6 tips to help with your dissertation

Two RGU students studying together

Writing your dissertation is something that you will ultimately feel very proud of, but can be daunting to think about right at the start of the process. International student Elaine Ferrao shares her top tips to tackle this assignment with more confidence.

Elaine Ferrao

You dissertation-writing period can be difficult, and you might feel like you are left to your own devices sometimes. I would like to share couple of tips that has or would have been helpful to me while working on my dissertation.

1. Choose your topic strategically

Deciding on a topic for your dissertation may seem nerve wracking. After all, this is a great opportunity to explore your interests, or start building your career path by specialising in a certain aspect of your field.

In my case, being an international student, choosing my topic and which geographical area to focus on was a challenge. I decided to focus on net zero targets in the UK, which I was interested in, but had limited knowledge of. However, accepting this challenge could not have been better. This gave me the opportunity to learn more about my field in the UK, which is where I want to further my career.

Hence, although it may be advised to look at a topic focused on your home country, it also depends on your area of interest, and it is also your opportunity to expand your knowledge according to your future plans.

2. Make the dissertation your priority

“It’s 3 months and there’s plenty of time” says no one. Although 3 months may seems like a long time, your first month will be dedicated to preparations and getting you on track. The rest of the time will pass by, with a lot of analysis and writing involved.

Ideally, you would want to focus on your dissertation more than your part-time work, especially in the final three to four weeks.

3. Arrange timely feedback

Prepare a schedule with your dissertation supervisor discussing the steps that they are expecting from you. With this information, set a timeline that is realistic, taking into account other commitments, and the chapter that you need to complete each week. That way, you will be able to meet with your supervisor regularly to present updates to your work.

Importantly, you should also consider any planned leave of absence of your supervisor, if applicable. Do not expect any reviewing to be done a week prior to their leave, and certainly not while they’re away. So make sure you can get the feedback you need on time.

4. Back up your data

Losing your hard work just days or weeks before a submission can be terrifying. RGU provides a 1 TB OneDrive subscription with your student ID. Make the most of this opportunity and always save your data on OneDrive.

A very efficient way of working would also be saving a copy of your day-to-day work in a separate folder, in the last couple of weeks of your dissertation. This would help you retrieve some matter that you may have cancelled/deleted that you felt could have been included.

5. Use helpful university resources

Initially, I was nervous and unsure about whether I was doing the right thing or not. As such, I looked up the dissertation focus study skills videos that the team has to offer. Although it may feel like there’s not much time, initial days are less taxing and these videos can be listened to as a podcast while simultaneously working.

Another piece of work that I had referred to, was a book from the RGU library online database: Succeeding with your Master’s dissertation: A Step-By-Step Handbook. This book suggests common mistakes made by students and was helpful for me, especially while writing the research methodology.

6. Enjoy the process

Even though you are on your own, you are most welcome to pair up with a friend and work together in the library or an area with minimal distractions that can help you stay focused. This can help you push yourself to work even on days when you aren’t motivated.

If you prefer studying alone, make sure you are not over working yourself and are taking regular breaks, eating proper meals, while simultaneously enjoying the process. Although isolation and procrastination can be a threat to completing your dissertation, keep monitoring your schedule while also making sure breaks are included. Just like a cheat day, a day off for a movie or some beach time can help you refresh your mind.

Although my dissertation is complete, when I look back at it, I do miss the entire process. Facing multiple challenges and being able to overcome them was the best part. It may seem like a stressful phase, but all of it was definitely worth it.

Most of these tips may seem like common sense to some of you, however, for many of us international students, receiving insights like these when needed the most, definitely helps. Good luck to those of you completing your dissertation! Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn for any queries that you think I may be able to assist you with.

Elaine Ferrao

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2 responses to “6 tips to help with your dissertation”

  1. A great resource I found was this book :Biggam, J. (2021). Succeeding with Your Masters’s Dissertation : a step-by-step handbook.
    S.L.: Open Univ Press.
    My MAC book went into overheating mode, if you can swap to use a PC and laptop. I emailed myself the various versions as I went along…ensure you get enough breaks outdoors too! All the best.

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