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Dissertation Survival Guide – Top Tips from Doxdirect

Posted in Dissertation printing (and writing!) on 16 April 2014

It’s that time of year where many of you can only think about one thing. The dreaded dissertation hand in day. So, here at Doxdirect we have pulled together a few top tips to help you through your dissertation dramas!

1. Planning and Deadlines

Plan. Yes, plan, plan, plan, plan!

Wherever you are on your dissertation journey, planning and time management are fundamental to a “stress free” (well as stress free as possible!) writing process.

Work backwards

When putting your plan together, work backwards from your final deadline. When and how are you going to hand it in? How long will it take to get bound and delivered? How long will you need to proof read it? Assign each stage a timescale so you know where all your personal deadlines fall.

See our page on dissertation printing to help you with you printing deadlines

Contingency

Be sure to add in contingency time for unexpected events or sudden brain waves. This allows you to meet each individual deadline without putting yourself under any unnecessary pressure. Things always have an uncanny way of taking longer than you expect (especially when you’re in a rush!). Make sure you have assigned a good chunk of time for proof reading and editing for this reason, if it does take longer than you first thought (likely!), you’re covered. If not – bonus evening off!

Know what’s expected

As well as the content, make sure you know exactly what is expected of you in terms of what you need to supply. What is your word count and what parts of the dissertation does this include? Do you need to leave specific margins widths? What font and point size does the text need to be? How does it need to be presented and bound? How many copies? Create your own check list as soon as you can, so you can methodically tick these off as you approach the deadline.

2. Work little and often

Think Small

Looking at the sheer amount you have to do in one go can be scary and seem impossible. But, if you break it down into small achievable tasks, it becomes far easier and less intimidating to work your way through them. You’ll probably find by doing this you’ll whizz through your tasks far quicker and see your list going down rapidly which is a great moral booster.

Write every day.

It might sound a bit much, but if you start as you mean to go on and tell yourself that you will write every single day, it helps to keep you on top of your targets. Set yourself a daily writing goal. For example, if you need to write 10,000 words in 2 months, by writing a mere 167 words a day (about the length of these two paragraphs), you’d hit your target comfortably (with one or two words to spare) so it becomes a lot more manageable when you think about it. Some days you won’t meet that target but there will be plenty of times when you completely smash it.

This is still a good approach to take even if you have left things a bit later than you should have, as it helps to keep the momentum going. Assess what you need to do, assign it a deadline with adequate contingency time and then work out the minimum amount you need to do each day to reach that point. Then try and beat it! It may even help to split your to do list into morning and evening tasks.

Know how you work and utilise yourself!

Plan to do your more demanding tasks at those times of the day/week when you work best. And plan to do more the more simplistic tasks at times when you know you won’t work quite as effectively.

Be flexible with your plan, everyone has unexpected off days. If you are tired or struggling with the task you have assigned yourself, don’t despair, switch it round and do one of the many tasks that doesn’t involve quite as much brain power. The title page for example. It’s still one more little thing ticked off the list. Just make sure you keep going and do something, every day.

3. Love Learning – it’s why you’re doing it!

Be you

Hopefully you have chosen (or will choose) a topic that suits you. If you have a natural passion for your chosen topic and question, then you’re already halfway there. Most of your research, investigations and development will come naturally, due to genuine interest. You will look forward to your findings as opposed to just carrying out ‘a process’. So think, what really makes you tick?

Go with the flow

Embrace unexpected findings and results. Don’t just look for what you’d expect, or look for short cuts and quick ways around. It prolongs the process in the long run as well as it becoming less effective. So, go with the flow of your natural curiosity. Read, talk, think and be interested in your topic and you will discover far more than you ever thought you could.

When in doubt, read

Remember, writing a dissertation is still a learning process. When panic sets in, forget the looming finished product for a moment and just stop and learn. Reading clears your mind of the overwhelming panic, while doing something productive. And then keep going!!! If you’ve stopped to panic, you’ve stopped. If you do something, it’s still something, and it could lead to something great.

4. Team YOU!

It’s good to talk.

You have an amazing team around you. Your supervisor, tutors, peers, friends and family (and of course your friendly online printing company!). Talk to them. Especially those who share the same interests as you when it comes to your dissertation. Ask opinions, gather feedback and take constructive criticism as it is intended. It may be you think of something you never had before.

It’s also good, not to talk.

On the flip side, don’t constantly compare the amount of work you’ve done with your fellow students. You’ll end up getting paranoid that you’ve done the wrong thing or not enough – you’ll know without comparisons if this is the case! Chances are you’re fine – trust in your plan and you will be.

Then of course there is wonderful Wifi, bringing the whole world to our fingertips. Every now and then, switch it off, put your phone on plane mode and set aside some quality writing time. Just concentrate on your words and theories. No tempting distractions (well, apart from the biscuit tin).

5. Look after No.1

Health Kick

Throughout the entire process, it’s easy to turn to the junk food and the instant meals when you’re working to a deadline and *have to get this done 3 hours ago!*. I know biscuits understand in a way no one else does, however, when you can, still try to eat your greens, drink enough water and get some exercise, even if it’s a quick stroll round the block. You might even find it helps to clear a few cobwebs and get you back into gear for when you start again back at your desk.

Believe in yourself.

Have faith in your own abilities, because you’re clever and awesome and YES YOU CAN DO IT!!! That is all

6. Time to write

Detailed outline

Take each piece of research and idea that you want to include and work out exactly where you want it to go. The process of writing is far easier when you have a plan to follow. It should help you to avoid repeating yourself and organise your content logically. Plus, as any good plan should, it helps to keep it in smaller, manageable chunks when you come to write it in full.

Just do it

If you find you’re struggling to start, just write something. It doesn’t have to be a beautifully scripted master piece, you can (and will!) go back and change it. Once you have begun, you have begun and you’re that much closer.

Simples!

Be clear and concise. A future reader could be completely new to this topic. You’re not. You have been consumed by it for months. Try and keep your writing well punctuated and avoid very long sentences. If you’re struggling with a particular paragraph, consult your plan and try and summarise what you’re trying to convey in to the shortest possible sentence, or a few words. This may help you to focus on exactly what you are trying to get across.

Number your versions

Make copies as you go and mark versions clearly. Your dissertation will change a lot throughout the process, and versions are useful in case you want to go back to a previous variation.

7. Printing Power

Proof reading prints

Chances are you will print a lot. Whether it be at home, at uni or at the library. Throughout the process you will end up printing reams and reams of paper that you will scribble over, screw up in to balls and probably spill coffee over at some point. There will be paper jams, ink will run out and there will be those days where it JUST WON’T WORK!!!

However, on these days (or any day really), I will gently nudge you towards our online printing service (*said with tooth sparkly sales smile…*). Seriously though, it can be a very useful service, not only for the finished product, but drafting too. I would recommend a wiro book for drafts as you can open them flat (so easy to scribble in the margins). It keeps all the pages neatly together, easy to flick through and reference. It even comes with an acetate front cover, so it will make an invaluable coaster once you onto draft copy number two.

So long as you have left yourself enough time (see point 1!) – having printed versions could be a highly valuable stage of your proofing process. It gives you a natural (and deserved!) break while you wait for your printed document to arrive, meaning you will hopefully read it more thoroughly once received (instead of the words you have stared at again and again and again, blurring into one!). Hopefully this, alongside seeing it in a more finished format, will help you to see your dissertation in a new light and find ways to improve your work even further.

The Finished Product

Once it’s ready, you want it looking super duper. This is the easy bit! Our upload system should be straight forward enough, but if you have any questions, get in contact and ask. We deal with loads and loads of dissertations and it’s more than likely we will be able to help.

8. aaaand relax!

You’ve worked really hard you’ve finished, it’s been beautifully printed and now it’s handed in, out of your hands, you’ve done all you can do and hopefully that’s more than enough. There are only two words that you need now “Woo” and “hoo”! Time for a treat (or a sleep!).

Feel proud (and a tiny bit smug!), you’re done.