Essential tools to help your dissertation planning and writing

Your dissertation is daunting – it is the culmination of your studies and it feels like its what you’ve been working towards your whole university life. We know how much pressure is attached to dissertations, and we want to offer ways to help tackle this. We’ve cherry-picked some of the best tools available to help you with your dissertation research and writing process, to make it as enjoyable as possible. 

To begin: Our top tips for your dissertation

  1. Don’t stress – don’t laugh at this. There is always enough time. This is very easy for us to say, but that’s why we’d advise starting early. Importantly, starting early doesn’t mean you have to know exactly what you’re doing, it means just starting to mull over your ideas and interests. Don’t panic about having a completely plan early on – it’s natural for this to shift and change as your research interests evolve throughout your university journey. 
  2. Keep in continuous conversation with your advisor – they are there to help you. Also, don’t be scared of requesting to change your advisor if you’re unhappy. The earlier you do this the better, so be brave!
  3. Be organised – this will allow you to relax about the time you have for research, data collection and writing. Set yourself deadlines, but allow flexibility in these too depending on your circumstances. Sit down with your advisor and make a timetable together. 
  4. Give yourself credit! Writing a dissertation is a huge undertaking. Don’t panic about having to be so original and edgy in your content, this will come naturally and it’s no good comparing yourself. 
  5. Plan time away from your dissertation – this is really key to being able to take a step back, so make sure you organise space for this. This is completely necessary after your final edit, so that you can read it over with fresh eyes. However, if possible, it’s good to fit in a couple of breaks away from your dissertation as multiple stages earlier in the process.

Our top tools for your dissertation

Google Scholar – this is a no brainer, but make sure you use it to your advantage. You can search for specific papers, and build up your reading list by seeing who has cited the papers most important to your topic/where you have drawn inspiration from. You can also use the search bar to look for keywords or phrases, once you have decided what these are. Google Scholar have also created academic user profiles, and so you can use it see libraries of the work specific academics have published. Again this is useful for drawing comparisons, lineage of ideas, and building up reading lists. 

Google Docs – this is huge for backing up your work. It seems tedious, and backing up is often something we all say ‘we’ll get round to’, but if you’re reading this – do it now! It’ll make you feel organised, and it might be your saving grace. We’ve found Google Docs to be the easiest, simplest and quickest way to do this. 

Acaudio – this app is life changing. It allows you to listen to summaries of academic research, recorded and uploaded by the academic themselves. I can’t think how fantastic this would have been for me when I was at university. You can search for a specific paper, or browse different disciplines/authors. Each summary is split into four sections; background, methods, findings and conclusion. This way, you know instantly if the paper is relevant to you or not. It’s a really refreshing way of discovering academic research, and changes the way and where you’re able to do this. Taking your eyes away from a computer screen, and hearing the academic themselves explain their research is incredible for switching up the way you consume academic work, and offers a new way for building up reading lists. The app also has a feature that allows you to create your own personal library, and generates suggested audio summaries from the ones you have already listened to. 

Docear – described as an ‘Academic Literature Suite’, it really helps pulling your reading list together, and organising your thoughts. It keeps track of articles through a mind map called ‘Literature & Annotations’, which lets you organise work into categories and make connections. It lets you turn these ideas into an outline for a paper, and in this case, a dissertation. You are able to make this outline as detailed as you want. It offers multiple ways to sort literature and ideas according to what works best for you, acting as a way to bring information together in an organised way, see specific links, and see gaps in research. 

Evernote – this is really useful for bringing all your notes into one coherent place. It lets you take notes in various formats, including text, photos, and audio. You can upload files of any format, and it is able to read across all note formats if you need to search for specific ideas/topics. 

Ofttimes – this is really great for tackling distraction, and making yourself take proper breaks which we have drummed home as an absolute must throughout the whole dissertation process. Offtime allows you to block smartphone use, so that you don’t switch from one screen to another in your breaks. It is refreshing and forces you to pick up a routine that is beneficial to your research and writing process.