Term may only be a few weeks in but many finalists will be thinking about the beginning stages of the dreaded dissertation. It can be quite a daunting process, as it is a project you will undertake completely independently, with only the guidance of your supervisor.
But you’re not completely alone, thanks to Boar Lifestyle’s Top Tips for staying on top of your project.
It may only be the start of Term 1, but the best way to ensure you aren’t completely overwhelmed around Easter and deadline season is to start as early as possible. The earlier you start, the more reading around the subject you can do. It allows more time to delve into the subject, carefully going through the readings rather than skimming them, and making detailed notes.
Once your deadlines start, whether they are at the beginning of next term or this end of this one, it will be even harder to start the process. You’ll understandably want to prioritise reading for other essays, which means the dissertation can fall more and more behind. The earlier you start the dissertation, the more reading you can get behind you before deadlines start.
Summarise what you’ve read
The last thing you want when you come to writing your dissertation is a huge pile of readings and notes. You might not be able to remember what they said, and the worst thing at this stage would be to have to go through all the readings again.
Once you’ve completed a reading, go through it again. Pick out the key points and arguments it makes from your notes and document it on a Word document. Limit yourself to a maximum of five or six bullet points. Then, when you write your project, you’ll be able to skim through this document to find exactly which reading talks about what you want to reference.
Keep a bibliography
It would be even worse if you had a huge pile of readings which you didn’t know where they came from. Don’t leave your referencing until last and make sure you keep a bibliography of everything you’ve read. You’ll thank yourself when it comes to submitting and you already have a bibliography of everything you’ve read and referenced. It would be frustrating to find that you’d referenced a work and didn’t know where it had come from.
Spend time each week on it
Don’t neglect your dissertation in favour of your other modules. For those, there is time set aside each week in the form of lectures and seminars and you set aside time consciously to prepare for them. Do this with your dissertation. Timetabling in dissertation work each week will ensure you dedicate regular time for it and don’t neglect it. You’ll thank yourself for all the effort you’ve put in throughout the year when you don’t have to do the whole thing in the few weeks before submission day.
Speak to your tutors
Speak to other tutors, not only your supervisor. If you’re doing an English Literature dissertation on texts from a particular time, speak to the history lecturer who lectures on that period. Ask which books they recommend for a comprehensive study on the era. Or, if another module has a lecture on a book or idea you’re including, speak to that lecturer.
Don’t leave the writing for Easter
Write sections throughout the year: It’ll consolidate your knowledge and highlight holes in areas you need to research more. You don’t need to include what you’ve written in the end product, but keeping up with writing will steer your project in the direction it wants to take and strengthen your argument.
Set yourself deadlines
Following on from writing throughout the year, set yourself deadlines for when to have sections of your dissertation written. This will prevent the slog of having to write the full 10,000 words over Easter. For example, my supervisor and I have agreed that I will write a detailed plan and 3,000 continuous words.
One thing which I personally find very important is staying organised. There’s nothing that makes me more stressed than not knowing where to find something or not knowing what to do next. I constantly have a list of the next tasks I want to complete and I’ve printed all my readings and notes, filing them in alphabetical order in my ‘dissertation’ folder.
Now, I think I’ve gone overboard for most people with organisation, but it’s important to know where all your notes are is important. Save them in the same folder on your laptop or memory stick (if you save them on a memory stick make sure you back them up – memory sticks are very easy to lose). Name the document with what the reading is or which draft it is so that you’re not battling with ‘Untitled Document 32193’ when it comes to writing.
Whilst the dissertation can be a daunting process, staying on top of it throughout term with these tips can make the final days before the deadline much easier.