Dissecting the dissertation process

SS English and History student Megan Thompson outlines some advice for incoming fourth year students considering a dissertation

With the time to choose your modules for next year fast approaching, most of those rising to their final year will have the choice to do a dissertation, and some of those  in lower years  may make choices which will determine whether they’re able to write a dissertation.  Set at 12,000 words in most subjects, this heavy undertaking is a scary prospect to consider. As a Senior Sophister  who is starting the final lap of writing my own dissertation, I thought to give some advice on the topic, along with some general tips that I have picked up along the way.

Your Supervisor Is Your Friend

It may sound cheesy, but it’s an important fact is very important to acknowledge: Your supervisor is there to push you to do your very best, as well as to calm you down when you finally do have that mini-breakdown. So while you may be shy in the first meeting, let that be the end of your nerves. You will be spending almost a year working together and you need to take advantage of this from the beginning. A supervisor is there to point you in the right direction, not bring you down so don’t take any criticism too personally.

Choosing your topic

When picking a topic, my best advice is to choose a topic that you love and are really interested in and a topic that annoys you. As odd as it may sounds, hear me out. When you are truly motivated  by a subject and yet there is something there is something about it that has often frustrated you, this can help you to form a strong argument with plenty of apparent conviction. With such a nice balance, you’ll make those 12, 000 words fly onto the pages.

You Will Most Likely Panic

Being realistic, even if you manage to plan your work down to a fine tee  something probably will throw you off course at some point. Whether you struggle to find that one quote that brings your work together, that book you desperately need is nowhere to be found in the library, or you are too tired from staying up late trying to get that last bit of phrasing just right. Whatever the reason, know that it will be all right  and this will not defeat you. It’s vital to step back and take a break before you jump right back in. Also, you won’t be alone in your moment of panic. As clichéd as it sounds, everybody is in the same seemingly catastrophe bound boat.

Keep A Social Life

As tempting as it may be to seclude yourself in your rooms or maybe the highest floor of the Ussher library, I have found that nothing will drain you of energy and motivation faster. While a dissertation requires a great deal of dedication and time, to let it take over your life would be a mistake. Take a day to meet up with friends and go to the cinema, out for dinner, to a show or on a night out.  It does not matter what your plan is and maybe it’s better in this case not to have one. Just take a step back from writing and have fun.  

Make a step-by-step Plan

I can not stress enough how important this is. With a dissertation, the entire process is done on your terms so make sure to not get lost. By making a comprehensive plan and a schedule of submissions with your supervisor, you will  ensure you are writing at a fair pace and receiving regular commentary so that  instead of spending a month writing just to find out you have been approaching a topic in the wrong way, you will realise much sooner and be able to fix it with much more ease. It is an amazingly simple way of keeping on top of all the work you have to do and  one which should not be overlooked.

Look After Yourself

This may sound obvious and tends to be easier said than done, but your own well-being is paramount and yet something that can go to the back of your mind when you become engrossed by a huge project. Make sure to take a break while researching and writing as  a ten minute breather for every hour of work really helps maintain energy in order to get more work done in the long-run.  Also, make sure to eat! It is a funny thing to say, but eating is a necessity that can be so easily overlooked  and doing so will never help you. Make sure to have food with you whenever you are planning a long day at the library. Finally, make sure you have some personal time away from the work, whether with friends or family or just watching a film.

Engaging in Teamwork

You are not alone with this grand project, and so make use of that! Have friends read your work and get their thoughts.  If you know someone writing on a similar topic, meet up with them and discuss it. There is so much to be gained by response and discussion, even from someone in an entirely different subject  as you never know what will be said and the ideas that might  be sparked as a result.

Availing of your Lecturers

Throughout the four or so years you’ll spend in Trinity, you will get to know the lecturers and tutors in your department, along with their areas of interest and expertise. Make use of that! If you are writing on a topic and you know there is someone who teaches or has written on the topic you are working on, don’t hesitate to talk to them and ask for any advice they may have. Who knows? They may point you in the direction of a source that you would otherwise be lost without!  

Talking it out

If you are feeling stressed, confused or even lost, don’t bottle it up. Talk to someone and talk that frustration out. You will feel much better for it and once you let go of that stress you will be able to get back to writing again. Make sure to have a “support system”  in place to suit your own needs as there is is nothing better than having the reassurance of family and friends,  a relaxing hobby or at least some outlet to help you relax. Friends in particular will be such a vital resource for you, even if to just lend an ear for your woes.


With all the stress, breakdowns and late nights of what seems like a never ending work, it is easy to forget that what you will do is really quite an achievement. So do take time to reflect on all the hard work you are doing and be proud of it. If you can enjoy those moments when you have discovered something new and exciting, it will make the whole thing that bit more rewarding and worthwhile.