DOs and DON'Ts of Writing MA Dissertations
Whether you're just starting out on the MA process, in the middle of writing your dissertation, or near submission, there are several pieces of advice I'd like to share, based on both personal experience and my work with many students over the years.
IN THE BEGINNING
Choose a subject you enjoy.
Students often decide on their MA dissertation topic by picking something that they think their instructors will like, rather than a subject that fires their own enthusiasms. Unfortunately this comes across in the final product: the dissertation is dull and dry, rather than bursting with the excitation of new research. Choose something that you're passionate about studying and that will hold your interest.
W rite a detailed proposal.
Many MA courses require proposals to be submitted before lecturers will sign off on an MA topic, and students often find this difficult because they're not certain what direction the project will take. However, a good proposal will serve as a guide for your instructors and allow them to make suggestions about your ideas. More importantly, it provides a map for you to follow as you work on the dissertation.
Keep your project focused.
Try to write clear research questions to investigate from the beginning and focus on answering them, rather than assuming on the myriad of new questions that will pop up through the dissertation process. It's very easy to get distracted by related, but irrelevant, topics.
THROUGHOUT THE DISSERTATION
Have a realistic schedule.
Schedule in time for holidays, bad weather, equipment problems, and procrastination. Although it's tempting to work on your dissertation constantly (especially as the submission date quickly approaches), make sure you spend some time away from it as well. This allows you to approach it with a fresh pair of eyes and a clear head.
Give yourself plenty of time.
It is a natural law of the universe that if something can go wrong during the dissertation-writing process, it will. You may notice that you forgot to add a source to your bibliography and have to track down the reference. Your printer may run out of ink at 2:00 am the day before the dissertation is due. Your computer may decide to malfunction. If you work on your dissertation consistently (but not necessarily consistently), you should have more than enough time before your deadline to get these problems sorted.
Have a backup. Preferably two .
There are so many way to backup your data nowdays that it would be silly not to use at least one of the methods available to you: external hard drive, CD, flash drive or memory stick, or a service such as DropBox or Mozy. The latter usually offer 2GB free storage.
AND FINALLY …
Have someone read your work.
Whether it's a friend, your mother, or a professional proofreader, new eyes can spot errors that you've missed. Because you know exactly what you¡¯re trying to say, it becomes easy to overlook forgotten words or awkward phrases. After all the work you've put into it, does not your dissertation deserve to be the best you can make it?