Writing a dissertation can be a lengthy, stressful, and often lonely process. Having to manage your own time can often lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and inadequate, which can be seriously harmful to productivity. Here are some of the common pitfalls for writing a dissertation, and some ideas for how to avoid them.
Taking on too much
In the early stages of a dissertation, you are often so taken with your topic that it is tempting to follow up every possible avenue that is open to you. Of course, there are always many ways to approach a topic, and many might seem appealing, but it is vital that you rein yourself in, or you could be looking at a lifetime of work—and a second lifetime of editing. Finding your focus is one of the most fundamental steps on the road to a solid dissertation.
Not giving yourself enough time
Another way that your eyes can be bigger than your stomach in the early stages of a dissertation is in thinking you can get the whole thing done in no time. My supervisor once told me that academic work always takes twice as long as you think it will. So work out your schedule and then double it, and you’ll have a better sense of what you’re actually up against. Unrealistic deadlines will lead to anxiety and sloppy work. To stay disciplined and realistic, you can always consider hiring a dissertation editor to not only help you with the actual writing process, but keep you on track.
Lack of structure
Scheduling your own time can be difficult. The best way to approach it, in my opinion, is to treat it like an office job. Draw up a tight schedule with timeslots for all the tasks you have to cover in the day/week/month and then stick to it. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself on track. A loose schedule allows you room to procrastinate, which is not good news.
Cutting yourself off from the outside world
Make sure you don’t isolate yourself completely. I find it helps to have a fixed end time every day. So I clock off at six after a full day’s work, and then the evenings are mine to spend as I please. Make sure make you’re not valuing your work over your mental well-being, because feelings of loneliness and isolation are far from conducive to good, solid work.
Robin Field holds a BA in English and Linguistics from the University of Cape Town where she is currently working toward her Master’s degree in Linguistics with a focus on gender and game studies.