For most of us, thinking about writing our dissertation can be the most stressful part of our master’s programme. Almost from the first day of the programme, you start hearing about doing the dissertation and how stressful it can be! Such talks and peer pressure are bound to add stress to the experience of doing your master’s. Additionally, not all institutions will provide you with the support and guidance you might require.
When I was doing my dissertation for my master’s programme, I remember I got no support from my professors regarding my dissertation. In their defence, I never went to them for advice or guidance. But the point is, no one ever brought it up, and I did not feel comfortable or confident approaching anyone. I did not want to be singled out or laughed at for not knowing something. I managed with the help of my peers and a few of the senior students who had previously completed a dissertation.
While my experience was not the best, it was far from the worst. However, things are changing for the better the world over. Professors have become more approachable, and colleges and educational institutions have implemented processes to support students through their dissertation experience. I am sure most of our alums would agree that Robert Kennedy College is an excellent example of this.
The following are six tips to help you get started on writing your dissertation.
(1) Picking your topic
Picking your topic is probably the most critical aspect of your dissertation. Everything starts from this point. However, the mistake that most of us make is in thinking that the broader or generic the topic, the easier it will be as we will be able to find information/data easily. And this is true to some extent. However, the broader your topic, the more there is to cover. Your fifteen-thousand-word dissertation could end up being a two hundred- and fifty-thousand-word book. And nobody wants that.
Get as specific as you can with your topic.
Let’s say your topic is on how a company tracks sales performance. This topic can be huge depending on the size of the company. So, get specific. Rather than tracking the sales performance of the whole company, track the company’s sales performance in a particular market/country. Then specify it some more. In this market, track the performance only for a specific channel, let’s say, online sales. By narrowing down what you will cover in your dissertation, you will have more control of your dissertation.
(2) Be organised and make lots of notes
The devil is in the details. The thing about doing a dissertation spread over several months is that you could lose track of the details (by just forgetting about them). There are several tools available that can help you organise your research data, but even if you don’t use any of these tools, just create folders in your system for everything. And in each folder, create files for everything.
Maybe you could create a folder for each chapter/topic you cover and then make several files in each folder, such as a chapter draft file, a reference draft file, a notes file, etc. Have a file for everything, so you don’t forget where you got your information and why you put it down in your chapter draft file. Don’t put anything in your chapter draft file other than your draft for the chapter. Any notes, changes, or thoughts should be made a note of in your notes file and all references made in the chapter to be entered in your reference file.
This way, you know where all the information is, why you used the information and your references, and when you are finally ready to draft your master file for the dissertation, all you have to do is copy and paste from the chapter draft file.
(3) Date every version
Every time your professor or supervisor gives your feedback on your master draft file or even a chapter draft file, create a new version of the file incorporating the changes suggested. Create a separate notes file for feedback received (for the chapter draft or the master draft) and how you integrated it into your dissertation. Sometimes, a seemingly inconsequent suggestion by a professor can have a butterfly effect on your dissertation, so you must keep track of when and who gave the suggestion to track the changes.
Incorporate your dissertation into your schedule/calendar. Make sure you put aside time exclusively to work on your dissertation and stick to it. You can set deadlines by when certain parts of your dissertation must be completed and monitor your progress to ensure you can complete the dissertation on time. The longer time you have to complete your dissertation, the more milestones you can have to monitor your progress. By tracking your progress, you will not only be able to finish on time but also be less stressed during your dissertation.
(5) Reward yourself
It is essential to acknowledge your victories, even if no one else does. So, celebrate it, pat yourself on the back and maybe even reward yourself when you achieve a milestone in completing your dissertation on schedule.
Once you have completed your chapter draft or master draft file, take a break and get away from your dissertation for a couple of days. Then come back and read and review the file carefully. You will be surprised by how many mistakes you will find in the draft. You might have overlooked simple things when typing or reading the draft immediately after finishing. You might have thought you had written it a certain way, and your mind would have filled in the gaps to look like you wrote it the way you thought. So, get away from the draft for a short period, then once you get back, edit before you submit it.
Hopefully, these six tips will help you get started on your dissertation. If you have any other tips that might help our readers improve their dissertation and how they work towards it, please share them here.
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