Dissertation Survival Tips

Are you currently writing your dissertation? Check out our top survival tips below to help get you through the process.  


 1. Compile a reading list  

A good place to start is your university library. Searching for your topic in the library search engine will usually generate plenty of results. Other good places to find reading material include the internet (Wikipedia does not count!), your lecturers, and your course handbook.  

An important thing to remember when compiling your reading list is that you can’t read everything! We suggest looking at the contents page or introduction of each book or article you find. This will make weeding out the inappropriate material a much faster process. If you find a particularly relevant book or article, we advise looking through the bibliography or reference list. It’s likely th

at the author has a carefully researched reading list for you to pick and choose from! 

The key to a successful reading list is to make it concise, but not too short. It’s a fine balance, so you’ll have to use your instinct. Alternatively, you may find it useful to look at past dissertations as a rough guide.

2. Bring out the highlighters 

You’ve got your reading list, so what’s next? We suggest photocopying interesting chapters and articles to highlight key quotes. This will make the writing process easier as it saves you having to re-read each paper in full. You could even compile a short list of page numbers and book titles that contain useful quotes for each chapter of your dissertation. 

3. Plan, plan and plan

A solid dissertation plan is always a good way to start the writing process. First, establish how many central topics or arguments you think you’ll be covering. These are your chapters. Second, write as many subheadings for each chapter as you think you might need. Third, make a rough plan for your introduction and conclusion. Even if it is only a sentence or two, it will help to clarify your argument.  

4. Get writing  

Putting words down on paper can seem overwhelming at first. Try to keep focused and calm by simply drafting the first sentence. This can often make a blank page look far less frightening!  

Try to work methodically through your plan, ticking off the topics you’ve covered as you go along. Also, keep a note of any thoughts or ideas you have as you might want to revisit them at the end. 

You’ll be amazed at how quickly the words add up once you start. Just imagine the great sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when your first draft is complete! 

5. Refer to the plan 

Once you are in the flow of writing it can be easy to forget the plan you carefully constructed. Remember, the plan is there to help keep you on track.  

6. Focus on your overall argument

Keeping your argument front and centre is one of the most important things to remember while writing your dissertation. Everything you write should assist you in making your overall argument. Keep your dissertation focused and ensure your argument is threaded throughout your dissertation. If your argument looks ‘tagged on’ at the end, your overall piece of research will look sloppy and unconvincing.  

7. Avoid leaving referencing until the end 

 The first thing you should do before you begin referencing your dissertation is to check which referencing style your university department prefers. Referencing guides are usually available online and in course handbooks.  

 The second thing is to avoid leaving the referencing until you have finished the dissertation. It will make referencing a far longer and more difficult process than it needs to be. Instead, we suggest stopping at the end of each paragraph and referencing everything you’ve mentioned thus far. It’s also a good idea to add each reference to your bibliography at the same time. At the very least, you should note text and page numbers as you go along.  

It is crucial to add a reference every time you quote or paraphrase someone else’s work or idea. The software used by UK universities is expertly designed to pick up on plagiarism.  

8. Check and check again

First, we suggest you read everything through yourself. Does it make sense? Are you making a clear argument? Do any sections need altering to make the dissertation flow smoothly?  Second, check for spelling and grammatical errors that might annoy a marker.  Third, have a clear introduction and conclusion as they can make or break a dissertation.  Fourth, format in accordance with your university’s guidelines.  Finally, get a trusted person to proofread your final draft. They might spot errors you’ve missed.


9. Check one more time… 

You won’t want to do this, but you really should check it again!  

 10. Know when and where your dissertation needs to be handed in 

This might seem obvious, but make sure you know the deadline and where to hand your dissertation in. Knowing this information in advance will ease your stress, particularly if you are writing at the last minute! 

If you are unsure, don’t be afraid to ask at your departmental office.  

11. And Relax! You survived!

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