This post was written by an external contributor. Seren Morris discusses how you can use the term break to work on your dissertation.
As someone who has recently completed a dissertation, and as somebody who has spent the last couple of months thinking, “why, oh why, did I not start sooner”, I am an expert in dissertation hindsight and know exactly what I would have done differently if I could do it all again. (Not that I want to.) Here’s some advice on getting – and staying – ahead of your dissertation.
It’s never too early to start
Do yourself a favour and listen to what your tutors tell you. Working on your dissertation over the summer might seem excessive, but you can spend your free time reading your primary and secondary sources. After all, you should be writing about something you care about, so hopefully your reading won’t seem like a chore.
By the time term starts, you will be ahead of most of your reading and can begin the planning and writing process. Cutting your reading list down will feel so good once your assigned reading begins and suddenly you have to read a whole Virginia Woolf novel a week for the foreseeable future.
Plan, plan, plan!
Make a schedule and stick to it. It could be to read two books by a set deadline, or to get a draft proposal down by the end of the month. Think further ahead and schedule when you would like to write your first chapter by, for example.
It might seem daunting thinking so far ahead in the future, but your final year will feel so much more achievable with a structured timetable to follow. Unlike other modules, you don’t have anyone setting you specific tasks; it’s all on you. Be kind to yourself and follow your own rules.
Keep track of your reading
There’s nothing worse than finishing an essay, only to realise you have no bibliography or footnotes and now have to spend hours tracking down everything you read six months ago. Mark pages in books, make a note of specific chapters and save links to online articles.
Keep a list of everything you read as you go, (trust me, referencing everything at the end is the worst) and when you’re ready to finish your dissertation, you should have a comprehensive bibliography ready to go. However, don’t waste time reading books you know you’ll never use.
Be open to change
Your final dissertation may have nothing to do with your initial idea – and that’s okay. Your reading and research will affect your dissertation’s final outcome in so many ways, so let these influence in and see where they take you. Restricting yourself to a specific question or theme so early on will limit your creativity and your dissertation possibilities.
Use this free time to read everything you can and know that you do not have to commit to a specific title just yet. Keep an open mind and see where your research takes you – you might be pleasantly surprised.
Talk to everyone
Share your ideas with other students, friends, families and tutors. Although only you can decide what you write about, it won’t hurt to know that other people are interested in what you’re writing about. Also, you never know who has read something similar, or can point you in the direction of some useful research. Talk to anyone who will listen, you never know how much they could help.
Never compare yourself
It’s easy to feel behind when you’ve heard from a friend of a friend that that girl who was in your seminar that one time has finished her 10,000 words already. While it’s great to share ideas with other students, never compare your progress with one another; everybody works differently and is on a different dissertation journey.
Someone may be half way through while you’ve only just started writing – and that’s okay. As long as you’re sticking to what works for you, nothing else matters.