Tips for your Dissertation
Being a University student with a thriving social life is all well and good, but there is no denying that at some point you are going to have to wrestle that angry cloud of deadlines hovering over your shoulders. As a third year, I completely understand how stressful it is trying to balance your University work with a social life, visiting home, and that new job. Don’t worry, you are not on your own, we all shrug off the pressures of University work with the promise of returning to it later on in the week, however, when it reaches the point in which it is screaming for your attention at the back of your conscience, it cannot be ignored any further.
This feeling in the past three years I have come to know, and after already writing about such stress regarding University work, I believe it is better to share any tips on handling the dreaded deadlines than let another fellow student miss out on something that could possibly encourage, or enable a worrying student to manage such commitments better. For me, most of my attention at the minute is wasted away on my dissertation, sometimes I wish I had prepared a lot earlier than I had, and I prepared fairly early, so I thought I might give some first and second years some tips from a third year experience, you never know, it might actually give you some ideas.
1) Choose a topic you feel you can not talk enough about
The choice of topics in which you are able to analyse within your dissertation will be dependent on which subject you are studying at University, however, there are usually a lot of ways in which you can relate a subject you are really passionate about to your Dissertation topic, however, the subject you are studying will most probably provide you with a topic you feel increasingly intrigued by, otherwise you most likely would not be studying it. As an English Literature student I have chosen a topic surrounding African American narratives, although many of my friends have chosen many varied subjects for their own Dissertations, for example, a male course mate has decided to talk about the evolution of zombies in Gothic Fiction, whereas another friend has spoken about representations of Music in selected novels, a topic I often pinch myself for not choosing myself. Most dissertations are expected to harbour 10,000 words or even more, and therefore it is a must that you choose a topic you are genuinely interested in, because you are going to be living, eating, breathing, and sleeping this topic for the majority of your third year.
2) Plan EVERYTHING as soon as possible
This may seam drastic and something only a true geek would do, but believe me, you have no idea when your Dissertation tutor may want to see the sources you have collected, or want to see exactly what you aim to say in each chapter, and most of the time they do not take verbal instructions as work. Within three weeks of starting my third year, my Dissertation tutor had already met up with me, asked me to send 25 sources in which I will be using in my dissertation (In bibliography form) and a plan of my whole Dissertation. Obviously each University, subject, and tutor will be different, for example my housemates Dissertation tutor is willing to read as many drafts or bits of paragraphs as wanted, however mine will only take one draft, but they all work on the same principles, to encourage you to plan as much as you can so you have something to reference when you forget where you are, or differentiate what you want to say with what you have already said, believe me, after a couple of thousand words your eyes start to fur up and your head starts leaning to one side, causing you to worry about your sanity, therefore it is very easy to get lost in the tornado of papers, sources and arguments.
3) Have an argument already in your head before you start reading
Dissertations can be incredibly frustrating little things, I only began planning mine two months ago yet I have already experienced every feeling under the sun whilst working on it. Most of this stress has stemmed from my lack of decision making with regards to what argument I want to base my Dissertation on, for example, a friend of mine has based her argument on ‘How Romance novels brainwash women today’, it is a working argument for her but that is the basis of her aim, and it just shows that your argument can simply be anything. The pen is really put in your hand with a Dissertation, there is no right or wrong topic, it is for you to decide, and for the tutors to help and improve the work you produce. I would advise any students who are yet to enter their third year to start having an idea for their Dissertation, and the argument you may possibly want to portray, as early as possible, it will cause far less worrying and flapping around than if you leave it last minute.
3) READ READ READ
Make sure you read as much as you can, you never know what you will find in the next book you pick up, it may bring you back to life after sleepily scanning through a ton of boring dusty books. It may seam soul destroying, however it could be the best thing to add to you dissertation, so make sure you cover a substantial amount of reading, and note down every valid point you find, no matter how big or small it is in your argument. Also, in most Dissertations the sources you use can e very exciting; I have used many poems in which I enjoyed and found relevant to my topic, also, songs, and magazine articles can be relevant, although it is advised to double check with your tutor before adding these to your Dissertations.
4) Manage your time carefully, DO NOT LEAVE UNTIL LAST MINUTE!!
This assignment is not like any other, you can not just do an ‘all-nighter’ with this one, it takes months and months of planning, reading, writing, and many coffees and late nights to produce. It is understandable that many students like to enjoy their social lives which is fair enough and I admit to that myself, however your Dissertation is very important, and is like a child that needs to be nurtured and a lot of attention needs to be spent upon this little baby.
I hope this helped just a little bit, and if you are not yet in the third year, that this article gave you an idea on what to expect with regards to your Dissertation, there are a lot of courses that do not expect a Dissertation, or give you a choice to substitute a Dissertation with, for example, Placement work, however the Dissertation is infamous in the student community as a soul destroying, but important contribution to your course, do not let this be a negative experience, start it early and regard it as a new friend waste you time with. It does not mean the end of your social life, my friends and I have Dissertation dates where we all sit and work on our Dissertations, with tasty treats and a nice movie afterwards, therefore my last tip is too keep things fun! And do not forget to make time for yourself to relax.
Written by Charlotte Owen, Leeds Metropolitan University.