Dissertation – What it’s taught me…
As I’ve now submitted my Dissertation (crazy!), I wanted to share some important things I’ve learned along the way and my top tips for tackling (probably) one of the biggest essays you’ll write as an Undergrad student (at least in Liberal Arts).
Luckily for you, if you’re a Liberal Arts student, the Dissertation module is worth 30 CATS, meaning you get to work on it throughout the year rather than across a single term, like some other courses. Knowing I had a lot of time to develop my ideas, research potential topics and get things wrong definitely relieved some of the stress. A misconception I had (I don’t know whether it’s common or just me…) before coming to uni was that your final year would be solely dedicated to the Dissertation and nothing else. I was wrong. Not only was I researching and working on my Dissertation, I also had normal seminars and other assessments to do! So, here are my top tips for surviving the Dissertation…
- Start researching early – I know you hate to see this as the first thing, but it is so valuable and ultimately meant that I was able to write my 10,000 in a shorter amount of time than I’d hoped to leave myself… Even if you’ve only got a vague idea of what you might want to write about – start researching. The benefit of having the whole year to work on the Dissertation is so that you have time to hit dead ends in your research and start somewhere else, which is perfectly normal!
- Organise your notes – I personally do all my notes digitally through OneNote, because I find it easier to copy & paste quotes as well as being able to search for things across all of my pages on there. For me, it’s really important to have well organised notes so that when it comes to writing, the process is really easy. I like to colour code my notes so that I know which ones are from the same topics that I want to cover in my essay. Also, if I use a quote, I’ll change the font colour to green so I don’t go and use it again (this is really helpful for long essays where you have many sources to get through, it makes it a lot less confusing).
- PAGE NUMBERS!! – If I could give one piece of advice, it would be this: make sure you note down what page number you’ve taken a quote from when using sources from your research. It makes the referencing job so so so much easier. Don’t be like me and forget to do this and end up having to go through, do your referencing, then go back and check every article to cross-reference the quote you used… Definitely would not recommend.
- Write a plan, or two, or three! – I think I ended up having about 4 different versions of an essay plan. My brain was constantly working, so to help me feel a bit more grounded and less panicked, I wrote out what I wanted to include in my essay. I started broad, just with general topics, getting more specific over time. I found that the more points I wrote down, the easier it became to write my Dissertation because I would address each point/question individually, which meant it was less overwhelming. I ended up making a list where I ticked off each question I had covered that I wanted to address.
- Talk to your supervisor – I cannot stress this enough. My supervisor (who was also my personal tutor) was a very important part of my research and writing process. He helped me get going by suggesting books or articles to read when I was feeling lost, and supported me all the way through. Whenever I was going through a stressful period with my Dissertation, he was there to give advice and help me get back on my feet. If you think you can do this by yourself, or you’re embarrassed because you haven’t got a topic, or you haven’t started writing yet, or you’re behind on your plan – don’t be. Your supervisor is there to help you, not to judge you, so make use of that!
- Self-cerification – In the Liberal Arts department at the moment, the Dissertation is eligible for a self-certification. As an Undergraduate student, the standard number of self-certified extensions for students is 2 per year (this has been the case during my time at Warwick). I saved one of mine in case I needed to use it for my Dissertation, and I thank my past self for doing this, because I did end up using it! Although I submitted my Dissertation only a day after the original deadline, having that extra time was really valuable and helped relieve some of the stress.
- Don’t compare yourself to others – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: everyone works differently. Everyone is writing about something different, and everyone has their own process. So, don’t compare yourself to others in your year on your course, and certainly don’t compare yourself to your friends doing other courses. Each department has their own way of running the Dissertation, so don’t stress if you’re not doing the same thing as someone else at a certain point in time.
A Dissertation is a marathon not a sprint. It’s a big task but it’s always doable, and there are ways to make it easier on yourself as well.
I hope these help you as they did me, and good luck to everyone doing coursework and exams right now. – it’s the final push! I will be sharing some of the most useful tools/programs that have helped me throughout my time at Warwick very soon, so keep an eye out for the next blog post!
If you have any questions about my Dissertation topic or any general questions about Liberal Arts, don’t hesitate to get in touch! 🙂