Eight Tips for Writing your Dissertation
The blank page, the flashing cursor, anxiety quietly creeping in… You have been putting this off for as long as you could, but now you just need to get it done.
You write a sentence. You look at it. It’s no good. You delete it. Anxiety turns to dread - what if you just can’t do this? Finally, a flashing notification! Someone has just commented on your photo on Facebook. A five minute break won’t hurt, will it?
We all know that all too familiar feeling of dread when it comes to writing our dissertation! The books are sprawled around you, you’ve got a tasty drink on the go, and you’re probably even still in your pyjamas. You are so ready for this! There is no stopping you... Apart from, of course, yourself.
The question inevitably arises, ‘how on earth can I possibly cope through this season of dissertation writing?!’ There is so much to be said on this, but please allow me to share some top tips and words of encouragement I’ve tried to whittle down, which I hope will not only help you cope, but thrive during this difficult time!
Kristi’s Top Tips
Timetable your time
Sounds obvious, but have you done it? What do you need to do and by when? Set yourself daily goals. What is achievable today? Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t able to complete your goal for that day. Make sure to schedule in a few free days before your deadline to give you distance and time to edit your work with fresh eyes.
Plan your daily breaks
First things first! Plan your breaks. Don’t sit down to write thinking you’ll blissfully blitz through thousands of words in one sitting. You know your attention span; don’t work beyond it. If you don’t know it, it’s better to assume it’s less rather than more. Plan to work for 20mins, then have a 10min break, walk around, have a drink, listen to something, and then work for another 20mins and have another break. This will help you to focus your time and will guard against ineffective typing action! If you know a break is coming up, you’re more likely to work well in the time you have, and it doesn’t feel anywhere near as daunting to start as you’d first imagined!
Engage with your reading and writing
Actively engaging with your work is a good way of keeping your attention, and hopefully, passion for your subject area. What’s the sin you need to recoil from in your study? What can you rejoice in through God’s common grace? Pray through it!
Eat well, sleep well, drink lots of water (keep those brain cells hydrated!). Plan fun things with friends to look forward to. It needn’t be a guilty pleasure, but a planned one! You are not what you know; you need community and time to enjoy God’s creation. If it’s planned, you can hang out with mates when you’re not working, and keep on track!
Do you work best in the mornings of afternoons? Do you prefer regular or irregular breaks? Study as you can, not as you can’t. Don’t try and become what you perceive to be the perfect ‘Christian student’ dissertationer! There’s no such being. You are you. It’s easy to become envious of those who seem to ploughing through chapters whilst you’re still setting your font type. Write as you can, not as you can’t. Don’t play the comparison game. How do you work best?
It’s so good to know that the end is in sight. There will come a day when this will be over, the deadline will have passed, and you will have finished with your labours. Your dissertation is a small snapshot of the Christian life. How will you write well as you wait for that final dissertation hand in day? Allow it to lift your eyes up to the glorious day of Christ’s return!
Don’t despise your weakness
You will wake up most mornings not wanting to write let alone know what to write! Don’t despise your weakness. God doesn’t. Admit your need to the Lord and persevere. You are free to enjoy this time!
Finally, and most importantly,
Don’t let your time with God slip
This is so easily done! Be sure to enjoy Him through this time – He is able to focus you and give you the perspective and peace you need when you are bogged down with the details. Don’t give up meeting with your church family, reading about Him and coming to Him in prayer.
As I leave you to write well and live well, allow me to remind you that your dissertation is profoundly significant. It’s not just words on a page, slowing accumulating to the limit you need for hand in. Though, we’re tempted to think like that, aren’t we? They are profoundly significant. You are creatively engaging with the world and mirroring God’s creative activity as you form, fill and cultivate your dissertation. This is a divine privilege and a deeply significant outworking of your humanity.
So then, when you are tempted to flee from your dissertation, remember you are able to flourish through it!