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The KnowHow student team have created a series of blogs to help you prepare for the upcoming assessment period. This blog is by Colette, a fourth year geology student at the University of Liverpool.
Where dissertations are concerned, I have considerable experience in this area. I completed my third-year dissertation during the pandemic and I am in the midst of a masters’ dissertation. This blog will focus on my undergraduate experience as this is the one that I have since completed and learned from. I will also include tips and tricks that I am currently using to keep my master's dissertation on track.
What better way to start than to tell you the mistakes I made and what I learnt from them! First off, don’t compare yourself to others and how far they are into theirs. When writing your dissertation, you will have regular meetings with your supervisor who you may share with fellow students. I hated these meetings. Everyone else’s dissertation progress was much more than mine and it led me to lie about where mine was. This was the worst mistake I’ve made in the whole of university. I felt out of my depth and that I couldn’t ask for help. Don’t ever do this! Your supervisor is there to help you. If I would have divulged how far behind I was, I would've got the help that I needed.
Arguably, the most important thing to do when planning your dissertation is to allocate time to different sections. If like me, you have a research phase then choose an appropriate time-frame to do it in. At present, I have allocated 2 months for my masters’ project. Then, split your dissertation write-up into the different sections: abstract, introduction, main body, conclusion etc.One important thing to remember is to not allocate too much to one day. Do not expect that you will get 3,000 words and two figures done of a 10,000-word dissertation in a day. It’s not attainable and will leave you feeling frustrated and burnt out.
This is something that took me a while to grasp. But nobody's expecting you to read articles from top to bottom before referencing them in your dissertation. Read the abstract and see if it is useful and if it is, then look at the results and the conclusions. This should give you enough to go off of and enable you to reference it well. Otherwise, you’re going to have a hefty workload to complete as dissertations are expected to have a lot of references.
These are easier to create before you start writing. The best way to decide what figures to use is to draft a plan of what the different sections will include. You can then go through and assign a couple of figures to each section. Creating them whilst you write is also okay. But this can be time consuming and may break your flow as you must keep going from writing to drawing. Make sure that figures used are legible with appropriate captions that show if the figure has been adapted from a paper.
Do not stress yourself out about this! I struggle with getting to the maximum word count without waffling and other people may struggle with condensing their work down . This is not as big a deal as it may seem. Obviously, don’t be 10,000 words over the word count but 1,000 may not make a difference. This is going to be different for different faculties so keep it in mind that I am writing from a science and engineering perspective. If you're unsure, ask your supervisor about this.
Your supervisor is there to help you, so manage your time well and always ask for help when needed. Unfortunately, I had to make the mistakes I did last time to produce something I’m proud of this time. Best of luck in writing your dissertations. Don’t make the same mistakes I did!
If you would like further guidance, check out KnowHow's online tutorials on Canvas or book a place on one of our workshops/webinars.