How does one survive the dissertation deadline and live to tell the tale?

Your final year at university is a stressful one. The realisation that your time as a student is coming to an end along with the added exam stress makes for a lethal concoction. However, there is one assignment dreaded more than most…the dissertation. Here’s some top tips on how to complete this monstrous task with minimal trauma.


It’s a marathon not a sprint..

Dissertation writing can feel like a never-ending task and most of us are likely to spend countless hours staring at a blank page. Unfortunately if you want to graduate, completing your dissertation to the best of your ability is a must.

1. Planning is key: It gives you a chance to think carefully about what you are going to write and ensures you manage your time effectively. Dissertations are typically 6000-12000 words (*sobs*) meaning that in order for you to produce a coherent piece of writing that is strong throughout a rough outline of each section is necessary.

2. Review and adjust your plan: As you get further into your dissertation and as you do more research your original outline is bound to change. Don’t be afraid to make alterations - as long as they are justified.

3. Get feedback: Throughout the process of writing your dissertation make sure you get other people to proofread each section. Whilst your dissertation supervisor can provide feedback on the quality of the content, friends and family will also be able to help with grammatical errors and lapses in logic.

4. Just write: Set aside time to just write about anything you can think of with no distractions. You can edit the content in relation to your plan afterwards. According to author Joan Bolker you can write your dissertation in just 15 minutes a day. We’re not sure how many days would be needed with this approach but setting time aside to write freely is definitely a method to try. If anything it will help you warm up in order to be more productive.

Writing your dissertation - dissertation plan


Dissertation: “An April Fools' joke taken too far”

5. Have flexible goals: Chances are any targets you initially set may be slightly ambitious. This is completely normal, everyone wants to optimistic about how much they can write in a certain period of time, or the amount of research that will be required. Setbacks are common and different tasks can take longer than first expected. This is all part of the joy of dissertation writing - don’t be demoralised. Decide what you want to achieve in a day as opposed to a week and focus on one task at a time. Being realistic will hold your focus and keep you motivated.

6. Take regular breaks: During the months of dissertation writing procrastination becomes a sport that students excel in. Try to avoid lengthy procrastination sessions by taking regular breaks, but make sure you earn them! Give yourself incentives if necessary - you’ll be surprised by what you’ll do for chocolate. On a more serious note, it’s important to take some time to fully relax and forget about work (easier said than done, I know) as stress is counterproductive.

7. Exercise:

Healthy body: Another effective way of managing dissertation stress is by doing exercise. Physical activity causes the body to produce endorphins. These feel-good neurotransmitters reduce stress by acting as natural painkillers. Besides easing stress levels exercise will also help work off all those cheeky dissertation snacks!

Healthy mind: Mindfulness techniques can also trigger the production of endorphins and if there was ever a time to give it a go, it’s your final year. Methods such as meditation have been proven to combat stress and focus the mind. Try the ‘Take 10’ programme on the Headspace app. It has short guided meditation sessions to take care of your mental wellbeing.

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There’s light at the end of the tunnel…

8. Finishing touches: When you’re nearing the end try not to rush it. You don’t want to slip up at the final hurdle as small errors such as non-standard grammar won’t give a good impression to your marker (and they’re so easily avoided!). Finishing touches including proof reading, referencing and getting your thesis bound may seem arduous but remind yourself that they are nothing compared the effort you put into the researching and writing stages.

Note: Try not to be disheartened by all the dissertation selfies that people begin to upload to facebook - your time will come.

9. Time to celebrate: Completing your dissertation will be one of the academic highlights of your time at university. It’s a fantastic achievement and one that you should be proud of. Take your obligatory dissertation photo and sit back and watch as the likes roll in.

Celebrating finishing dissertation


Before you graduate make sure you review your degree here - not only will it help decide your university's league table ranking but it will help prospective students find a course.

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