Writing any type of dissertation can be a very daunting task and for me, I was absolutely terrified of the whole idea as I just felt that it was something that only really smart academics could achieve, so I had a battle with my mind before I had even started. Most dissertations require the student to conduct a research study and collect the data themselves, but for a social work degree, you can choose to either do the former or to undertake a library based dissertation which is what I chose to do.
I am not going to pretend to be an expert on writing a library based dissertation, but I can share some tips from my own experience of which I am proud to say that I passed and was awarded a ‘first’ which is really good.
1) Start early
I learned the hard way so trust me when I say that the earlier you make a start the better. On my course, we were supposed to start in the September with the final hand in date in May and at that point, it seems like it is so far away and that there are other more important priorities which come first. However, the time will fly by and in order to give yourself the best chance of getting a really good mark you need to have the time to work on it.
2) Attend all appointments with your dissertation tutor
These are really important appointments which you should attend as you really need to make the most of them. Even if you have not managed to progress since your last meeting you should still attend as to start with it keeps you accountable for your workload and also because just having someone to talk to who understands the process and topic of what you are working on can really help you to get some of your thoughts out of your head and into a plan.
3) Have a good recording system for your references.
This is essential to keeping your sanity! The last thing you need as the deadline looms is to not be able to find references for information which you are using in your work. There are many ways that you can set up a record of your references but you need to do what works for you. Some people use a notebook which they take with them everywhere, others use referencing programmes on their laptops.
I made a powerpoint and labelled each slide A, B etc. Then every time I read something relevant I added the reference to the relevant slide. If I then used it in my work, I put a star by it so at the end it was just a case of copying and pasting all of the references which had a star by them over to my references page.
4) Cut the task down into bite-sized chunks.
When faced with writing a dissertation, it can feel overwhelming, there is a huge amount of research to complete and a large word count. I found that it really helped me to cut the task into smaller chunks and then just focus on one step at a time.
Making a good plan really helped me with this as I could break down each section into smaller ones and I felt that I was making progress as I checked them off.
5) Keep going back to your title and objectives to stay focused
At the start of the dissertation process, you will complete a proposal where you will state your aims and objectives, along with your title. I found it really useful to keep coming back to these throughout the researching phases as it is very easy to get lost amongst a vast array of information. Therefore when I found something of interest, I would ask myself does this piece of research meet any of my aims and objectives? If it did, I kept it, if it didn’t then it would be forgotten.
I hope that this has helped a little for anyone who will be writing their own library based dissertation. It may be frustrating at times but at the end when you see your finished work, it will all be worth it!