May 15, 2019, by Alina
Writing a dissertation – things I wish I had known!
After having done what seemed like the impossible, and handing my dissertation in last week (cue round of applause!!) I’ve been reflecting on things that I wish I had known prior to writing a dissertation. I feel that it is particularly difficult to gauge how well your diss is going considering that, chances are, it’s your first time writing one! Hopefully this post will help some of you who are getting ready to start yours in the next academic year!
1 – Choosing a Topic
I realised that I had wasted so much time by not fully thinking about what topic and argument I really wanted to focus on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s completely fine to head into it with an open mind, but if your topic is as broad as mine was, then I would fully recommend choosing a particular area to focus on before term starts. This will give you some extra time to research the literature that currently exists, and could save you so much precious time in the long run!
Note: Although I really emphasise on the importance of narrowing down your topic, don’t worry too much about your question! As your dissertation grows, your ideas are more likely to develop into new areas and therefore it’s likely that you’ll have to keep adapting your dissertation question or title too.
2 – Read about what your dissertation actually entails
I made the mistake of spending hours preparing a draft of a literature review, only to realise that I didn’t actually understand what a literature review meant. Every subject has slightly different dissertation requirements, so make sure you understand all the aspects that you are required to complete, prior to actually spending time drafting them! If you’re particularly confused then look at the online database of previous dissertations in your subject area – this should give you a rough idea, but also make sure to ask your supervisor (that’s what they are there for!) to confirm any of these worries.
3 – Research your research
As if dissertations couldn’t already get more confusing, I doubt that the above headline helped 😉 I was adamant on using an online survey to gather my results, and ignored my supervisor’s suggestion to conduct in-depth interviews instead. This was all fine until I realised that I had to use a stats program to analyse the data collected from the survey which ended up in me dedicating a long week just learning how to use the program – not saving me any time at all! Make sure to fully evaluate your choice of research, and to ensure that you know how to analyse it before it gets too late…
4 – Ask in advance!
I cannot stress this enough – if you realise that you have stumbled upon an area of your dissertation that your really really can’t figure out then make sure to let your supervisor know in advance! Supervisors are also humans who have their own lives, and there is nothing worse than being at a standstill with your work because your supervisor has gone on holiday for a week, knowing that you could have emailed your query a lot earlier.
5 – Plan!
I made a lovely plan at the start of this academic year – it’s just a shame that I didn’t stick to it and ended up doing a long week of 12 hour days in the library in order to complete my dissertation. make sure you have monthly deadlines for certain aspects of your work, as it can help you focus more on other subjects during exam time without feeling too guilty.
Overall, I really did enjoy doing my dissertation and I would fully recommend doing one if you have the choice! Just make sure that you keep on top of things. 🙂 Good luck!