Tips for a trouble-free dissertation

This is an article by Claire Latham.
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Claire Latham: getting organised

So the dreaded dissertation is taking grip of our lives.

For most there’s approximately five months left until we put our pens down, send the books packing back to the library and slam that dissertation down at the front desk of the admin office.

Before we allow ourselves to be gripped by that feeling of elation, we need to take stock.

Here are some simple steps that will keep us on the top of our dissertation and on the road to success…

1. Keep a Diary

Get into the habit of using a regular diary. You may have always carried one around since the first year of university, but now is the time to maximise its use. Plan each month in advance, get into the mindset of a professional, by May you should be finalising details and fine tuning presentation issues.

2. Set your own deadlines and personal goals

As well as making use of the deadlines set by your university it is wise to set you own deadlines based on you, your dissertation and your skills, save yourself time to proof read and generate questions before a tutorial.

Don't try to read everything

3. Only take out a maximum of five books at any one time

You should not expect your brain to cope with 40 books all at once, it’s impossible. The assumption most make when told to make reference to other scholars is to cram them all in, in one sitting. You should be methodical about how you approach reading, and always work a section at a time.

4. Be selective

Don’t assume that swatting in the library means you must immerse yourself in a mountain of books, far from it. Be choosy about what books you decide to look at; they must be relevant to your area of study and not just a broad media text book on the ‘basics’ of PR.

Don’t just stick to books either, ideally you should be exploring journals and periodicals to expand your knowledge and generate questions which will lead you to further research into your own area of study.

5. Make maximum use of reading strategies

This is not just academic babble to confuse you and send you running a mile from the library, it’s intended to make skim reading a whole book in one sitting a lot more manageable, so find the one that best suited to you and maximise its potential.

6. Always have work prepared before a supervision

Have questions ready to ask to help you move forward. If you don’t ask the questions you will never learn the answers. You have chosen the topic and you should be the expert in your field so it’s you that should lead the conversation in your supervision, this way you will get the most out of it.

7. Keep a running bibliography

Keep adding to it so you are not cramming every book you have ever read around your topic into a document days before deadline.

8. Be mindful of grammar, fonts and consistency

This will be increasingly important as you embark on your career. Don’t panic and have to change lots at the last minute. Finishing touches could make a huge difference to your final grade so make time for the small stuff.

9. Follow professionals on Twitter

Learn to speak their lingo, empathise and engage with what’s going on in the world of PR, ask questions and employ what you learn into your work, this will add depth and body to your dissertation.

10. Subscribe to PR Week
If you’re not already, subscribe to PR Week. This is an invaluable resource that will keep you up to date with the latest news from the PR world and all that’s important in the PR calendar. The publication covers everything related to PR from the economy to technology and even politics.

Ensure you are ‘in the know’ about your topic, being clued up on what’s happening around you will maximise your vocabulary and add scope to what you can bring to a debate.


  1. Great tips, Claire!

    I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to keep a running bibliography – I did not do this and paid for it later when I realised I’d created an unnecessary task that would take hours and hours to complete 🙁

    I think a key thing for some (but hopefully very few students) is to actually visit your dissertation tutor. I had a great tutor who was always available, but some students are negligent and do not make the most of them. They know what dissertations look like and have read hundreds before – see them as much as possible!

  2. Jane Crofts says:

    and the poor ol’ University of Lincoln students have to hand in 24th March 2011 🙁
    I agree with David though – a running bibliography is a great help – use things like Refworks to help and yes…visit your tutor s/he is there to help not beat you up!

  3. Nicola Pittaway says:

    Very insightful Claire!

    I am in the midst of planning my dissertation and speaking from the experience of my undergraduate degree you honestly cannot plan enough!

    Great tip on the running bibliography too- one I am going to make sure I use this time round.

    I also think mindset is a great tool- not to be underestimated. It seems so daunting at the beginning but if you approach the whole experience with acceptance, it becomes a great exercise, and you get so much more from it.

  4. Jeannyfar Gelpcke says:

    Thank you very much Claire!!
    Great tips …

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