‘What do you mean, I have to write a DISSERTATION?’
‘Well, I’m afraid that’s the only way you’ll be able to get your degree’, said the professor with a grin.
Dissertation…that’s a pretty big word and a rather terrifying concept, but as someone who’s gradually approaching the end of this experience, I can share some of the things I did to make it slightly more manageable. These tips and tricks certainly won’t make writing a dissertation a piece of cake, nor will it take away the stress, but it can certainly make life that tiny bit easier amidst the hundreds of other things that you’ll be required to do in final year.
You’ve got your topic, but you just don’t know where to begin. Completing a ‘disso’ can be a daunting task, since for many students this is the first time that they’ll have produced something on such a large scale. But fear not, I got you.
Firstly, plan, plan, plan! For something as big as this, it’s crucial to plan out your reading and chapter outlines early on. Start off by reading around your topic to get a general flavour of what you’re actually trying to nail down. Find books and articles which will enable you to see the bigger picture, and then slowly home in on the finer, crisper details specific to your chapters and research arguments. Shout out to Brunel Library, JStor, Academic Search Complete and many more for having my back! Make sure you have enough knowledge on your primary reading, so that way the extra secondary material will become much easier to apply. That’s the initial ‘gathering your materials’ phase tackled, now you’re probably thinking, ‛how do I go about starting?’ This is always a difficult question when it comes to a complex piece of work, but if you have planned sufficiently it should not be too taxing.
Many people, including some of my friends, prefer to write their introduction last because it allows them to piece all the threads together and outline what exactly they’re going to cover throughout the project. If the idea of writing a long introduction puts you on edge, then don’t worry, you can always come back to it later. It’s natural to feel most comfortable about writing your chapters on your chosen areas, since that’s what you’ll have spent the most time reading up on. In that case, start writing about your first chosen issue, combining all the relevant juicy secondary material that you’ve read. Continue to do this for each of your chapters, ensuring that there are links between the sections where applicable.
Next, let’s talk about making effective use of your supervisor. Now for some people, they just like to be left to their own devices and prefer not to be overshadowed. But personally, I would highly recommend keeping in regular contact with your dissertation supervisor. They are literally a godsend at a time like this! They’re the ones who have extensive knowledge in the area that you’ll be examining. As for me, I like to meet with my supervisor each time I complete a section as a good progress checker, and to gain feedback on how to sharpen my work even further. Often, we are subjective to our own work and are reluctant to find room for improvement since we’ve had our eyes glued to it for such a prolonged period of time. Use your supervisor’s help and expertise – that’s what they’re there for!
Finally, I want to address some general study habits that can make writing a dissertation simpler. Create a study group where you and your friends can work on the disso on a weekly basis. It’s unrealistic to say, ‘I’m gonna write a thousand words each day’, that ain’t gonna happen, so don’t be one of those people. It’s important to work on it over time so that it remains fresh and concise. Instead, plan out small chunks to work on at least twice a week in your study groups, bearing in mind that it won’t be possible to work on it daily, since you’ll have other assignments and commitments too. For a disso, study groups are a fantastic way of collaborating and providing each other with support. Dissertations can be exhausting both physically and mentally, so working alongside the right people can help put your mind and work at ease. You’re all in the same position and can help each other with constructive peer reviewing.
Those are my tips on how to survive the demon that will inevitably take over your life, aka disso. Hopefully they’ll be of good use and help you on your path to success. So, what are you waiting for? Get typing away on that keyboard!
Amena is a third year English Literature student who can speak English, Bengali, Hindi, and Urdu. Despite the stereotype associated to Shakespeare as being the epitome of literature, he is actually her least favourite literary figure. Her aspiration is to one day become a university lecturer.