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Surviving Your Dissertation: Dispelling Dissertation Drama
Masters students are old pros when it comes to dissertation writing, though there’s no denying it can be a fraught and painstaking process, culminating in the frazzled student being glad to see the back of it before making a beeline for the nearest drinking establishment! However, going really in-depth into a topic and producing a bound copy of your own findings/arguments also carries with it a significant sense of achievement that can be the pinnacle of your academic career. Unless of course you then go on to do a PhD which is a whole new ballgame!
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Choose your topic early on
With a drawn-out project like the dissertation time is of the essence. It may seem like you have many months lazily stretching out in front of you to get it done, but the deadlines for submitting your title/first draft/final draft have a nasty habit of creeping up on you unawares. Considering potential topics in the first weeks of the course or even before is a good scheme, giving you plenty of breathing space should your initial ideas prove not to be viable.
Check out your sources
A key part of getting the green light on a dissertation subject involves the availability/presence of sources – primary and secondary alike. Finding out which ones you will need and whether there are enough of them on which to base a 10,000-word piece of work is a bit of a mission in itself, yet vital to accomplish before you can proceed to the reading/writing stage.
Once you’ve determined their existence and created a comprehensive list of those relevant for you it’s worth trying to get hold of them well in advance. If, in the case of most primary sources, they cannot be taken outside the institution in which they are housed, put time aside to go and read them (factoring in potential travelling time as well), again in good time if at all possible.
Getting some work done on dissertation before you need to be worrying about it will mean that you don’t end up worrying about it that much at all!
Make a timetable – and stick to it!
Be realistic about the time you have and the amount you need to/can achieve. Drawing up a timetable ending with hand-in day is the best way to ensure you stay on schedule. Although it may well end up more guideline than structure, if followed to a certain degree it can prevent you finding yourself desperately willing 7,000 words to appear out of thin air with just 48 hours to go!
Find fresh eyes!
At every stage of the process it’s crucial to stay on the right side of the clock, so make sure you get a draft done with enough time for you and your supervisor to check it thoroughly. After toiling on your dissertation for so long it can be hard to gain any critical distance from it, so the input of others is invaluable in spotting typos or inconsistencies in your argument. The more fresh eyes see it the better, so family and friends who love you very very much should be persuaded to read it through.
Time is of the essence
So, the take home message (in case it’s in anyway unclear...) is: LEAVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME! Dissertations are challenging and rewarding in equal measure, and it would be a shame to engulf the enjoyment you should get out of it in a cloud of panic and wailed regrets about not having started earlier.
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