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10 tips for getting through your dissertation

13th March 2014

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Breathe. Do some star jumps. Read these tips.

Take regular breaks.

An obvious one, but essential all the same. You know how your body works best when you eat and exercise little and often? Your brain is the same. Don’t think ten hours powering through is going to do you any good – do two hours, then have an hour off to do something entirely un-dissertation related. Repeat. And, repeat...

Maintain focus on your overall point.

Speaking from an arts perspective. We don’t know whether this rule will apply to you science bods – but we like to think so. Every time you finish a chapter, paragraph, hell, even just a train of thought – make sure it relates back to the one overall argument that your dissertation is trying to make. Do this successfully and your point will be so drummed in by the end of chapter three that you might even have started to believe it yourself. Maybe.

Don’t think about how much there is still left to write.

And probably don’t update your Facebook status every time you manage ano0ther 70 words in the hope that you’ll be inundated with likes confirming that you’re doing SO SO WELL. Because let’s be honest - that’s not really going to help anyone, is it?

Go to sleep.

Sometimes. Not all the time. Not in library. And not with your head on the keyboard, unless you want to delete the 2,400 words that you just spent half a week painfully constructing. We’re not speaking from experience. Not at all.  In the same vein...

Don’t work late into the night unless you absolutely have to.

Unless you’re riding on a wave of scientific/linguistic brilliance, of course. If this is the case, by all means carry on until the sun comes up. If not though, getting away from your desk before 8pm is more often than not going to allow you some relaxation time and thus help keep your sanity relatively intact.

Try not to lose interest.

Because if you’re not bothered about what you’re writing, a dissertation marker is even less likely to be. And if they don’t care about what you’re saying, it’s hardly going to reflect well on your grade.

If you can’t concentrate, move on to something completely separate (totally different module, BBC News archive, student newspaper article - anything) for a few minutes, until you feel like you can return with a clearer and less confused mind.

Separate your work space from your play space.

There are a million places on campuses and in university cities that you can work – even if you can’t cope with the quietness of the library, there are cafes, coffee shops, group study areas, kitchen tables and living room floors all over the place. Whatever you do, don’t write your entire dissertation whilst cooped up in your room, three feet from your bed. Before you know it you’ll be that person who hasn’t left the flat for three days, and the five minute walk to the shop to get milk will seem like the most daring mission in the world. Don’t let your dissertation turn you into a wild-haired, pyjama-clad agoraphobic.  

Tell your friends to go away.

No, seriously. You’ve told them Friday is your 6,000 word deadline. You told them again yesterday when they tried to drag you away from the laptop at 3pm for a cheeky pint, and you’ll tell them again now – the weekend. At the weekend you’ll be free for day time pub fun. The weekend.

Read more stuff.

If you feel in a dissertation rut, read something related but new – hello, context! At worst, you’ve made yourself more aware of issues surrounding whatever it is that you’re writing about. At best, you might discover a whole new angle. And that’s where firsts come from.



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