The Do's and Don'ts of Dissertation

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Do's and Don'ts of Dissertation

If you are reading this chances are you went to university, are in university or thinking of going to university. For me, I was at the university less than a year when the dreaded dissertation began to be discussed in lectures. I was a third-year entrant, in Scotland, this means that I went into university in the second last year of a bachelors with honours degree or a BA (Hons). Going to university, I was terrified for my dissertation, people had told me repeatedly how hard it is, how long it takes, how terrifying it was and if I am completely honest, for me, things haven't worked out that way at all. 

I picked my dissertation topic in the January of 2016, in the last semester of third year and I did a little research on it to hand in for a prep class, which really helped me out. It gave me so much more confidence in my abilities, in my subject and I was able to know that this was the subject I wanted to write my 10,000 - 12,000-word dissertation on. My subject was the influence bloggers have over the consumer habits of their readers, of course, I wrote about bloggers. I am one, I love blogging and I find the whole aspect of us as bloggers being able to influence people's lives and thoughts super interesting. 

Fast-forward over a year and my dissertation is done, it was handed in on the 6th of April and it is probably being marked right now or sat on a desk waiting to be marked. It was 11,500+ words minus front matter, bibliography, references, appendices and such. A lot of people say how terrible doing a dissertation is and how hard it is, I didn't really find this, I mean, it has been a stressful few months, but I would say I have definitely completed work way harder than this.

The Do's and Don'ts of Dissertation

THE DOS OF A DISSERTATION

PICK A SUBJECT YOU ARE GOING TO ENJOY
Who wants to write a 10,000 to the 12,000-word essay on a subject they don't enjoy? Definitely not me. The most important thing to do is to pick something you want to know more about, something that doesn't bore you or make you want to hit your head against a wall everytime you have to write or research for it. 

USE YOUR ADVISOR TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
A lot of people try to go off on their own, don't contact their advisor/supervisor and I really don't think this is a good idea. I have been meeting with my advisor roughly every two weeks excluding holidays and it is a great way of staying on top of your dissertation. Setting objectives each meeting so you have things to update your advisor on etc. 

GIVE YOURSELF TIME
The worst possible thing you can do is to leave your chapters until a few days before hand-in, always take your time, I like to give myself a week to a week and a half before hand-in to complete each chapter. Even then, I emailed my advisor my chapters a week in advance, her idea, which was incredibly helpful and reduced last minute stress. 

SET TIMELY GOALS
Just like I said above, I emailed my chapters a week in advance to my advisor and it helped me out a lot to have my chapters finished a week before each hand-in date. Even if you don't agree to this with your advisor, try to have each chapter ready a week in advance, have goals set for when you want primary research completed, set goals for when you want your interviews to be completed or your survey responses analysed, it really helps!

USE ALL THE HELP YOU CAN GET
Now, for me to say this is a pretty big deal. I am very independent and incredibly stubborn, I love to do things alone, I mean I work well in groups too, I just prefer to work alone and refuse to let anyone help me. I used all the help I was offered, by my advisor, workshops on how to write the dissertation, advice by writing professionals, help from the librarians on how to research efficiently, allowed people to help me score interviews. Instead of showing weakness and an inability to do it alone, it proved I was dedicated and helped me possibly raise my grade.

The Do's and Don'ts of Dissertation

THE DON'TS OF A DISSERTATION

FOCUS ON OTHER PEOPLE
This is the worst thing you can do. What other people are doing with their dissertation is nothing to do with you. I think it is really sad when you get to this point in your life and still think it is cool to brag about how far behind you are with work, don't give into it. Don't pretend to be further behind than you are or get dragged into being behind everyone. 

LEAVE EVERYTHING UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE
This is probably the worst thing you can do when it comes to any piece of work. Leaving things until the last possible minute means rushing, stress, mistakes, lack of attention and is just plain silly especially if the piece of work is as big and important as your dissertation. 

LEAVE ALL REFERENCING UNTIL THE END
Oh my, do not make this mistake, I may have done this and I want to cry, it is so annoying having to rummage online to find which book I was referencing. Try to keep a list of references for each chapter so it is easy enough just to slot them all together in alphabetical order for your hand-in. Luckily, I bookmarked all my online books so I am good with that, but having returned all the physicals to the library I cannot remember a single one so have to search names and dates online looking for memorable titles, it's not fun at all! 

GIVE YOURSELF TOO MUCH WORK
When it came to my objectives I wanted to do way too much work, it would have taken up so much more of my time and would have conflicted with my word count. Try not to spread yourself too thin, have reasonable objectives and remember the word count is pretty small when it comes down to it. 

HOLD BACK ON THE PRIMARY RESEARCH
No matter what your subject is you shouldn't hold back with the primary research. I contacted a whole bunch of bloggers and companies before I even got a response. Contact as many people for interviews as you can, if you don't get responses then email them again as a follow-up or email, even more, people, use the phone if emails aren't working. Just be careful, there is a difference between following up and being pushy. 

Dissertations can be hectic, you spend a long time writing it up and you spend even longer stressing over it, but there are ways to make it run smoother for yourself. I know so many people who have left everything last minute and ended up being fine, but I can't be that person. I am a perfectionist and I like to be ahead of the game, I like to know things are going smoothly, I can't just go with the flow when it comes to a lot of work and university related things. I'm not saying my dissertation is perfect or the way I dealt with mine is any better than the way other people do, but this worked for me, a perfectionist stress head. 

I don't want to jinx it and tell you all how amazingly mine went and how perfect my dissertation was because I haven't got my grade back and I definitely think there were still some faults and errors throughout it, I mean no one is perfect. My dissertation just ran a lot smoother and seemed to be a lot easier than the horror stories I have previously heard and read. In saying this I do think my dissertation ran more seamlessly than most because of the above points so I wanted to share my tips and tricks with anyone who will be doing theirs soon or just anyone who will be doing a big essay or thesis in the future.

How do you approach big projects like dissertations? Do you have any tips I haven't mentioned? Tell me them below. 

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