- Decide in advance when you're going to work on your dissertation â set aside time each week or have a particular day to work on it
- Give yourself a specific task to do in that time
- Do difficult tasks at the times of day you work best
- Do easy tasks when you're tired / less motivated
Top tip... have a contingency plan!
No one ever sticks to their plan perfectly, and you can't predict all the things that might intervene, so build in some extra time for "catching-up".
Also be aware that mechanical tasks like sorting the bibliography and proofreading will take longer than you think. Computers and printers know when you're in a hurry and will scheme to break down at the most inconvenient moment!
Dissertations based on qualitative or quantitative research are usually organised as follows:
- Chapter 1. Introduction
- Chapter 2. Literature Review
- Chapter 3. Methodology
- Chapter 4. Results and Analysis
- Chapter 5. Discussion
- Chapter 6. Conclusion
- Bibliography & Appendices
Other dissertations may be based around discussions of themes or texts:
- Chapter 2. (theme / text 1)
- Chapter 3. (theme / text 2)
- Chapter 4. (theme / text 3)
- Chapter 5. Conclusion
This kind of structure often can't be finalised until you've done some research and found out what themes or texts you want to focus on.
It's a good idea to write an overall plan outlining what you need to cover in each chapter.
Think of a dissertation like a series of linked essays; each chapter is self-contained and has its own purpose, but they all connect together to contribute to the argument of your dissertation.
The chapters don't have to all be the same length â some can be longer because they are more detailed (like the literature review) and others can be shorter because they are summarising and finalising information (like the conclusion).
Your dissertation may be the longest piece of writing you have ever done, but there are ways to approach it that will help to make it less overwhelming.
Write up as you go along. It is much easier to keep track of how your ideas develop and writing helps clarify your thinking. It also saves having to churn out 1000s of words at the end.
You don't have to start with the introduction â start at the chapter that seems the easiest to write â this could be the literature review or methodology, for example. Alternatively you may prefer to write the introduction first, so you can get your ideas straight. Decide what will suit your ways of working best - then do it.
Think of each chapter as an essay in itself â it should have a clear introduction and conclusion. Use the conclusion to link back to the overall research question.
Think of the main argument of your dissertation as a river, and each chapter is a tributary feeding into this. The individual chapters will contain their own arguments, and go their own way, but they all contribute to the main flow.
Write a chapter, read it and do a redraft - then move on. This stops you from getting bogged down in one chapter.
Write your references properly and in full from the beginning.
Keep your word count in mind â be ruthless and don't write anything that isn't relevant. It's often easier to add information, than have to cut down a long chapter that you've slaved over for hours.
Save your work! Remember to save your work frequently to somewhere you can access it easily. It's a good idea to at least save a copy to a cloud-based service like Google Docs or Dropbox so that you can access it from any computer - if you only save to your own PC, laptop or tablet, you could lose everything if you lose or break your device.