Like most 3rd year students at University, the dreaded ‘D’ word is being drummed into us…dissertation! In fact, our lecturers stress us with that word from the 2nd year when we have to decide on a topic. From start to end, dissertations can be a very stressful thing, but they really don’t have to be!
The perspective you have on your dissertation can really change the experience you have whilst doing it. Yes, of course, it is stressful, it’s the biggest academic piece of work you may ever write but overthinking it can make it feel much worse than it is. Most of my assignments are 2000 words, so putting it into perspective, it’s just 5 normal assignments.
Choosing a topic
Personally, I found that the word ‘dissertation’ sounded so much worse, until I decided on a topic, once I knew what I wanted to do, it didn’t feel so awfully out of reach and massive. From my experience, going out with an aim to look for a topic through research online was not the best way to find my topic. Instead, talking through with my family and friends my favourite parts of my subject (English Language and Linguistics) was the best way to find out what area I wanted to hone in on.
Although, my idea hit me by accident one day when me and my mum were shopping in Cornwall and thought that the lady serving us sounded Devonian, and BAM! My dissertation topic was decided. I wanted to look at the differences between Cornish and Devonian dialects.
After speaking to lots of friends on my course and at uni, most people’s topics came to them, rather than having to go out and research to find one, so my advice to anyone trying to find a topic for their dissertation next year… don’t stress, you will find one, even if it feels like you never will.
One of the most overwhelming things was actually starting. But easing yourself into it by researching the subject makes it feel less scary. For example, my dissertation is about dialects, so I started by reading about ‘dialectology’ and ‘sociolinguistics’. If you can’t find very much on your topic it might not be the best to pick. So starting as soon as possible will set you off best, just in case you need to find a new topic. Also running it by your advisor or a lecturer can be a good idea to receive their opinion and help solidify the idea in your mind.
I’ve now been doing my dissertation for about 5 months, although I’m not admitting to my advisor that I don’t think I’ve even looked at it for about 2-3 months out of the 5! You’re given so much time to do this project, and one of the things I’ve learned is that you go through phases with it. Phases of feeling so motivated and ready to read up on everything you need to, and then phases of literally avoiding even the word ‘dissertation’ and not even talking about it. And it’s totally ok! As long as you’ve got a plan you know you need to follow, whether that’s thinking “my next step is to interview this person” or producing a questionnaire or starting the analysis.
One of my favourite things to do, generally, as a stationery lover, is to make posters. So I’ve bought a massive piece of A1 card and have started to make a plan of what I need to do and what I have done. This allows me to visualize what’s going on, as it’s such a huge piece of work it can feel overwhelming. Rather than being a virtual piece of work living inside my computer, I can see my diss plan sat in the corner of my room, and it serves as a reminder that I can’t ignore. So if you’re struggling, making a poster plan might work for you too!?
It’s known to be a stressful piece of work, and just believing in yourself, and telling yourself that you will do it can make you feel better. One of the hardest parts of my dissertation was knowing that I had to interview about 16 people, 8 from Devon and 8 from Cornwall, and that terrified me a bit – having to talk to people I didn’t know very well and ask them questions about their lives, and over the Christmas holidays. However, the thought of not getting this section done scared me so much more. If I didn’t get these interviews done I wouldn’t be able to carry on with my diss, and I’d have to take time off of uni and go home to interview lots of people. So believing in yourself is so important, because we can do it!
I hope my story and tips have helped some of you either feel a bit more relaxed about your dissertation or give you some tips on how to deal with it. It really isn’t as scary as you may think it is! Tackle it head on and you won’t need to stress…let’s see if I say the same once I’ve actually finished it! Let me know if you have any tips on dealing with your dissertations.
Love Jaz x