CN: Dissertations, motivation
It’s dissertation season, which can be a high pressure time for many students. As deadlines draw closer, it’s easy to feel as if you’re behind, or the only one struggling, but we can assure you that’s not the case. Lots of students find dissertation-writing difficult, and it’s a reality that many don’t properly get started until the Easter holidays. Different things also work for different people, meaning that it’s good to have access to a range of techniques. Because of this, we asked staff and readers for their best tips for getting motivated, staying calm and making it through the slow process of writing a dissertation.
“Calm: choose working environment according to mood. Somewhere like a coffee shop has a much more chilled vibe which can be more conducive to getting good work done than a library if you’re having an off day.”
“I found it really helped to switch up where I worked, and to try to avoid working in my room so I could properly relax once I was home – there are loads of nice coffee shops, and now it’s warmer you could also work outside.
I also liked meeting up to work with friends, even though our dissertations were on different things. Another thing I did was create a big excel spreadsheet where I could add in my plan for what I wanted to do each day, and any questions I had for my supervisor as it came up, and what reading I’d done or had to do.”
“Rigorous and thorough planning helps me in long essays. I make sure I know what every sub-section is going to talk about, as well as the point, evidence, and direction. I print out this plan and refer to it throughout the writing process. It also helps to leave low-demand tasks like formatting and referencing for times when you’re tired or need a break, but are low on time.”
“It’s amazing how much you get done setting small goals and rewards; I watch ten minutes of Netflix per 100 words at the beginning, and later every 250 words. It helps take the pressure off the content if you’re a perfectionist.”
“The UL tearoom is more chilled to work in than in the actual UL. Plan lots of nice little breaks, e.g. walking if it’s sunny, having your favourite drink or snack while writing, and breaking the day up to morning / afternoon / evening chunks and trying to take one of them off everyday.”
“For me, reading can sometimes actually be a psychological excuse not to write. I think we often underestimate what we do know, and what we can work out on the page as we write – so I would say allow reading and just start writing, even if its rubbish. Once I adopted that method I managed to bang out 3000 words in an evening. I now tend only to read when it’s completely necessary, or to clarify something.”
“I find the idea of a dissertation in itself to be so cool”
“Motivation-wise: I find the idea of a dissertation in itself to be so cool, in that it is literally your own original piece of academic work that you care about and have thought through, and your own research area, which you are kind of an expert in. It’s completely humbling and feels less superficial than weekly essays, which I usually forget straight after exams. I know I’ll remember my diss forever, so thinking in those terms really gets me excited to write.”
“Completely agree with Husna, I made thousands of notes from reading as an excuse to not actually write! Just sit and write whatever shit pops into your head. It’s so much easier to work on it when you see a body of your own words in front of you. What I did was create a draft solely made up of quotes under subtitles for each of my paragraphs, and I find it so much easier to frame my own opinions now.
Also it really is massively cool that we get to write something about anything we want! It’s something you will always think about and remember so just try and approach it as a vessel for your own interests and opinions, rather than something you have to do.”
“I tend to get very stultified by perfectionism, which can stifle writing. Someone in a self-care Facebook group recommended changing the font colour to white, so it’s invisible, and just getting typing. I’ve started to do whole paragraphs like this and it’s so helpful.”
“When I can’t start a task because it’s too overwhelming, I try and find the biggest sheet of plain paper I can and write all my ideas out really visually, so I can kind of look at everything at once. Then, the task doesn’t feel so daunting in my head.
Moreover, because mind maps feel more creative than rigid writing, its enjoyable to do and ideas come more easily. Creative breaks, like a quick dance or doodle, can also help spur ideas and keep thoughts fluid, as well as being a good stress release. ”