To second years: This is how you write a dissertation, by third years

Help from those who’ve done it


At university one of the biggest things on people minds is the dreaded dissertation. Most second year students are starting to think about what they are going to write my dissertation on. What their personal advisor is going to be like. And more generally, how much the idea of writing one is scary.

A quick Instagram survey gave The Royal Holloway Tab some interesting data. Hopefully it'll make you less alone and give you some comfort.

By asking a handful of final year students and grads we have managed to gather some top tips in which we hope will ease your mind.

Lizzie, final year French

“The best advice my tutor gave me was to get it done as soon as possible! Do research in summer after second year and get ahead of the game. Second term of third year is really, really busy so if you’ve got your dissertation out the way then you’re one step ahead.”

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Charley, English Literature Graduate

“My advice is to get all of your books out for the summer AFTER term has ended to avoid the library fine. Hide any good books in unrelated shelves over-night so you can come back and use them again the next day.

"Save multiple versions of your dissertation – email it to yourself every night. See your tutor every week and don’t be afraid of the all-nighter.

"If you revel under pressure, put aside 6 solid weeks before the hand in to focus solely on it – 6 weeks where you know you’ll have no other assessments.”

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Léonie, final year, French and Music

“Don’t do it.”

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Lynn, MA Consumption, Culture and Marketing

“Start early so you have enough time to think your ideas through, change them if necessary and don’t get hit by panic a month before you hand it in, it’s not half as bad as you think.

"From first year everyone is dreading third year dissertations but at the end of the day it is just one big essay. If you feel overwhelmed don’t be scared to tell your supervisor they are usually very understanding and will definitely try to help you regain confidence, I burst out in tears during my first supervision because I was putting so much pressure on myself, but my supervisor was really nice about it and helped me put things into perspective.”

Ollie, final year Geology

“Start early. Very early.”

Olaoluwa, final year Economics

“The cliché of starting early applies a lot when doing a dissertation. You think you have loads of time, but in reality (as I am writing this advice) I have less than 6 days.

"The scramble to get everything done will decrease through effective planning and setting goals every month to reduce your work load. Another tip would be to have an annotated bibliography. This is where you have the sources and you have about 150-200 words describing it. The, if you have to write a literature review, it'll be easier you're writing it up when you've taken notes as soon as you find relevant sources. If you're using data, make sure it is available for your question. I took the unconventional route of choosing my own question rather than the list the Department gave me. That is riskier if you're unable to find data or research on your topic area."

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Finally speak to people, different insights are great and allows you to get understanding on your question, so you can model it having thought of every possibility.”

Jay, Final Year Management with International Business

“Be passionate about the research topic as it makes it much easier to put in your all. Have a few ideas brewing over the summer holidays and do some reading around the subject.”

I hope this has cleared some things up and makes the idea of the dreaded dissertation slightly less scary. Good Luck