The spirit of excellence and attaining a distinction is one we should work towards. I mentioned to some of my babies out there that I would dedicate a post on the key steps I took in writing my masters dissertation. I have had to rush through this but it prevents me from procrastinating considering some of you have already started your research.
After first semester, based on my grades and the subject areas I enjoyed I could pinpoint some areas of strength and began brainstorming topic areas. For a start you could take the approach of expanding on one of your module’s coursework. The most important thing is that it needs to be in an area that you have some passion or genuine interest in because when the going gets tough that is one of the things that will motivate you.
By second semester, I was already certain it would be in the Nigerian Power Sector but I knew based on my course it had to be centred on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Now I went ahead to do some research into possible topics and research questions but I was still unclear. Hence, I decided to book an appointment with a key lecturer who specialised in FDI. To show your passion it is best to take all your ideas and explain the thought process to your lecturer and you will be amazed how their input could give you further clarification. But never go unprepared and never shy away from the opportunity of discussing with your lecturers that is why they have those office hours set up in the first place! Utilise this!!
Once you are clear, it is best to begin to research and draft your proposal. Your proposal is not just important in terms of grading (if this is graded because mine was not) but it is crucial to get feedback from your supervisor. Considering the circumstances at the time of my programme I can honestly say that mine was rushed. However, I took in every single criticism both negative and positive from my supervisor and even booked an appointment to get this feedback face to face. A lot of what she said to me was the founding blocks of my dissertation. I took it in to the point I did not need further feedback on all five chapters till it was complete. However, I always phoned and emailed her to keep her up to date on my progress particularly when I was researching. Now here are some more tips I can give based on my experience:
Lady P’s Tip 1: Look through your school’s guideline on what they expect from you and the prescribed structure.
Lady P’s Tip 2: Go to your library look through past dissertations and projects and see how others approached theirs and pick up on things like good structure/approach. You might also want to have a look at some of your lecturers research papers particularly the ones people claim are ‘too thorough or tough at marking’. The reason behind this is that they are usually the best and tend to have high standards!
Lady P’s Tip 3: Buy books to assist you especially if you have exhausted what you have available in the library. For a start, you want your work to stand out from others so have in mind most people would have used the same books in the library. I personally invested in one book as the thought of 22,000 words seemed daunting but I kept telling myself “YES I CAN”. I got the book below:
(BOOK: ‘Writing Your Dissertation: The bestselling guide to planning, preparing and presenting first-class work’. AUTHORS: Derek Swetnam and Ruth Swetnam).
If your university is like mine you also take a RESEARCH METHODS module with weekly preparation from a recommended textbook + take an exam. Please take this sort of classes seriously, you never know the importance until you are stuck writing one!
Also, my university library had pamphlet style books on writing skills, reading and research which I still make reference to till date!
Lady P’s Tip 4: By this time you can merge your structure and make your ideas clearer. For me, I added a background chapter because my supervisor requested for this (Remember your supervisor is your main customer, you really need to deliver a product he/she will love and if it is an idea they are unsure of you need to be thinking of ways to sell your finishing product in the most thorough way).
Lady P’s Tip 5: At this point it might be late but if you ensured you took good notes in class and did the key readings for each topic for the lectures (of course made notes as well) then your should already have key resources to start from considering they are already in your own words. I personally always referenced fully even when I did the key text reading so I did not have to start looking for the literature or the pages during personal study; coursework/exams and of course dissertation purpose.
Lady P’s Tip 6: When you write a chapter ask a close friend or family to proof read it (if they do not understand what you are talking about in plain english then you definitely need to be re-writing that section or sentence). The idea is that anyone should be able to read your work and understand it. Also, if they are quite academic you might have the added benefit of receiving feedback which will make you re-think and re-evaluate. This is crucial to having a distinction. Do not fret if you do not have access to such resources in your circle. There are individuals and organisations that provide these professional services such as Dr Chinwe Njoku’s (PHD) Christie Edits Service. I mention her not because she is my friend but I have observed that when she proof-reads and gives constructive feedback on research work and reports. Once the individuals apply the feedback to their work ends up being graded as a Distinction! Funny she did not discove this gift when I was doing my Masters years ago *rolls eyes* lol
Lady P’s Tip 7: Do make sure you are critically analysing and making use of key literature and resources in your field of study. If you are like me you can take it a step further by creating your own model of analysis based on pre-existing literature/schools of thought.
Lady P’s Tip 8: Stay away from enemies of progress and people who will just put you in a negative place (you need people like yourself who are focused on the goal of excellence and attaining a distinction). You need your focus. I was locked up in my flat for 5days straight (yes, it took me five days to type up my project from chapter 1 to 5 but that is another testimony in itself for another day). When you are on schedule always reward yourself by chilling a bit with your friends.
Lady P’s Tip 9: This may not work for you typically (I assure you it will just believe) but I put myself in the Heavenly Places by soaking my atmosphere with worship because all I knew was that I was not writing this dissertation on my own. I definitely needed God! This is key because I would sleep sometimes and then get further ideas, wake up and jot it down in my jotter (yes, I slept with a jotter by my pillow). I would advice to always write down any ideas immediately they come to you. It was one of those nights after researching then praying that I got the idea of creating my model of analysis in my dream. Trust me at this point I was panicking and even crying sometimes but thank God for His mercies. You can find the two worship songs I had on repeat throughout below:
Lady P’s Tip 10: It is your work so you are the only one who is accountable. Remember that and do not get hurt or offended when other people’s lives require that they need to divert their attention elsewhere. But always talk about it to your loved ones and close friends, trust me mine were soaked in my dissertation even if some never got to read it lol (facebook, bbm status, twitter, you get the picture lol). Infact it was a close friend who gave me the key resource I ended up analysing! He had access as he was in Nigeria. So, imagine if I was not talking about it, no one would know the relevance of the key texts/literature they have access too.
Lady P’s Tip 11: I cannot over-emphasise this key tip … Please! Please!! Please!!! Constantly save your work on your computer, on an external hard drive and email the latest version to your mailbox as well. I have heard so many sad stories of people saying they lost all their work. If for any reason that happens to you at least you will not be starting from scratch because you have the most recent version saved!
Lady P’s Tip 12: I had a separate word document were I always typed up my full references in preparation for the Bibliography section of my dissertation. I ensured it was in alphabetical order as well. This definitely saved me time and reduced the likelihood of panicking at the end which is usually the case. Once I was done with my final draft of the entire dissertation I read through everything and ensured I ticked of every referenced literature in the body to ensure nothing was missing in the bibliography. I actually had to add one missing one, I had over 200 references but I had to be thorough. Also, I was advised by a friend to always take out my full references that is usually at end and this is particularly essential when sending sections of your work for proof reading. So, no one saw my full references until my dissertation was completed and submitted. It safeguards you from getting your work plagiarised just in case a section of it finds it hands in the wrong hands. Do not forget to use your school or department’s guideline for referencing. It seems like a whole lot but getting a distinction requires attention to details.
After all the love and hard work you put into it you will be sad to see it go and like me you might find yourself reading your own work months after submission (trust me you get attached lol). I was definitely sad to let go by the end of the journey I mean look at the book I had created!
I hope you find these tips based on my experience useful and encouraging. Wishing you the very best as you write yours and get that Distinction! Remember there is light at the end of the tunnel. It will pass. Till next time.
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