Dissertation writing and planning tips – where should I start?

overwhelmed feeling

To help me give you these dissertation writing and planning tips I was going to dig out my two dissertations from the vault (aka the garage) but was quickly dissuaded as I Iooked into the landfill abyss of Amazon boxes and things I’ve never gotten around to selling. But, completing a dissertation tends to stick in the memory, so here goes…

Welcome to my garage.

To this day, I do not know what possessed me to write not one but two dissertations (undergraduate + post-graduate) on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. That’s 50,000 words and combined about a year of my life!

I passed both times but I don’t look back on my dissertations with a sense of accomplishment; actually with a tinge of embarrassment and I’m cringing as I write this. Why? Because I know I didn’t do any of the things I’m about to share with you when I started. I didn’t even get better after the first one. The good news is, I was able to learn from these mistakes and apply them to projects I’ve carried out and future courses.

You need to look at the checklist below in order. If you don’t do every one of these you’ll get stuck somewhere. For example, there’s no point setting up a work schedule if your scope is too big. Make sense?

  • Pick a topic – you may instinctively know what you want to do. But, more commonly, you may not. So, what previous study did you enjoy? What personal interests or experience do you have? Is there a topic related to a career aspiration you have? What’s in the news? Are there any unresolved questions you jotted down from two-years of lectures?
  • Once, you have some ideas; work up your opinion first. Explore your view before immersing yourself in everyone else’s. My top piece of advice is to Choose the one you are most excited about. (Apparently, for me this was an Iraqi Dictator!) I cannot stress how much time and energy will go into writing your dissertation. Your interest in the subject, when you have a wobble that it’s crap or you think you’ve chosen the wrong question, will carry you through.
  • Sketch-out the end first. Think of yourself working your way to a conclusion you already think and are testing as you go along
  • Now, use the experts! Agree on your scope with your tutor and maybe find someone who’s got experience writing a dissertation in or near to your topic.
  • “Fail to Plan: Plan to Fail” Even if you’re super-organised you need a method and tools right from the start to keep you on track. Your brain will tell you “Hey, I’ve got ages.” But, don’t underestimate the time it will take to complete as you’re just storing up stress for the end. Read my ‘Four top tips for getting and staying organised’ blog for more advice.
  • So, you’ve planned your research time into a busy diary. The trick now is don’t get overwhelmed with research or hide in it as I did! Keep a track of notes and references as you go along.
  • And, when you start. Don’t get put off by the competition or ask friends how much work they’ve done already. It’s a bit like when you come out of an exam and someone grills you about what you’ve put for every answer to the point you think you’ve failed. Well, ‘Dissertation Guy’ will tell you their topic is ground-breaking and should be written, checked and bound in a fortnight. Not helpful.

If you’re starting a dissertation or if you’re right in the middle, remember, you can write well otherwise you wouldn’t be there. Go back, and look at what you wrote in your first year. Look how far you’ve come. You’ve got this! Also, check out my resources pages for even more help.

As always, I love to hear your views and if you found these tips useful. Drop me an email or DM at elizabeth_britpolitics on Instagram.

Catch-up soon


p.s. Saddam Hussein left to the mercies of Word spellchecker is Sadist Hussey (could have been soooooooo bad if I’d clicked ‘change all’ and not ‘ignore all’ at 2:00 am)

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