Okay, I know it's not exactly that time of year yet, but it won't be long before you're spending weeks freaking out over your referencing, your phrasing, and whether to do 1.5 line spacing or double spacing. I’m talking about your worst nightmare, third years: The Dissertation.
Dissertation was something I always felt intimidated by, and I was glad tutors started preparing us for it at the end of second year. Despite this, after submitting my dissertation and reflecting on the absolute blur that was third year, I realised there where a few things that I wished I'd been told, or at least that someone would have reiterated a few thousand times. With that being said, I thought I'd extend some of my wisdom (if you can call it that) to you all.
1. Don't leave it until the last minute – Seriously. You may have done some of your previous assignments the night before they were due (let's be honest, I spent three straight nights in the library once) but this CANNOT be one of them. This is something that requires a lot of time and attention, and I don't want to alarm you but it's about five times longer than the essays you wrote over night.
2. Do a detailed plan, because it will be far easier to see how much you've done and how much you've got left. That might sounds really, painfully obvious, but what happens if you get to your conclusion and you're 1,000 words under? Or worse still, 1,000 words over.
3. Break the work down into smaller chunks. Again, that sounds obvious – of course you have to do it in smaller chunks (unless you ignored the first tip). What I mean is, break it down and set yourself deadlines for individual milestones eg. By next Friday I will have done the research for this section. Start as soon as you get an idea and run with it. Set aside one specific day/hour/afternoon/evening – whatever works for you – where you just sit and force yourself to work on your dissertation.
4. Give yourself plenty of time to proofread and edit. Then proofread it again. And again. Basically, you'll never be done making little changes, just get it to a standard where you feel like it's the best it can be, and you're happy with it. When checking for errors, read aloud. If you feel weird reading it alone in your room or the library, read it to someone else. It's so easy to skim over mistakes when we read silently because by the time we're proofreading we know what the work is supposed to say. By reading it to someone else, you allow the other person to pick up on little things that you’ve missed.
5. Going back to the plan – make sure you submit one! I can't speak for every course, but for ours we had to submit a 500 word plan and provisional bibliography in November, which made up 5% of the final dissertation grade. At first, this seems daunting and 5% doesn't seem like much, but if you don't submit the plan you get a zero. For me the project was 65% and the supporting essay was 35%. I did well in both, but the 5% plan actually boosted my final grade from a 2:1 to a 1st. The plan doesn't lock you into anything, so don't be afraid to change your idea because there's nothing worse than feeling forced to write something you no longer care about. Two of my friends completely changed their idea in January and did extremely well.
6. And finally, ask for help if you need it. Third year is tough and everybody would rather you went to them for help or advice than just burning yourself out and ending up miserable and stressed. It's what friends are for, and it's definitely what your dissertation supervisor is for.
Best of luck, and enjoy your final year while it lasts!