“Can I write my 10,000 word dissertation in four weeks?” asked TSR member emilyyou. Family upheaval meant Emily had struggled to crack on with her dissertation. But she was determined to nail it and get her 2:1, despite missing her final deadline for tutors to review any drafts or ideas.
One year on, Emily came back online to let members of TSR know how she’d got on. Despite giving herself just weeks to write her dissertation, she completed it and was awarded a mark of 75%. “Uni taught me I definitely work best under pressure,” she says.
If you’re writing your dissertation at the moment, you’ll know how overwhelming that 10,000 words can be. Whether you feel like you’re in a good place with it or in a similar situation to Emily, the following advice from TSR’s uni community will help you organise your schedule, keep calm and hit your deadline.
1. Break your dissertation down into chunks
“It helped me loads to think of my dissertation as actually being four 2,500 word essays” says Puddles the Monkey.
Rather than freezing with fear at the big 10,000, make it feel more manageable by setting yourself word limits and deadlines. Work on one chapter a week; that could mean as little as 500 words a day over five days. That sounds like a dream, especially when 500 words can take as little as an hour (and probably only 30 minutes when you’re feeling prepared with a structure and a list of key points beside you).
Member Original Name gave Emily some great advice on structuring her next four weeks to ensure enough time to get everything done.
|First week: Complete the literature review (2,500 words) and methodology (1000 words) |
Work on and complete the two chapters (2,500 words each)
Work on and complete the main discussion (2,000 words)
Amend and edit all of your content, double-checking all references and ensuring the bibliography is fully up-to-date.
2. Plan what you want to write
Planning your content before sitting down to write makes life so much easier. When the community asked Emily for advice on how she completed her dissertation so quickly, this is what she said:
|“Write a list of points you want to talk about for each section. I found it easier to simplify the entire dissertation into bullet points first, rather than completing a section and not knowing what I was going to write next.”|
Once you have a list of comments and points you want to make, it becomes easier to start weaving these into a compelling statement. Because you have all the information you need, you will feel more confident and your writing will flow.
3.Leave your introduction and conclusion to last
Heard this one before? It’s common advice, but that’s because it’s the truth. These sections of your dissertation will be written far more convincingly once you have crafted everything else. You’ll genuinely understand your argument and will be able to present it with authority.
4. Make sure you’ve referenced correctly
References are so important; getting them wrong is an easy way to drop marks. Confirm the style of referencing you should be using (eg Harvard or Oxford style). You’ll be able to find this in the project specification, but if you’re not sure, ask your dissertation tutor. Referencing feels simple but can become a bit of a time vampire so make sure you reference fully as you write each section.
5. Create your bibliography as you go
Writing up your bibliography can be a bit of a beast, depending on how many secondary resources you’ve had to use. Rather than leaving it all to the last minute, write up every article, book or piece of research you have referenced at the end of every study session (in alphabetical order). Doing it this way will save you hours of time.
Before your final submission, give your dissertation and full and thorough proofread. This can be really tricky when it feels like you’ve already read the thing a zillion times, so take a good break before attempting to proofread it.
Read it out loud rather than in your head – this way you won’t skim-read and miss errors. Share it with someone you trust, a member of your family or a friend, and ask them to read it. They don’t have to be an expert, they’ll still be able to spot any obvious clangers.
7. Stick to your routine
No matter how much time you have left, define a routine and stick to it. Accept that you’ll be eating, sleeping and breathing your project for the next few weeks. It’s all going to be worth it. ThisIZwar suggests going to sleep by 10.30pm and waking up at 7am and scheduling in a treat at the end of every day so that you don’t try to procrastinate and waste time when you should be writing.
You can reward yourself in different ways: maybe watching a bit of Netflix, going to the gym, cooking a meal with your friends or heading out to the cinema. Have at least one day off each week, where you relax and switch off from your dissertation. On that day, do something totally different; this will help you feel fresh for your next week of study.
8. Keep positive
OK, so you’ve read all that advice, but you still feel like you’ve left it too late. Time for some parting advice from Emily:
|“People work at completely different speeds, just because someone has been working on their dissertation for months, it doesn’t automatically mean that it will be better than one which was completed in a matter of weeks”.|
Article by TSR User on Thursday 15 February 2018
Sometimes life deals you a crappy hand and at the end of a long, somewhat bizarre chain of actions-and-consequences you end up abandoning all the plans you’d been working on for months, and you’re left with one week to write your dissertation. Sometimes you’re just really f*cking lazy and god who even knows how to start on this shit, and you’re left with one week to write your dissertation. Sometimes both of these things are true, and you’re – you guessed it – left with one week to write your dissertation.
r u kidding me human
(This is how the actual cat I live with actually looks at me.)
I used to protest when people said things to me like, “Why am I even asking you about the essay? You’re probably not gonna even start till the day before it’s due.” I know I’m a bad student, see – I don’t usually do more than the bare minimum I need to hold my own in class – but I’d like to think I’m not that bad.
Now though? Now I’m learning to embrace this. ‘Cause you guys, I’m beginning to realise that I’m actually really good at getting things done at the last minute. It isn’t even panic that motivates me – things that stress me out include “bra shopping,” “heterosexuality” and “these goddamn moths,” not school assignments of no real consequence in the Grand Scheme of Things – but rather that I’m really good at pacing myself once I can see the deadline as clearly as a hard brick wall in front of me.
So today we’re going to talk about tackling 10,000 words of amateur academia in a week. There will be Netflix and kittens and not half as much caffeine as you’d expect. Get your game face on.
Put on some pants. (Both the British and the American kind.) Or a bra, or some shoes. Maybe a button-down shirt? Whatever it is that makes you feel like you’re doing Real Work even though you’re gonna be cooped up indoors for a week. Have you checked out our Autostraddle store? I did my entire dissertation while alternating between the red and blue A-Camp hoodies, so clearly there’s magic in them.
Set up your work situation. I have a typewriter and an endless supply of A5 MUJI notebooks to work through first drafts. When you’re working on the computer, I recommend Todoist, 30/30 and Self-Control. (I’ll admit the last one wasn’t always 100% foolproof for me, so as a back-up plan I also suggest “surrendering control of your Facebook account to your partner.”)
Go grocery shopping. No, seriously, you’re running a marathon here, not a sprint – if you’re breaking out the instant noodles from day one, you’re not gonna make it. Here’s what I prepared (mostly) in advance and kept within craving distance, in decreasing order of difficulty of preparation:
- Curry & rice/quinoa
- Roasted vegetables & pasta
- Hummus & pita/carrot sticks
- Oatmeal & fresh fruits
- Walkers salt & vinegar crisps (shh they were on sale)
Along the course of the week I also acquired two whole cakes (it was my birthday), an 8-pack of Kit Kat Chunky bars (also on sale) and a bag of salted peanuts. All of them were regrettable decisions. STICK TO THE PLAN.
Getting Down To It
Plan! Again! And then some more! It’s tempting to play it by ear when you’re so close to the deadline and frustrated by feeling you’re getting nowhere on the word count, but it is way worse to realise you have no idea where you’re going 3,000 words in. Fan of linear essay plans? Use Google Docs or TextEdit or something, no need to get too fancy. (I actively discourage getting fancy when planning.) Need something more expansive? I like MindMup. Can’t decide? Check out Text 2 Mindmap.
Pace yourself. Plan your work schedule, too: know how much you need to get done and by when, and be realistic about how much you can achieve in a day. Definitely take breaks, but remember that you absolutely cannot afford to be losing momentum this week.
Get your sh*t together (literally). I use a combination of Dropbox (check out alternatives if you don’t like the thought of Condoleezza Rice hovering over your cloud storage), GoodReader, and lugging library books in an an 18-litre cycling backpack everywhere to make sure I have absolutely no excuse to not be writing no matter where I am. Few things are a stronger motivation to get your thesis done than an aching back.
Write. Just do it. I believe in you.
Keeping It Going
Feed your face. Caffeine is not our friend. Well okay maybe caffeine is your friend (it probably is, isn’t it) but it definitely isn’t mine. Caffeine heightens my anxiety considerably while taking me through unstable highs and terrible crashes, so I look to alternative ways of keeping my energy up:
As a general rule, avoid sugar, alcohol and fatty foods. Eat plenty of protein, slow-burning carbs, and iron-rich foods. Plan your meals and space them out. This is probably good advice for life in general, but let’s be real, you’re a student – you can have pizza next week, okay? You can have ten.
Sleep well, but nevermind sleeping at the “right” times. You know what works best for you, and now’s not the best time to coax your sleep cycle into something that it’s not. I slept mainly from 5am to 2pm, only entering the school library after 10pm when everyone else was gone.
Musics! For college-themed aural pleasures (yeah I said it), can I recommend Maddie’s Surviving Finals, Rachel’s You Have So Much Grading To Do, and Intern Grace’s I’ve Got A Crush on Your Dumb Face? Oh, hey, I’m the only one here whose inappropriate feelings for unavailable women intensify as deadlines approach? Right. Well then. Moving along.
IT’S FOUCAULT’S HISTORY OF SEXUALITY THAT’S MAKING ME BLUSH, I SWEAR, NOT YOU
Netfliiiiix. I’m not kidding. TV series – in this case, Orange is the New Black and Suits, plus Laura has plenty of suggestions to realise your inner couch potato – help me work through longer assignments because they’re an integral part of my self-reward system. (Sometimes when I say “reward” I really mean “binge indulgence,” but that’s okay. At least I put a bra on, right?)
Remember: you’re okay. The best advice I got was “you’re writing a dissertation, not changing the world.” Keep at it and it’s okay if things are less than perfect. Your brain is going to feel like it’s melting all the time and you will be so tired but also there’ll be those moments when you’ll really get it, like really get it, and you’re a smart, competent human who’s done so many smart, competent things and this will be just one more of those things. Not getting it right now? Take a step back and breathe. Curl up in bed for a while, or take a walk, or text your favourite human/s.
The second best advice I got was “THINK OF HOW GOOD IT’LL FEEL TO RETURN ALL THE LIBRARY BOOKS.” And it does, trust me. It feels so good.
The Final Stretch
Last 24 hours? Now forget everything I said earlier. Is there not coffee in your hand RIGHT NOW? Is it in your MOUTH yet? THERE IS NO WAY THAT IS ENOUGH CAFFEINE IN YOUR BLOODSTREAM. There’s no more food left in your flat except canned soup and Twisties and lol, “sleep.” You’re going to see through the sunset and sunrise but you’re not gonna see either of them because you’re not looking at anything except your computer screen for eight straight hours. Yes you are doing horrible things to your body. DON’T THINK ABOUT IT. The world impatiently awaits what you have to say about postmodernist thought in Korean variety shows, you special weirdo.
Crossing The Finish Line
YOU’RE A GODDAMN CHAMPION. Look at you, accomplished human! You did read the submission instructions at least thrice, right? Clicked the second button on Moodle? Yes? Okay good job. That one sticky bit in the third chapter is probably going to bug you for a bit, but don’t think about it anymore – it’s nothing a good TV marathon or 16 hours of sleep can’t fix.
Before you head off to rejoin the human world (or hang out with your cat all weekend, that’s cool too), consider donating to or volunteering with a related charity/activist group. I know this is a weird suggestion to make, but hear me out here: I’m gonna guess that a lot of you will be writing theses on social justice topics, and while academia is important, it’s not activism. In fact, it’s quite likely you’ll be building on the work of organisers who first lay the groundwork and who are still at it today. Like I said earlier, you’re writing a dissertation, not changing the world – but supporting groups who work towards the same world that you want to see is an important first step to bridging the academy and broader society.
Now go forth and celebrate, champ. You’ve earned it.
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