I’ll admit now (rather guiltily) that I’ve had over a month away from the blog, and it literally feels like forever. Initially I chose to have a break because the deadline for my dissertation was quickly approaching, then I moved back home and decided to continue the break whilst I job hunted. Then other things took over. I’ve had family visit and really got into my running – beat my personal best today (yay!) Now for the important stuff.
Writing a dissertation was easily the most time consuming and stressful part of my whole degree, in fact, of my whole academic experience thus far. I don’t know about other Universities or subjects outside of Literature but this was my experience:
The first step is choosing a topic. Most University tutors warn you to only opt in for a dissertation if there is a topic you are extremely passionate about. Maybe you want the chance to take something you’ve studied before further or maybe you want to work a subject into your degree that isn’t already available. This is good advice: I didn’t follow it. I chose to write a dissertation just because I felt like it would ‘complete’ my degree, for want of a better word. I did it because lots of other people did it and because that’s what I thought third year was meant to be about.
As it turned out I did find a topic, but it wasn’t the topic I initially planned for. I’m a big Angela Carter fan and studying at UEA opened up a world of resources that other students across the country wouldn’t have access to. Then I realise just how many people had written criticism about Carter’s work. I decided there was probably nothing original I could say about The Bloody Chamber and so moved towards a dissertation about the canonical tales. Yes, there’s loads written about them too, but when you consider the number of tales the Grimm Brothers wrote alone, let alone Perrault, Basile and those in The Arabian Nights, I was sure I could find an original angle to explore a unique grouping of canonical tales. I can’t say fairy tales have always been a passion of mine, in truth they’ve only really been on the periphery of my knowledge, but through this process I have discovered a new interest (and thank God for that – imagine setting out to write a research paper on a topic you soon found you hated!)
The next thing to mention is that no one prepares you for the amount of research involved. Okay, I knew there was going to be a lot of reading, being a Literature student I’m pretty used to a hefty reading pile, but wow. I spent pretty much all of my Christmas break and then another 6 weeks at Uni reading critical books cover to cover before putting pen on paper.
When I did start writing I started with Chapter 1. If essay writing has taught me anything over the years it’s to write the Introduction last, else you don’t know what you’re introducing. After I’d completed both my chapters (only a couple of weeks before the deadline) I received feedback that the argument got lost along the way. This took DAYS of rewriting to sort out. Then I had to write a conclusion – and I still to this day don’t really understand what a conclusion is meant to say. It’s a waste of words to repeat yourself but you shouldn’t include any new information. Hmmm.
The next problem was the word count. Who knew that 8,800 words could be so, so short? I believe most undergrad dissertations are 10,000 words and I’m sure that would have been far easier to cope with. Overall I probably had to cut about 1,500-2,000 words and that’s tough. It feels as though you’re deleting good content that could be scoring you marks.
In the last couple of days before the thing was due I must have reread all 8,766 words about 7 times. I’m definitely not a fan of proofreading my own work and this was exhausting.
Then there was the printing fiasco (not a particularly interesting story so I’ll leave that out but it’s safe to say that technology is not my friend.)
On reflection, I’m glad I wrote a dissertation. It’s nice to have a bound piece of work to be proud of. It’s nice to think 3 months’ work can be compiled into a real something, not an essay or snippet of analysis, but what is essentially a chapter of an academic text. Just be warned if you’re thinking of writing one in your third year – there will be break downs, there will crying and sleepless nights – that just goes with the territory.