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Writing a dissertation is something that many students dread when they begin their studies. Your dissertation often makes up a large proportion of your final grade, so it’s important to work as hard as you can to get the best marks possible.
While a dissertation requires thousands of words and countless hours of research, the task shouldn’t be something that fills you with fear. If you’re able to start early, plan out your research effectively and remain productive throughout the process, you will find it easier to complete your dissertation in plenty of time to an excellent standard.
If you’ve already started thinking about your dissertation, or you are preparing to write it, here is our ultimate guide to help you through each stage.
1. Pick a research topic that interests you
Our first tip may sound like an obvious one, but it’s also one of the most important. Your dissertation is a large piece of work – few people want to spend hours writing about something that doesn’t interest them. Your dissertation is one of the few chances that you have at university to exercise complete freedom around the topic of discussion. It’s an opportunity to showcase your thoughts, share your opinions and prove to your professors how much you have learned during your studies.
If you’re struggling to think of a topic, go back and think about some of the previous classes that you’ve taken during your studies. Which of these classes was your favorite? Which class did you look forward to going to? What was it about these classes that interested you?
By asking yourself these questions, it can help to clarify which topic should be the subject of your dissertation.
2. Start as early as you can
As it’s such an important piece of work, professors usually give you the brief for your dissertation many months before the deadline. It can be tempting to ignore your dissertation until the deadline becomes closer, but this can lead to unnecessary stress. The later you leave your work, the more likely it is that you’ll have to rush to complete it, which can prevent you from getting a higher grade.
While you don’t need to start writing everything straight away, if you can start to think about the topic, structure or arguments that you want to use in your dissertation (and keep a record of all the prep work you do) you will find it much easier to get started.
3. Don’t be scared to ask your professors for advice
Your professor may not be able to go through your dissertation in detail, but that doesn’t mean they can’t provide you with help. Before you start writing or planning anything, ask your professor if they can guide you in the direction of resources, information or advice that could be useful throughout the dissertation writing process. You may also be assigned a dissertation supervisor, a specific member of staff with whom you can schedule sessions to go over your work. Your supervisor’s help will be an invaluable part of the process and can ensure you remain on the right track.
4. Set goals for yourself early on
The planning stage of your dissertation is one of the most important, and it can set you up for a successful project. During this stage, it’s a good idea to set some initial goals for yourself. This will give you targets to work towards throughout the process and keep you motivated.
Your goals can include how many words you aim to have written by a given day, what you want to achieve in your dissertation, and which skills you would like to improve on. When it comes to word count, it’s usually better to set manageable goals. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to write thousands of words in one sitting – breaking the process into shorter sections means you’re much more likely to make progress.
You can refer back to your goals and check them off a list as you complete them, which will also help you to stay productive and avoid rushing your project.
5. Keep a clear record of all the research you’ve done
Writing a dissertation involves a lot of research, and if you don’t have a thorough record of all the websites, journals and references that you’ve used, it can be hard to track them down again later on. Create a spreadsheet in which you can place all the links, authors, and titles of the resources that you’ve used, so you can list them in your bibliography easily, and refer back to them whenever you need to find information.
6. Never stop questioning yourself
No matter what stage of writing you’re at, you should never stop thinking critically about your work. Constantly ask yourself if you’re convinced by the answers you are giving, whether references support your conclusions and if all your sources are relevant to the topic that you’re writing about. By questioning everything you write, you’ll be able to produce a compelling, professional dissertation.
7. Ask others to proofread your work
Once you’ve finished the majority of your writing, our final tip is to ask a friend or someone else that you trust to proofread your dissertation.
When you’ve been working on something so closely, it can be hard to spot small mistakes that can impact your grade. When you give your work to someone to read with a fresh pair of eyes, they may be able to help you find improvements that can improve your writing. Make sure you ask your friends to proofread your work with plenty of time to spare before the deadline. This way, if they do notice any improvements that could be made, you have enough time to make the necessary changes.
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