The dissertation is the pinnacle of every student’s university career. It will be the most important piece of work you’ll submit during your entire time at university. It will also be the most difficult piece of work you’ll come up against in this time.
It’s understandable therefore if you encounter a few problems throughout the process. Chris Martin was obviously referring to his dissertation when he sang, “Nobody said it was easy…”
Don’t believe anybody that does tell you writing their dissertation was easy. They’re either an arrogant liar or were so traumatised by the experience they’ve blocked it from their memory.
You don’t need to be super frightened though. You just need to know that things can get a little bit tough when the heat is on! So we’ve gathered together some of the most common difficulties students face when writing their dissertations, and some tips on how to get past those pesky problems.
- You can’t come up with a title or topic
For many students the dissertation element of final year is compulsory. This means that, whether you like it or not, you absolutely have to come up with a topic. For some (really annoying) people a title will come to mind straight away but if you’re not one of the lucky few all you need to do is ask yourself a few questions in order to come up with a topic to write on.
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For starters, you’ll need to work out which modules or aspects of modules you have enjoyed the most during your time at university. The reason being, your dissertation will be a horrendously long piece of work and you’ll more than likely go bat sh*t cray if you don’t enjoy the topic you’re writing on.
When you’ve decided on a few topics that you like, work out which modules (or aspects of modules blah blah blah) you performed best in. It’s all good and well loving your film class but just because you adored watching films instead of having boring lectures it doesn’t mean you’ll get a half-decent grade writing an essay on film.
So the trick is to find the balance between something you like and something that you’re good at when choosing a dissertation topic.
Now you have an idea as to where you want to go with this bad boy you need to think about a title or question. Make sure it’s unique and doesn’t make the marker fall asleep. Make sure it’s a question worth asking that doesn’t have a definitive answer already. If you’re concerned about your title you can take solace in the fact that your idea won’t be any weirder than these titles anyway.
- You and your supervisor don’t communicate well
We know, we know, you’re the centre of the universe. But the truth is that your dissertation supervisor will have other students to supervise, classes to teach, research to get on with and the rest. This means that she or he can’t be there for you all the time.
So what do you do if you can’t get hold of them when you really need them? Bombard them with 15 emails until you get a response? No. You need to plan for any kind of situation in which you might need their help well in advance.
First of all you should plan to meet with your dissertation supervisor at regular intervals to discuss the progress of your work and any questions you might have. Also, if you give yourself plenty of time to get your questions answered then you’ll be less anxious about receiving a response.
- You have absolutely no idea where to begin
When you start your dissertation it will feel like you have to climb Kilimanjaro with no equipment and very little training. In other words the task will feel very daunting indeed and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed.
A good place to begin however is by creating a plan. Every essay you do needs at least a rough plan. This will benefit you greatly when it comes to actually writing the dissertation. You will know exactly in which direction you’re going, you’ll be able to make it flow and come together with a strong conclusion. It can also speed up the process too – you won’t be sitting there wondering what to do next every five minutes.
If you don’t know where to begin with your plan either, don’t worry, you’re not totally screwed! Just start by reading some of the literature on your proposed bibliography. This will give you some indication as to the various arguments involved in your chosen topic.
Don’t think your plan is absolutely set in stone either. Experts recommend that you adjust your plan as you go along. Really though, your supervisor should help you plan your first steps towards writing a brilliant dissertation and give you lots of hints and tips as to where to start.
- You don’t think you’ll have enough time to finish the job
Don’t think you’re alone in feeling this way! We’ve already said it’s daunting. Lots of students look at the amount of reading they have to do before they even start writing and think meh!
This is the point where you have to develop strong time management skills if you haven’t already. Along with planning the meat and potatoes of your essay, it’s worth putting together a detailed schedule.
Don’t overshoot how much you’ll be able to get done in a certain period of time. This is the pitfall of most students. Be realistic. And if you have to have a few nights off the beer to get it all done then so be it. Take a look here to see how many books a student could actually get through if they read more than they drank.
- You are really struggling to format your work correctly
Every single graduate you meet will tell you the same thing – they really wish they would have formatted their dissertation correctly as they went along. That’s their biggest regret. So many people leave formatting to the end. They heave a huge sigh of relief because they’ve finally finished that damn dissertation only to realise that they have a couple more days’ worth of work to format it.
Part of this involves getting your references right. The number one tip you will hear regarding this subject is to check with your university to see which referencing system they use (which will most likely be the Harvard or Chicago system). There will be no sympathy for you whatsoever if you don’t bother doing this. Only idiots lose easy marks. And at the end of the day you don’t want to get accused of plagiarism just because you can’t reference properly.
Again you’ll want to look at your university’s style guide for other points regarding the formatting such as font size, margins, line spacing etc.
All of these dissertation difficulties are annoying but can be easily dealt with if you take action before it’s too late. These difficulties are also difficulties that affect your dissertation directly. Don’t forget the other difficulties that may affect you on a personal level. Take care of your mental health and get enough sleep while you’re doing your dissertation.