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Starting your dissertation – It's a marathon not a sprint

As a 3rd year, I have just recently completed my dissertation, and, after a year of planning, researching and writing, I’ve picked up some tips to keep stress at a minimum along the way. I know that each dissertation process differs depending on course, but I’d like to share some pointers that should be relatable to most students starting their dissertations:

Start early and put in the hard work

I started my dissertation journey around a year ago, when, at the end of second year we were told to choose a potential topic. Your dissertation will be a longer process and require more work than past essays you have written, so right from the off, it’s worth putting the effort in – it’ll make your life so much easier in the long run.

Give yourself time to explore your options when putting your proposal together – you’ll feel better knowing you have a good basis to work from and this will also reduce the work you’ll need to do when it comes to starting in September – when you’re busy learning all about your new modules at the same time.

Don’t worry if you feel like you want to change topics

Over the summer I had doubts about my original topic and decided to change my title. I took to a core textbook and listed areas that were of interest to me until I found ones that would fit together well. I had put lots of work into my original plan so I didn’t disregard the work I had already put in – some of it was still relevant and my research could be adapted. So, don’t be disheartened if you have to do the same – if you’ve given yourself enough breathing space this shouldn’t be too big a worry.

Read widely

At the start of the dissertation process, you’ll need to find out whether there’s already lots written around your chosen area or if sources are limited. Unfortunately, the only way to find this out is to do the research – read widely using books, journals and other official publications. This will help you to understand your area of research much better and confirm whether or not the hypotheses you’ve drawn are supported – you’ll be surprised the depths you’ll end up researching a topic if you find it really interesting.

Use the support available

Do not underestimate the importance of your supervisor, as they are there to help with any questions you have along the way. The key is to not let your problems get too big but to seek advice whether that just be a quick email or setting up a meeting. Also, use all the support that is set up by your course/school to guide you in this module – you’ll need to understand the major steps and deadlines making sure the process is clear and there are no nasty surprises. I would suggest booking in a meeting (and even a follow-up meeting) with your supervisor as soon as possible – knowing you’re on the right track will be a big confidence boost and regular meetings will give you fixed milestones along the way.


Once you have a clear understanding of your topic and the primary research you wish to conduct, make sure that you start your research process as early as possible. This is especially important if you need to inform the University of your plans if certain ethical permissions are needed before you can start. Many research methods require time, so the earlier you start it, the sooner you can begin to write up your results.

Set your own deadlines

It is all well and good giving yourself plenty of time to plan and research, but make sure you have time to write the thing. To reach the final deadline comfortably it is useful to see your dissertation as separate smaller assignments – I set myself smaller deadlines which made the final one less daunting. Like with any essay it is useful to have it completed in advance of the deadline to give you plenty of time for proofreading and formatting. Each course will have its own method of referencing, so make sure you know how yours is supposed to be laid out. (Head over to the Library for more info on referencing styles.)

I hope you find these tips helpful and I wish you the best of luck with your dissertation.