Writing An Undergraduate Dissertation: My Top Tips

Hello everyone, I hope you’re all well. With just a couple of weeks left to go until my dissertation deadline, I thought it was the perfect time to share with you my top tips for writing a dissertation, based on what I’ve learned through my process. My supervision has ended, and I’m now in the final stages of writing, editing, and preparing for the hand in. Writing a dissertation can seem incredibly daunting, but you can get through it, and for me, it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. So, here are my top tips.

1. PLAN


Having a plan is absolutely key. At first it can seem really daunting to make a plan, especially if you’re in the initial stages of not knowing specifically what topic you want to look at, or how you want to research it. I started with rough brainstormed ideas, and eventually I pulled together a coherent plan. Once I’d made a plan the piece of work as a whole felt more manageable – I had a rough ideas of what was going in each chapter, so then I could move onto planning my reading, my research, and managing my time. And the great thing about making a plan is that it can be adapted as you get new ideas, and more of a sense of what you want your dissertation to be.

2. READ IN ADVANCE

Once I had made my plan it was onto the hunt for all the relevant reading. I did the bulk of my reading at the time I was constructing my dissertation proposal, so that by the time it came to writing my actual literature review I had all my sources ready at the go, and knew what I was going to include and where. Having the reading done prior made the writing process so much smoother, and reduced a lot of potential stress, since I already had in mind and the resources for what I needed to be writing about.

3. REFERENCE AS YOU GO ALONG


As much as you need to be on the ball with your reading, the same goes for referencing. Referencing can be something easily put off, as something you’ll ‘sort out at the end’, but trust me, it is so much more time efficient, and less stressful if you get your references in as you go along. There’s nothing worse than struggling to go back and find the exact journal article, or chapter of a book you’ve cited because you didn’t record the full reference at the time of reading it. I’ve used this habit of getting my referencing done as I go along throughout my degree, and it’s meant that referencing is much less of a hassle.

4. MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR SUPERVISOR


Your supervisor is there to support you, so make the most of it. Whether it’s dropping them an email with a quick query, having a more in-depth meeting, or just getting them to take a look at a plan, they are their to support you through the process. With my dissertation I’m limited to four contact hours with my supervisor throughout the entire process, so I’ve had to ensure that I maximise my time with them to ensure I get the best use of my time. To do this I always ensure I have a plan of what I want to discuss with them before a meeting – even just making a quick bullet point list of pointers has been really helpful.

5. GIVE YOURSELF BREAKS 



This is perhaps an obvious tip to state, but a key one at that. When I know I’ve got a lot of work to get through, and a what seems endless to do list, I almost feel ‘guilty’ when it comes to relaxing, socialising, or doing anything other than my work. Because I get that voice in the back of my head like ‘you have this to do, why aren’t you doing it?’. But it’s important to grasp that taking breaks, socialising, and doing the things you love is totally ok, and needed. You need to give your brain a break if you want it to function. Yes a dissertation can seem like an enormous challenge to face, but balancing your time and breaking the workload into chunks really does make it manageable.

6. DON’T COMPARE YOUR WORK TO OTHERS 



Everyone’s dissertation is going to be different. It’ll be on a different topic, they’ll perhaps have a different structure to you, and they’ll have a different writing style to you. And that’s totally fine. Your dissertation is your unique piece of work, so have confidence in that, and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

I hope this was helpful to any of you also undertaking a dissertation, or have one looming in the future. As daunting as it may seem, it’s really not as bad as it seems, and you’ve got this!

Shelley x

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