As any good millennial, when I had to start writing my dissertation, I googled it. Sure, you write numerous papers throughout your course, but writing a dissertation isn't really the same, is it? It takes a lot more attention to detail, research, thought and dedication than a normal assignment and I had no clue where to start. So now that I have finally gone through the process and graduated, I thought I could share some helpful tips I learned.
1. Chose a subject and theme you're excited about
Truth is: a dissertation takes a lot of time and effort. If you don't actually enjoy and if you're not interested in it, half-way through writing it, you'll want to give up, multiple times. Even if you do enjoy the subject, you'll get tired of it eventually. So imagine what will happen if you don't enjoy what you're thinking, researching and talking about for months?
2. Make a schedule
It's impossible to write a dissertation in a couple of days. But it's also really difficult to have the discipline to write slow and steadily. The best way I found to combat this was to plan out a schedule in which every couple of weeks I'd have to turn in a new chapter. Now, you don't have to do this in chapters, you can do it in topics, number of pages, whatever you prefer. Just establish dates and goals for you to reach and keep that somewhere visible. Best way to avoid panicking a week before deadline realizing you still have so much to do - but only wanna watch Netflix.
3. Prepare an index
This was the number one tip I received from my advising professor. Once you have chosen your subject and theme, try and list the topics you would like to explore throughout your dissertation in order. This is going to help you guide both your writing and your research process. Starting anything without doing this first will only result in an unfocused dissertation and/or research process. It's important to remember, though, whatever index you prepare to guide you should not be set in stone. You can always change up the topics and its order whenever you wish to during your writing process. I myself completely scratched out four subtopics and replaced them with completely new ones, because while I researched I realized the original index would result in a repetitive work.
4. Categorize your research findings
While you read whichever material you have, make sure you take notes on important findings in an organized manner. What this means is: take notes corresponding each finding to a specific topic that will be covered in your dissertation. Otherwise, when you come to the actual writing, you will find yourself lost amongst your researches, not sure where to "fit" everything. There are two great ways of doing this. One way is using different colored post it flags, you can color code, one color for each topic. Another great way is using a notebook, dividing its pages in the number of topics your dissertation will have and listing in each part the related references, with book page numbers for easy finding. My life became much easier as soon as I started doing this.
5. Separate document for references
For organizational and practicality purposes, it's also a good choice to write your dissertation in one document and on a separate documents list your references, so it's possible to leave both documents open simultaneously while you work. This way, you won't lose any references and won't have to keep changing document pages every time you need to register a new reference.
6. Edit and proofread while you write
A dissertation needs to respect the format delimitations determined by your university. So to begin with, make sure you are aware of those delimitations. Then, format your document accordingly before even beginning to write. When you leave the formatting part for after the dissertation is all done, it becomes a huge headache. In order to avoid the numerous situations in which post-writing formatting will go wrong, the ideal situation is to write a paragraph, format. Write another paragraph, format.
The same situation applies for proofreading your dissertation. Every new paragraph or every new page you write, take a moment to reread and correct any possible mistakes. After all of the trouble of writing pages and pages, you do not want to print it out, turn it in and then realize there were about 50 typos you hadn't seen. Avoid that situation as much as you can.
7. Reread your dissertation multiple times
After the writing part is over, comes the time to prepare for the presentation. I'm not sure how this goes in other parts of the world, but in Brazil you get from 10 to 20 minutes to present and afterwords the board gets to ask you questions and make remarks. The best advice I can give you is to read and reread your dissertation, start to finish, at least 3 times. I know you wrote it and, consequently, you know it, but you've been working on this for a while, some things may be clearer than others in your memory and when those questions come along, you want to make sure you remember your work.
8. Prepare flashcards
There are rare things as life saving as flashcards. Obviously, reading directly from a piece of paper will be frowned upon and appear as if you did not prepare enough for the moment. That's when flashcards come in handy. My dissertation had about 70 pages. I didn't remember all 70 pages, dates, facts and numbers. That would be impossible. So I used my flashcards to write down the most important information I could not miss during the presentation. As a bonus, if you're an anxious presenter like myself, holding something such as flashcards gives the audience a sense of confidence from the speaker, even if you're not feeling it yourself.
9. Rehearse with a timer
Obvious advice coming at you: whenever you are going to present anything, rehearse your lil butt off. But when it comes to presentations with a specific timing, make sure to time yourself while rehearsing. Otherwise, it's quite likely you are going to run out of time long before finishing your presentation. So, calculate it accordingly at home first.
10. Watch others presenting
This is something I hadn't done and quite regret it. One of the professors in my board was someone I did not know prior to the day of my presentation, so I was caught off guard by her attitude, speech and questions. For that, I wish I had gone to other people's presentations prior to my own, in order to have some idea of how it works and what sort of questions are made. I highly recommend doing that and, especially, watching presentations with the same professors that will be on your board.
Mostly though, I wish you patience, calm and very good luck! It's an exciting time and it will be over soon! Enjoy it as much as you can and try to keep an organized, balanced life in the mean time. For your mental health sake! haha
Hope this helps someone!