The struggles of writing a dissertation

The struggles of writing a dissertation

Final year problems

I have to admit that writing my dissertation was not as fun as I expected. As much as I loved my research topic and as much as I enjoyed reading about it, writing a 10,000 word dissertation turned out to be quite stressful. There were days when I would open the documents on my laptop and I would just stare at it with no intention of starting to write. I heard that this problem is called ‘writer’s block’ so, as any final year student would do, I googled it. I needed a way to overcome this, whatever this was… and finish my dissertation, or at least start it. I needed a way to get past the anxiety that was settling in and the frustration of not being able to cope with this stress. Here you have my advice...

1. Research – research – research

Research your topic beforehand. Don’t be a last minute type of person. It might have worked with any other coursework, but it’s not so easy when it comes to writing a final year dissertation. Therefore, take a few months to research your topic: read all the necessary books, articles, journals that you can find. It’s better to have an overload of information stored on your computer instead of not having enough. Take notes of everything that you write – you will need the references. Make a table with the name of the book (article), the name of the author and the page where you found the information. Also, don’t forget to mention if you’ve found the source online or on paper. By the end of your research you will probably have more than 50 references, so trust me when I say that you should write everything down. You don’t want to be in the situation where you cannot find your reference and you will probably need to exclude that one from your chapter.

2. Anything is better than nothing

My advice to you is to write as little as you can, but as long as you do something every day you will be able to advance with your chapters. Anything that you write can and most probably will be changed at some point during this whole process. So postpone watching that one episode of Game of Thrones and for that hour write your introduction. If the ideas don’t flow at the beginning, use bullet points and rewrite it later. You don’t need to finish the entire chapter in one hour or one day, focus on writing a little bit everyday instead of overloading yourself with work in a short period of time. You can do it!

3. You're not alone

If you need moral support and you get along well with your classmates, join a support group. They will most probably help you stay motivated. Some universities have support groups already created, if not you can create your own. Your writing buddy should be a student that is working on their dissertation or another coursework that is as important as yours. Going through the same process and struggles is important as this way you will be able to support each other in any situation. Set your goals and share it in your group – all of you should push each other to reach those goals on time.

4. Ask for help!

If possible, identify the gaps in your literature and when you are sure of what is missing from your work go to your supervisor and ask for help. Don’t be shy as they are there to guide and help you.  My one advice is to be prepared, have your specific questions written down and the meeting with your supervisor will go smoothly. You will receive the needed information and can move on to another stage of your writing process.  The sooner you do this the better.

5. Stop procrastinating!

If I’m being completely honest, you being here and reading this article is procrastinating. You chose to do anything else instead of working. Stop! Your emails and WhatsApp messages can wait for now. The cat videos on YouTube will still be there in an hour and your favourite TV-show will still be on Netflix tomorrow. You don’t need to clean your room right this second and you definitely don’t need to go shopping for dog food today. Leave everything aside and put your ideas on paper. Use colourful pens and draw tables or anything that can help you gain your information in one place. You have to motivate yourself! Find the best way! Read the article: 4 habits damaging your productivity.

6. Have a plan!

My idea of working efficiently is writing 45 minutes and resting 15 minutes. Your brain needs a break from time to time and if you are well organized and respect your daily plan you can get more work done. Alternate working with resting and start fresh every time. New ideas will come when you are not tired. Use those 15 minutes to take a walk or have a chat, disconnect from the world of researching for a while and you will feel much better afterwards. You might just come up with the solution to how to solve a problem you had been struggling with, without realising.

7. Let it go!

If you’re a perfectionist this will seem impossible, but just give it a try. Nothing can be perfectly done and any work can improve at some point. So if your supervisor and you think that your dissertation is good enough, don’t obsess over changing it over and over again hoping that a better structure will come along. Do your best and be happy about it. Be confident that your chapter is well done and is worth a good grade. A lecturer of mine once told me that the only good dissertation is the finished one. Don’t lose time on rewriting every word of your paragraph! Obviously, revision is always necessary, but be confident on the accuracy of your content, sentence structure and language. No matter how much you try to make your dissertation perfect, your marker will always have some questions and ideas to improve it.
PS: I finished my dissertation on time and I managed to receive a 1st class degree at the end of my studies. wizbii