Writing your thesis is likely to be one of the hardest, most time-consuming tasks you are likely to undertake and at times it will be stressful and disheartening. But remember that many have come before you and probably most have felt the same stress and, at times, the desperation and panic. However, they all got through it — and so will you! Our top ten tips below will hopefully help you when things get tough:
1). Get the most out of your dissertation supervisor. They’ve been there, done it, worn the t-shirt and have probably supervised countless dissertations in the past so can usually give you great guidance and way more tips than we’re giving you here.
2). Learn from the best. Before you start work on your own thesis, or certainly before you finish, make sure you have seen one or more past submissions which scored top marks. Make sure you learn what it was that made their theses so successful. Your dissertation supervisor may be able to help you find such examples.
3). Don’t be afraid to cull some research elements from your thesis – not all of it is gold dust, despite the enormous amount of time it took you to unearth some of it and how pleased you might have been with a particular nugget at time of first discovery.
4). Be ready to adapt. While some people may plan the structure on a strict basis from the start, and then attempt to follow it rigorously, usually the structure of a thesis is a moveable feast and changes as research progresses. Your point of view may also change several times during the course of your work so it may be that you have to regularly stand back, take a look at the overall picture, and re-evaluate how you present your findings.
5). Don’t panic. But of course you will from time to time! This is quite normal and, usually with some midnight oil and strong coffee, you *will* get back on track. You may even have periods of self-doubt or concerns about your entire dissertation topic but at this point, refer to tip number 1. Usually it’s just a temporary freak-out and a word from the wise will usually put your mind at ease.
6). Your thesis will take over your life. But remember – this will pass! One day, your thesis will be finished. The nightmare does have an ending and it occasionally helps to visualise yourself at that precise point in the future – doing so can help to get you through the here and now.
7). Take lots of regular, short breaks. It’s good to step away from the computer and give your eyes and brain a rest – staring at one spot for hours on end is not good for the soul! Use the making of a hot beverage as an excuse if you have to (editor’s note: it works!).
8). Focus. Particularly when you need to make significant progress in as short a space of time as possible. Which means that you have to remove distractions. Check your emails and messages at the very most 3 times a day (set times you don’t deviate from) and don’t be tempted to check them more regularly. Better still make it only once or twice a day and you really should make great headway. And don’t even think about having the TV or radio on in the background; they *will* slow you down as they will dilute your focus.
9). Worrying about the introduction and conclusion? Don’t. They may well virtually ‘write themselves’ once you’ve fleshed out what’s in between! And all 3 parts will indeed change as you fine-tune your drafts.
10). Try to add something truly original to the greater knowledge pool. This will be difficult but it would be tragic to find that, after hundreds of hours’ work, you have only re-hashed something which another individual published several years ago. When you do add that ‘original something’, make sure you also flag it up in bright lights so the examiner can’t possibly miss it. Don’t forget to sign-post it early in the introduction, in the chapter concerned and again in the conclusion. Chances are your mark will benefit hugely.
When you have finally finished, you will have achieved possibly the largest solo writing and research project of your entire life. Make it count; make it something to be proud of. You did it!
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