Monday, 24 February 2014

Tips for writing a dissertation



Hello there lovelies

*SUPER LONG POST ALERT*

For this post I thought I’d offer some tips if you’re writing a dissertation (or Undergraduate Major Project). I completed my BSc degree last year so the experience is still rather fresh in my memory. Firstly- I feel your pain but keep going you’re almost there. If you’re a third year student you may have already started or even finished your dissertation and if you’re a second year student you may want to start thinking about a subject to write it on now as it will come around quicker than you think, these tips can also be applied to other essays not just a dissertation. Now I’m no expert but these are just some things I picked up when I was writing my dissertation that I wish I’d known before starting it. I’m not a natural academic, I had to work really hard to get my marks and I wasn’t very good at keeping myself focused. I always had something more important to do than writing my essay. It was much more important that I colour coded my socks than sat down and did research even though the little voice in my head kept nagging me to do it.

So these are my tips….

1.Stating the obvious but DON’T leave it until the last minute, it will be reflected in your writing and you won’t be able to produce your best work resulting in you loosing precious marks. Start early and do little and often.

2.Keep all correspondence between you and lecturers. Keep all emails in your inbox, don’t delete them, it’s proof that communication has taken place, if you’ve asked for help and haven’t received it you’ve got the proof that you’ve asked for it and didn’t get a response. Or if you’ve been given a piece of advice and it turns out to be wrong you can show that you was advised to do/not to do that.

3.Get to grips with referencing. Take on board feedback from previous essays, if your unsure most university libraries have staff that can help with referencing, use them.

4.Take regular breaks. There’s nothing more soul destroying than staring at a computer screen for hours and not typing anything, if you get writers block walk away from your computer, make a cup of tea, pop to the shop, you’ll probably find that something will soon pop into your head to write once the pressures off.

5.Reference as you go along, it saves time at the end. Writing a reference list from scratch can take hours or even days and is sooooo tedious. I have 2 word documents open and whenever I use a reference in text I type it in my reference list straight away. This will ensure that no references are missed and you can just copy and paste your completed list over to your finished project at the end.

6.Include a bibliography, some people see them as a pointless exercise but it shows you’ve done the leg work when conducting research, if you’ve found a really good source but just don’t know how to utilise it put it in the bibliography.

7.Ask for help. If you’re really struggling don’t suffer in silence go to a lecturer and explain, its what they get paid (quite a lot of money) to do. Also use support staff like student services as they will be able to offer advice if your not sure what route to take. This also links back to point 2.

8.Don’t underestimate how long editing will take. Allow a good week to get it exactly how you want it to look. Front cover contents page abstract etc and aim to have it 100% complete and ready to hand in at least a week before its due. This allows for any last minute alterations or unforeseen circumstances.

9.Have a day off. We all need a break; I wouldn’t work at weekends so I could do shopping, washing, housework, catching up with friends etc so I didn’t have to think about it during the week when I needed to be writing. I also wouldn’t work past 9pm as this gave me an hour or two to wind down before bed so I could get a good nights sleep before starting again the next day.

10.Don’t loose faith. It may feel like its never going to end but it will and once its finished you’ll feel so much better. I think the whole campus must have heard my sigh of relief when I handed it in.

11.Break it down into sections rather than one 10,000 word essay (I’m assuming most are 10,000 words for undergraduate). The thought of writing 10,000 words filled me with dread but when I broke it down into sections and thought about what I wanted to say in each section it wasn’t so bad. I think I did something like 5 sections at around 2000 words per section and made each one link so it flowed nicely.

12.Avoid distractions; plan them for your day off. Explain to people that your writing so can’t do x y z but you’re up for celebrating when you’re finished. Most people will understand, especially if they have done a degree, they were in that position once.

13.Keep a notebook handy, even if you are having a day off. You’ll think of the best lines to write at the most inconvenient time and if you don’t write them down straight away you’ll forget it- trust me, the amount of times I thought of some excellent things when I was just nodding of to sleep or driving. Even write it in a text message and send it to yourself if you’re out and about.

14.Save it everywhere possible, memory sticks, external hard drives etc. I would email it to myself then you can always access it from any computer. If something should happen to your computer you can log in to your emails from another machine and get to your precious work.

15.Proof read, by the time I’d finished mine I could probably recite the whole thing from memory the amount of times I’d read it but what may sound good one day may not make sense the next when looking at it with fresh eyes. If it doesn’t make sense to you then it won’t make sense to the reader. Try reading a sentence out loud to see if it sounds right or reading it out loud to someone else.

16.Don’t be ambiguous. Write clearly so the reader can understand, you don’t get marks for using super big words that sound clever. I was always told to write as though the reader has no knowledge of the subject, ask yourself, will they be well informed on the subject by the time they have read your piece.

17.Once you’ve handed it in forget about it or you’ll send yourself crazy if you keep thinking about it and trying to predict your marks. What’s done is done. I worried myself sick and convinced myself I’d failed one of my exams and I ended up getting in the 90s for it, so its not worth thinking about. Just enjoy the freedom until results day.

I don’t think I’ve said anything that you probably don’t already know but sometimes it’s just nice to know that someone else can relate to what you’re going through. Sorry this is a bit of a monster post, if you got this far- high five. And hang on in there; if I can do it believe me when I say anyone can. And lastly GOODLUCK.

Until next time

48 comments:

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  3. Very organized! I remember the last time I had to write a substantial paper under the guidance of a professor (not sure if it's the same type of undergraduate 'dissertation' you guys have in the UK; in US dissertation is usually associated with your PhD) I remember finishing things up at the very last minute.

    And by that I mean I was madly finishing things from 12a-6a the day it was due at 8a! Lol... #collegelife, right? :)

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    Replies
    1. I just wish I was this organised when I was actually writing the thing, others can learn from my mistakes xx

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  4. To be honest, working on dissertation is never that easy. It needs to be more unique and creative. Your post is helpful though, thanks!

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    1. Thankyou, it's a gruelling task and one I don't wish to repeat and I feel for anyone trying to write one. It's only a few months out of a persons life and the rewards can be life changing

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