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Top Tips For A Successful Dissertation

It seems like just a few weeks ago you were a wide-eyed fresher, too busy acquainting yourself with the local nightlife to think about your reading list. But reality is starting to sink in – you’re a big, bad third year with some serious responsibilities. Not only is it time to start thinking about a career (nope, just NOPE) you’re also expected to plan and execute an independent, yearlong project. What.

Dissertations are kind of a big deal. They can also be very helpful at bringing up your grade average, to make up for that second year module you never went to because you were still took drunk from Crisis the night before. But good news – we’ve interviewed some brave survivors and come up with some top tips for final year project success.

1.       Pick something you actually enjoy reading about.

One of the best parts of this experience is getting to explore your passion. So make the most of it! If you’ve handed in your proposal already but really don’t feel excited, speak to your supervisor and see if you can change it. Do what’s right for you, not what you think sounds intellectual. At this stage, it’s usually not too late to change – and there’s nothing like the sweet eureka moment of figuring out exactly what you want to explore!


2.       On that note- keep it flexible!

Don’t be too rigid! Again, you don’t have to research something just for the sake of it. As your project develops, don’t be afraid to head off in a different direction to what you originally planned. Read widely and be open to suggestions. Remember, this is your project… there’s nothing to say you can’t go back and edit your introduction to make it look like you were HOPING to make an awesome point about gender politics in Shakespeare.


3.       Confidence is key.

We know- it’s scary! But trust in the fact that you are awesome, because you wouldn’t have made it this far otherwise. It’s easy to feel like you know nothing about a potential topic and you haven’t got a chance of covering all the key points, but you’ll be amazed what a confident attitude can achieve. Lucy, an English lit student, had never studied her chosen dissertation topic at all. “I stumbled across the poet in some general reading and found him so interesting, but genuinely didn’t know anything about his work. I wasn’t confident I could do it justice, never having been taught it in a seminar, but my tutor was happy to advise some introductory reading!”

4.       One word. SNACKS.

Take it from us. It is a strange and undeniable phenomenon that surrounds the dissertation writing process. You will need at least one good snack per paragraph. We’re usually all about the healthy lifestyle, but sometimes, a treat really can be the ultimate motivator. “If I can write 500 more words, I can have a bacon sandwich as a reward…”


5.       Sorry to sound like your mum… but this is one piece of work you can’t leave ‘til the night before.

But… it’s not due for SEVEN MONTHS. Trust us- you’d be amazed by how fast your final year slips away! This is usually a pretty big undertaking, and it needs some attention, for a variety of reasons. For one, if you leave it until April to start, you won’t have made the most of your supervisory meetings. Even if you really dislike your supervisor, it’s their duty to help you- and if you aren’t getting that help, go elsewhere within the department. “I hated my supervisor and never felt like I wanted to go and see her. I found her really unhelpful, but at the end of the day, it was my grade that suffered as a result,” admitted one graduate we spoke to.

6.       Avoid last-minute nightmares.

We’re repeating this twice because it’s so important. Clearly, the absolute worst thing you can do is leave it all ‘til the last minute. Best case scenario, you’ll have a mild mental breakdown and have to spent a horrific week chained 24/7 to a library desk. This approach is actually quite common, but really doesn’t give you time to check your work – and typos in a dissertation will not impress your marker.

Worst case scenarios can be genuinely damaging to your grade. One student we spoke took a 5% marking hit through timing issues. “I was working alongside my studies and stupidly, I just didn’t leave enough time to get it printed. I could have kicked myself for missing the deadline.’ Of course, there are times when situations are out of your hand s- and this is where some forward planning will really come in useful. Literature student Emma experienced such an event. “A family member was hospitalized and I got totally distracted. Fortunately, I’d spent time throughout the year on my dissertation and had finished about a fortnight before it was due in, so I still did well. I would have been given extenuating circumstances, true, but the trouble with a year long project is that you can’t really get away with saying a recent event justifies handing in no work whatsoever.’

So keep on top of things and makes sure to avoid the last minute squeeze!

7.       Don’t let it stress you out too much!

Most importantly? Don’t let it take over your life. If you know you’re a super stress-head, don’t let it get out of hand- take regular breaks when you’re working, plan accordingly, speak to your tutor when you need to. And plan some fun for after deadline day! Handing in your dissertation is a momentous occasion, potentially your last ever big academic project- so grab your course friends, head out and celebrate!


LOL, just kidding. Feel free to go home and sleep.


Notts Specific Tips:

·         Snacking heaven: the computer rooms near Trent cafe are an excellent place to work if you don’t fancy lugging your laptop to campus, and want to be in close proximity to delicious bagels. Mm.  

·         If you’re doing a long write up session, your head might start to spin after a while! We have plenty of beautiful scenery so head outside for a twenty-minute walk around the lake! Sounds old fashioned, but you’ll be refreshed and ready to spot those typos a mile off. Slash work off aforementioned bagels.

·         If you need a book from the Hallward short loan, be tactical – try and get it out over the weekend so you can have it for longer. But definitely take it back on time because ain’t nobody got time for those fees.

·         If you’re struggling academically or emotionally, remember this is a stressful time for many students. But there are lots of services available to help you if something goes wrong. Throughout the year, you can hit up your personal tutor, your supervisor, the staff at Cripps health centre and student support services. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

And if all else fails, just remember… Gosling believes in you. Good luck!

















Edited by Harriet Dunlea



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Nicole Jones


Copy-editor at Her Campus Nottingham.
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