If you’re going into your final year of university this September, you might be sick of hearing that you need to start your dissertation reading early. Unfortunately, it’s true: you do need to start as early as possible. Doing your initial primary reading over the summer means that when it’s time to actually get to work, you can jump right in without wasting time. This guide will give you some ideas on how to plan your dissertation reading.
Figure out a general topic
It’s rare that anyone knows exactly what they’re going to argue about in their dissertation until closer to the abstract deadline. Choose a broad topic that you won’t get bored of, and then you can narrow down your argument later with the help of your supervisor. Try not to repeat topics or texts that you studied at A-Level.
Choose your texts
Once you have a general idea of what your topic is going to be, choose your primary texts. For example, if you’re an English Lit student and you want to write about Shakespeare, choose a few of his plays to read. You may not end up using some of the reading that you do, but it will provide a good base to get started with.
Always make sure you check your course guidelines to see how many texts you need. There’s no point in reading ten texts if you only need to write about three. But remember that the dissertation is an independent research project; reading around your topic and looking at it from different angles will show the thought you’ve put into it. Read our English Literature Student’s guide to essay writing for more tips on this.
Make a plan
Nobody wants to spend much time doing academic work over the summer, so make a general plan and try to stick to it. That might be setting aside half an hour at the weekend to focus on your reading, or it might be more depending on how much reading you have to do. Try to do little and often rather than leaving it until the last minute and cramming for hours.
If you don’t stick to your plan, that’s okay! You might have a summer job, placement, or internship to plan around, which can make things quite stressful. Remember to take some time to relax before the academic year begins. If it all goes horribly wrong, you can even try to write your dissertation in a week (but we can’t guarantee the outcome of that.)
While you’re reading, remember to highlight anything that you might want to use later in your dissertation. Always make a note of the page number and the reference. This means you won’t be frantically flipping through all your texts just before the deadline.
It helps to either type up your notes into a Word document or to buy a notebook dedicated to your dissertation. These notes can just be starting points, nothing too intense. Your supervisor will be able to make suggestions on how to refine your research later.
So, now you know how to plan your dissertation reading. Remember, the more reading you do over the summer, the less you’ll have to do during your final year. The final year is stressful enough without adding all that extra reading. Your future self will be thanking you for getting it done early. For a little insight into the coming months, read all about the inevitable stages of handing in your dissertation here.