Dissertation, the word that keeps you awake at night
What do you think about when you say ‘final year’? It could be graduation, applications, the last exams, Masters, jobs, laugh, cry. Did I miss anything? Ah yes, for most of us, there is the magic word: “dissertation”. Now let me ask you another question? How is your dissertation going so far? Ok, I’ll go first: mine goes ‘-ish’. In the next few lines, let’s talk about dissertation, what is going well, what is not and how it could go better.
I study Language, Culture and Communication and, at the beginning of the year, I set off with the idea of writing mine on Crisis Communication. Not long after, I changed it to interview genre analysis. A few weeks later, another topic breaks the top, but this time for good, hence my paper is on the linguistic construction of expert identity for the purpose of persuasion and negotiation. I look at the topic and tell myself what a fruitful idea that it. However, it all sounds good until you start working on it. At the beginning of term one, I promised myself I will manage my time well enough to be able to be on top of my work and not loose track of what I should be doing. Of course, that went easier said than done and, by the end of the first term, I had almost no progress made and my topic was still too broad. Moreover, being a qualitative discourse analysis, my data is long, messy, chaotic and somehow overwhelming. During my first meetings with my dissertation tutor, it seemed like the ship was not sinking yet and that the situation was still under control. Well, I could not say the same thing about our last meeting. I went to his office, knowing that I haven’t done much progress, but hoping that I could somehow make it seem like things are going well. Of course, this was not the case and, early on, he realized I was behind the schedule. By this time, he becomes very direct and tells me that I should start prioritizing it more seriously if I am aiming for a high mark. Needless to say, I was very embarrassed by the situation I’ve gotten myself into, especially because time management has never been an issue for me. I left his office more determined than ever to start working on it more seriously and I think it was mostly due to the criticism I got and which, at that time, it was exactly what I needed to give me some extra motivation and to make my not want to go through that awkward moment again.
The way I then scheduled my work was that I made a calendar with the term dates and days of the week and I would plan in advance which days I am going to allocate for dissertation. Then, because I am a pen and paper person, started making notes on the literature review to find patterns and gaps. Because there are many articles to be read and it’s easy to forget some ideas, what I do is that, on a notebook, I write the article title and author and underneath, I write down the page number containing that idea and some of the key works, while I make sure to also highlight the paragraph in the document, to be easier to come back at it when needed. I find this to be particularly useful in drawing parallels in between different articles and finding common arguments. Moreover, if you are also doing a qualitative piece, my tutor advised me not to try and complete one section of the paper and then move on to the next one, but rather try to work on each section on parallel as each of them will need some reshaping based on the other ones, which I found to be a pretty effective strategy so far. Moreover, I try to remain positive and remind myself that resilience is the only way I could achieve the outcome I want. There are indeed days I feel productive and days in which I don’t, but it’s important that I added dissertation to my routine to be able to complete at least half of it by the beginning of the spring holiday.
While my story may not match everyone’s status quo or my way or working may be different than yours, what you can at least take from this article is that pitfalls will occur during dissertation and it’s alright to accept criticism and to turn it into motivation for proving otherwise. Eventually, I am sure your dissertation, just like everyone else’s, is going to be just fine.