When my lecturer brought up the topic of dissertations on week one, my first thought was “isn’t this a bit early?” Though, I’ve quickly come to realise that you’re never too early to start planning, especially where a 10 – 15,000-word essay is concerned. While all dissertations can vary in word count, it is still likely that they’re going to be the biggest assignment you’ll have during your academic study. So, it can feel daunting. However, the best way to stop yourself from feeling overwhelmed is to get a head start and plan!
- Choose something you’re passionate about
The best part about a dissertation is that you get to write about something you love. Depending on your major, your choice for topics is endless, so you can really configure your analysis to suit what you love studying the most. So, take a minute to think about what module you enjoyed taking part in the most and what you felt was missing from that module. It’s all about filling the academic gap so ask yourself: is there an area that you feel needs more academic research? Was there something you disagreed with in another article? These sorts of questions will build the premise of your dissertation as this is not an essay that is evaluating something else’s work, it’s your own contribution to the field of study. Just be wary of picking a field that is overpopulated topic and make sure it’s not impossible to present new and valuable information.
- Get all your readings organised
The literature review is an essential part that will demonstrate your knowledge and by expansion your argument as this is the premise you will shape your own argument around. Remember, you don’t have to always stick to the scholars, if there are journal articles, videos, magazine pieces, or even podcasts that are useful to your topic, get them down! If anything, having a bibliography of a wide variety of sources will only exhibit your good research skills. Just be sure to have the readings you find that are relevant written down, the last thing you want to do when writing your dissertation is to be scrambling about trying to find where you found a certain source. Plus, it’s best to start early with this because depending on your subject, there might be a lot of reading ahead; skim reading is a must for the initial preparation stages.
- Get your ideas down early
Try mind mapping with your subject at the centre and then possible topics surrounding the subject on the separate branches as your diss will need to be as clear and coherent as possible so you need to pick a specific topic in such a broad subject matter. For example, my MA is on Music Industry Studies, therefore my dissertation can be about anything to do with the industry, which gives me an overwhelming number of possibilities. So, mind mapping was essential for me as I picked what topic in the music industry, I found most interesting and then spent 5-10 minutes writing down what I already know and then considered what I could contribute.
- Don’t make the research too personal and emotional
As an academic, while this is something you need to be passionate, you need to be able to unfavourably analyse your own work. Of course, you will be bias to your own argument and be building on presenting a thesis that you wish to prove, but you still need to keep this work at a safe distance that you don’t become so invested that it taints the coherent analyse of your work. This dissertation is about asking difficult questions and in some instances fan studies written by students tend to be implicit and positive. You have to be prepared to see both sides of the coin in your writing.
- Talk about it!
I’ve found this to be a key element to my dissertation planning, talking to your fellow course mates especially. This can help bring ideas together and you’ll find that the more you talk, the better you’ll be able to vocally articulate and justify why your dissertation matters. Because you must ask yourself, why does it matter? Then, you will find that writing that first draft much easier as you’ve had a chance to comprehend what it is you want to discuss. By collecting different opinions, perspectives or even just talking about what topic you want to do, you will find eventually come to a much clearer conclusion on what it is you want to research.
- Speak to your tutors or academic advisors
From a postgraduate perspective, the best people to talk to about your dissertation is your academic advisors, because they are essentially professionals in your field of study. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been hired to teach you this course. Utilise their resources and knowledge as they can also be a great help in directing you to that final title.
- Plan your time
I cannot stress enough how key time management is as typically a dissertation is spread over a long monthly period. At a master’s level, if we count from when I started my course, I have just under a year to prepare my diss. While this may seem like an long time, it goes super quick. Of course, you will be completing your diss amongst many other modules, so it will be one of those projects you do a little bit of every week. Don’t overwhelm yourself early on, but do not leave this till last minute. It’s something you always want to be on top of before the real crunch time comes around. As I said previously, this is something you want to enjoy; don’t overwork yourself that you find it a chore, but don’t leave it too much that you’re in a mess before it’s due because I also advise your hand your diss in the day before the real deadline incase there are any complications.