How Not to Write a Dissertation
Over the Easter break I have the pleasure and challenge of writing what should be the pinnacle essay of my academic career, my dissertation. It’s a rare opportunity as a historian to take the lead with your research and delve into a topic that really interests you as a historian. I have already enjoyed some of the highs of the dissertation process: finally finding the perfect sources, getting to grips with the narrative and working out how to thread your argument into it. I have also endured some of the lows of the dissertation process: blind, confused panic.
That is why I have taken the time to write up my top tips on how NOT to write a dissertation so you can experience the highs and avoid the lows.
Don’t start late.
From the beginning of the year, the department have been good at keeping the dissertation in our minds and encouraging us to invest in the process early. The earlier you get going, the more time you have to think it through properly and work out the kinks before you have to start writing during the Easter holidays. The person who writes their dissertation in the 48 hours before the deadline makes for a funny article on Facebook, but let that be someone else’s story. Be the person that retains their sanity and gets a good mark by working consistently and persistently.
Don’t ignore all the best advice
This year I had a number of different meetings and lectures available to me to help explain how to write a dissertation. These people have seen it all before and you’d be foolish to not take their advice to heart.
Don’t choose a topic you are not interested in
For my dissertation, I am writing 9000 words on my chosen subject. This is far too many words to write about something you have no passion for. I’ve been able to talk about my dissertation topic with dozens of people and have not yet lost my excitement and interest for it. This is a good indicator that you’ve found something worth writing a dissertation on. It will be a real slog if you don’t have this driving passion.
Don’t avoid your tutor
Your dissertation Tutor is the most valuable resource you have as a student. My Tutor knew far more about the subject matter than I did and had all the best advice on how to avoid pitfalls and find good resources. Every time I’ve left a meeting with my tutor, I have come away with new ideas and drive. They want to encourage and help you, let them.
Don’t forget to enjoy it
I never thought I’d be saying this, but it has been genuinely exciting to work on this essay. Overcoming the obstacles, finding breakthrough, discovering the primary source that sheds new light on the debate, working out how historians complement and contend with each other. Having the space and time to explore something like this in detail has been unique. You may never get the chance to do anything like this again, enjoy it!