The start - the hardest part!


The most daunting part of any dissertation is starting it. You've got 10,000 words of coherent text to get across on a new piece of research that you're conducting against a tight deadline.

If you break down your tasks (scope out the project- which we discuss later) and set a realistic plan of when you're going to complete sections of the dissertation- you`ll make writing your dissertation more enjoyable and significantly less stressful. In these mini chapters, we look at strategies you can employ to create a structure so that you'll meet the deadline with a piece of academic work you'll be proud of. 

Beware the trap of leaving it until tomorrow:

Some people find that they procrastinate more than they would like. This is a common problem, so it is best to be well-prepared to identify it and deal with it if it does start to happen. People procrastinate for various reasons such as:

  • poor time management
  • being daunted by the scale of the task
  • negative beliefs
  • loss of motivation
  • perfectionism
  • difficulty concentrating
  • need to feel under pressure

We consider procrastination and methods to reduce the effects in the next chapter (Planning)

As a rule of thumb your dissertation will take the following form:

  • An introduction to your topic
  • A literature review that surveys relevant sources
  • An explanation of your methodology
  • An overview of the results of your research
  • A discussion of the results and their implications
  • A conclusion that shows what your research has contributed

We will also consider these elements in more detail within the Scope and Structure chapter

Meetings with your supervisor

Now that you have a basic understanding of the skills you need, we can consider the finer points of your dissertation. One of these is understanding how to take advantage of the meetings you have with your supervisor.

Preparing for the meetings

Meetings that are well crafted generally offer better opportunities for you to advance with your dissertation. It is very common (and something you want to avoid) for students to arrive at the first meeting with the supervisor with no real idea about what they want to study. Instead, they ask the supervisor for ideas or inspiration on what they might do. This generally sets a bad impression; your supervisor can help you shape your initial ideas, but ultimately you want the ideas to be yours. In some instances, your supervisor may provide you with a topic or title, but this approach (which you may like in the beginning) can be difficult at later stages when you realise that your understanding of the topic is limited. Going back to the skills and qualities described above, if you fail to understand the topic, you are less likely to be motivated and confident when completing the work.

"Take advantage of the meetings you have with your supervisor. Meetings that are well crafted generally offer better opportunities for you to advance with your dissertation."

After you have scheduled your first meeting with your supervisor, ensure that you attend the meeting well equipped with both questions and a means to record the responses (e.g. laptop or pen & paper). In this initial meeting, you should be able to clearly state your area of study, overall aim, your objectives (related to the aim), and a rationale for the topic you have selected. You may also wish to call up some preliminary research studies related to your topic in order to demonstrate that you have taken the notion of this research project seriously and truly understand what it is you want to do.

During this first meeting, your supervisor is looking for the intended focus of your research, clarity of your objectives and that the objectives are achievable within the timescale. You should be posing these questions to your supervisor (e.g. are my objectives clear?).

This is also true for future meetings. It is important that you send your supervisor your work in progress prior to the meeting that you have scheduled. You can do this by email. Ensure that your email is properly formatted with detailed information and instructions that you would like your supervisor to consider. Make sure that you identify who you are, what the new work is that you are submitting, and what you would like the supervisor to do with it. Avoid sending the work at the last minute. Your supervisor is likely to have many different things on the go and so sending them work only 24 hours in advance is not appropriate. If you are unsure about how much in advance to send the information, you should clarify this with your supervisor.

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