoping to do it more regularly – introducing guest posts here on ninegrandstudent! I set up this blog to help out students and, whilst it’s no longer it’s only focus (it’s pretty much my diary!), I still like to think of it as helpful. Yet my experience of university isn’t going to be like anyone else’s, and with that in mind I want to add a bit of variety. Guest posts are perfect for that, and this one is great. I’m lucky enough in that my degree doesn’t require a dissertation (school friends only need to remember ‘EPQ’ and they will understand why I don’t wish to do one!), but many students do need to do one. I wouldn’t know where to begin in advising students on how to approach one, so when Josie from Confessions of a Postgrad offered her guest post, well, I couldn’t say no!

 photo Dissertation Tips1_zpsfst0dvmu.jpg photo Dissertation Tips10_zpsdjgtumpa.jpgAh, the dissertation, that terrifying culmination of your university studies which is hovering over your summer threatening upcoming stress and many sleepless nights of typing. If you are due to write your dissertation this year, don’t fret! It is honestly not as bad as you think, and you will end up being very proud of it. As I embark on my second dissertation for my Masters, here are my tips for making the experience as pain-free as possible:

1. Just start. I know, the thought of producing your longest and most important piece of work yet is seriously daunting. So much so, that you can stress yourself out wondering where to even start. The best thing you can do is not worry about starting in the right place, or with the right information, but to just not overthink it and just start. Pick up any book relevant to the topic and start making notes.

2. Start early. Expanding on the above, you will be doing yourself a huge favour if you start your research nice and early. Trust me, this will reduce the pressure later on when you have other assignments to complete as well. Why not use the free time you have this summer to start compiling a reading list? Once you have found one book, a good place to look for further reading is in its bibliography.

 photo Dissertation Tips9_zpsvoogyxkv.jpg photo Dissertation Tips6_zpsmq3lz0ng.jpg3. Note down references as you go. As you read and research, note down book titles and page numbers in the margins of your notes. This is just 100% worth the effort – it will make your life so much easier when it comes to typing up and referencing what you have read!

4. Break it up. Probably one of the worst things you can do is to think of your dissertation as a whole – this is far too overwhelming and daunting. Instead, split it up into manageable chunks. I decided on chapters for my dissertation and then treated each one as a mini essay on its own – this is much easier to tackle!

5. Figure out when you are most productive, and use this time wisely! Personally I am very much a morning person, so I would get up early and work on my dissertation all morning and afternoon until about 3 o’clock – then I could relax for the evening knowing I had achieved what I wanted during the day. Other people however, prefer to work at night. Figuring out when you work best will save you a lot of wasted time and feelings of unproductivity getting you down.

6. Last but not least, take time out! I know it’s obvious, but it can be tempting to work yourself to the bone just to get in finished quickly. It is so important to take time away from your work, not just for your own sanity, but for the quality of your project as well. And if you have started early enough, you can take the time to relax without feeling the pressure!
 photo Dissertation Tips4_zpsmn0cmpoi.jpg

I hope these tips offer some help or inspiration! Do any of you other dissertation veterans have some tips to add?

  • Siobhan Rothwell

    Great tips! I’m doing mine this year and need all the advice I can get!


    • ninegrandstudent

      Luckily I don’t do one – so glad! x

  • Jessi

    Ah, the dissertation, I remember you well! I should probably start by saying that I did an arts (foreign modern languages) undergraduate and postgraduate degree, so my dissertation writing advice is going to be more skewed towards Shakespeare than electrolysis, (but a lot is adaptable to both), but the biggest thing I’d say is:

    define your topic!

    The tips in your post are great, but I think this would be my biggest piece of advice. It’s hard to motivate yourself to ‘just start’, or start early, if you don’t understand what you’re writing about. Say, for example, you’re interested in the use of metaphor in Dante’s Inferno, you can’t write 10k or 20k words of whatever you want. From experience, it makes the whole thing seem far more overwhelming than it needs to be because you just don’t know where to start.

    A better thing to do is to formulate the point of your dissertation into a short question – such as, ‘What does Dante’s use of animal metaphor say about his world view in the Inferno?’ And then from there you can focus on his use of metaphor, what his world view is, and how his treatment re-enforces or contradicts it. And then from there, you’ve got some tangible things you can focus on, research and write about, and before you know it you’ve got some words on the page that might even make it into the finished work!

    It’s also useful to keep the question on a Post-It note by your computer so that as you’re writing you can keep thinking ‘How is what I’m writing relevant to this question?’ This will cut down on the amount of unnecessary waffle, and make editing easier. 🙂

    On a more general level, I’d say the other big thing is to leave enough time at the end to look through your handbook and make sure your essay conforms to your department’s style and presentation handbook. Even the smallest of things – such as font size, line spacing and title page – can make the difference between grade boundaries!

    • ninegrandstudent

      Those are such great tips! I’m not doing a dissertation (my degree is pure exam) but your tips will be so useful to others so thank you! I’ve actually emailed them over to a friend too! x

  • Jennifer K

    I’m also pretty fortunate not to have to write a dissertation (although the other side of that is that I study for five years), but many of these tips apply to writing any essay. The key seems to be stay organised, break it into manageable chunks and stay focused! I’m off to check out Josie’s blog now for more posts!
    Jennifer x
    Ginevrella | Lifestyle Blog

    • ninegrandstudent

      I don’t have to write any essays either, I’m kind of lucky. However I do have a report on my placement due at the end of the month and I’m totally stumped… x

  • I’m going into my first year AGAIN as I’m re-starting on a different course so I’m double dreading my dissertations! These were really useful tips 🙂 x x

    • ninegrandstudent

      Oh, good luck! x

  • I’ve graduated now but these are amazing tips – I definitely agree about breaking it up and referencing as you go along. I actually had separate Word documents for each chapter so it felt like 8 1000-2000 word essays instead of one huge piece of work 🙂 xx

    Jasmine Talks Beauty

    • ninegrandstudent

      That’s a really good idea – wish I had thought of doing it that way for my placement report (though I probably still could as its not due for a few more weeks and I’m currently procrastinating…) x

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  • I wish I had read this post back when you posted it as it would have been so helpful and maybe inspired me to actually start my reading a month ago! But I can do it now anyway 😀

    Lauren // OhHay Blogs!

    • ninegrandstudent

      Go for it, hope it’s going well lovely x