How to undertake writing a dissertation

by | May 17, 2024 | Geography and Global Development, Postgraduate | 0 comments

The sheer scale and importance of a dissertation can often incite dread in students and a fear of taking on such a big task, but dissertations don’t have to be as intimidating as they seem, and dare I say they can actually be quite fun! These are some of my key tips for taking on a dissertation, and they worked for me, so hopefully they can work for you too…

Make sure to pick a topic you actually like

Sounds silly but so many people pick topics due to convenience or perhaps external pressures, but dissertations take a lot of hours of work, and also motivation when the workload gets intense. Therefore, enjoying and being passionate about your topic is key to making the dissertation process easier but also you can learn so much from the extensive research you conduct during this time, and if it is a topic you love then that can be really exciting.

It is ok for your topic to change around a bit

Obviously it is not so ideal if this is happening in the last few days before the dissertation is due! Yet, your topic shifting and evolving in different ways is not always a bad thing, as during research you may realize a certain angle or topic is better, or maybe you just don’t think your work flows like you expected, and as annoying as this can be it is perfectly normal and happens to a lot of people.

However, always communicate these changes with your supervisor first! And speaking of…

Make the most of your supervisor

Supervisors are literally there to be a support for you during this time, and they are also experts in their field who can use their experience to guide you. But they have also been students once and understand your struggles so there is no need to be intimidated by them!

Make the most of the meetings you have with them, such as by preparing drafts before the meeting or coming in with questions, as these meetings are not frequent but are vital times for you to gain feedback that can be constructively applied to your work.

Be careful with overreading

Something I am very guilty of which doesn’t seem bad but can make work more difficult. It is amazing to be so interested in a topic that you read a wide variety of papers surrounding it, but it is much more time efficient and less stressful for you to focus your searching more. A key tip is picking out key words relating to what you need to find out and including those as an integral part of your search.

Try and timetable your dissertation structure

A dissertation has a lot of components to be completed, and some are a lot more work than others, therefore it can be helpful to plan out your time where you want certain things to be completed, and maybe using your supervisor to help with this. This can help you plan around when life things come up, but also to ensure you are making the necessary progress to successfully reach your deadline with the completed work.

Leaving plenty of time to proofread

I did not do this in my undergraduate degree and left just one day to go over almost 45 pages of work! Leave a couple of days but at best a week before submission for proofreading, just in case any major changes need to be made or if you need to check things with a supervisor who may take a while getting back to your emails depending on their wider commitments.

Hopefully these tips help you in your dissertation journey, however, the most important thing is to try and enjoy the experience as much as you can, and take it in your stride. If you manage your time well and plan your dissertation in detail, as well as following some of the tips above, then you’ll be great!

Written by Bethany, current MSc Global Development (Environment and Climate Change) student at The University of Manchester