Having to carry out a research project/dissertation is something that all students will come across at some point during their studies, as it forms an essential component of many degree programmes. Being able to complete a dissertation of high standard is not only imperative for those who wish to pursue academic careers, it is also advantageous for those following other career paths such as industry, as the wide range of skills required for carrying out a good research project can be applied to many other aspects of work.
Examples of skills developed through working on an independent research project:
- Independent/autonomous study
- Critical thinking
- Time management
- Data collection and analysis
- Ability to work under pressure
- Meeting deadlines
- Use of specialist programs and equipment
After spending months working on my dissertation and finally completing my Master's degree, I wanted to make a post highlighting important tips for carrying out a successful dissertation while everything is still fresh in my mind.
1. Start your literature review first
Always start a project by searching for and reading relevant literature. This sounds obvious, but so many people seem to dive into a project and start making aims and hypotheses and collecting data before they know what has already been done. Start reviewing the literature surrounding your study first so you have an idea of what information is already out there, what works, what doesn't work, and whether there are any gaps in the knowledge that your project can potentially fill.
2. Record everything
Keep a notebook dedicated to your project, and use it to record everything. EVERYTHING. How much time you have spent on certain tasks, lists of what you need to do, the dates and times of data collection, name and make of equipment used, potential factors that may affect your results etc. This way when you come to writing up the methodology of your thesis/dissertation, most of the work has already been done for you.
3. Get organized
Linked to point number 2, getting organized is essential to carrying out a good project. If you manage your time wisely, you won't have to rush through important sections of your project, meaning your grades will be better. Using a planner or even simple to-do lists will go a long way!
4. Reference as you go
So many students tend to leave the references and citations for last as they think this will save time when writing up, when actually this just leads to more time wasted later on trying to remember who you're meant to be citing and which paper to include in the bibliography. It's always better to reference as you go along! Also, there are so many programs that can help you do this (See Mendeley, EndNote, etc).
5. Think about the statistics before you start
It is important to think about what data you'll be collecting and which statistical analyses you should use before you start data collection. Although statistics put chills down the spine of every student, figuring out what statistics you'll need to do first will save a lot of time (and tears) when you come to start your analyses.
6. Refer to the guidelines!
Lastly, regularly check your project guidelines to ensure you're fulfilling the essential criteria needed to get the grades you want! There's nothing worse than putting all that time into a project only to find that you were penalized because you didn't use the reference style that was asked for.
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