student life

Dissertation: What to do when you’re in panic mode

I am half way through my first term into my final year at university. And the topic of Dissertation happens to be looming in a dark cloud above my head. By week three I was told I should already be thinking about my dissertation topic and started some key reading. I just sort of buried my head in the sand and thought I would deal with that bridge when I come to it. After all, I don’t actually have to start my research until after Christmas.

After we all left the lecture theatre, there was a sudden frenzy about choice of topic. QUICK. What am I interested in? What am I truly passionate about? What were my favourite modules from my course? Am I willing to write about a specific topic mentioned in them? Do I have to relate my dissertation to my degree?

Decided already?

Soon people from my course had suddenly chosen their topic. Themes such as online consumer behaviour, blogging, social media and gender equality. I was starting to panic. And by panic I mean, lying awake at night trying to think of a topic.

So, instead of burying my head in the sand I decided to tackle it head on. Come at me library! I had a look at dissertations previous students had written who were once on my course. To be honest, not one of them inspired me. I also had a quick review of previous modules I had studied. Yes there were modules I did enjoy, but nothing I would expand on.

So there it was, a blank page with the word ‘dissertation’ staring at me. To get the ball rolling, I wrote down a few topics I am interested in and would be able to write a great deal about. Those being feminism, brand management and lobbying. Off to a good start! Although, I soon realised those topics are so broad and I would need to be specific.

The news

Thinking about current affairs, I wrote down a list of news stories that had caught my attention in the past year or so. During my placement year, I worked in a newsroom so my initial thoughts were the refugee crisis, ISIS and the 2015 election.

I am particularly interested in the way the news media framed the 2015 election and how the Tory victory was unexpected. So I started listing off key words related to the election: partisan press, newspaper endorsement, media framing, Jeremy Corbyn.

I am not a politics student, but I do have a love for news. The 2015 election was an interesting one because it seemed as if the national newspapers had a big impact on the outcome. I am now basing my dissertation on the personalisation of politics.

I am probably mad for choosing this topic as my political knowledge isn’t fantastic, but it is a topic I am becoming more and more interested in after reading about it in more depth.

My advice

So, here is my advice on how to tackle your dissertation topic when you’re in panic mode:

1. Although your dissertation doesn’t have to be linked to your degree title, review your previous modules over the years. There may be specific areas within those modules you had a good understanding of or were interested in at the time.

2. Write down a list of themes you would be interested in or feel you could really talk about in great detail. Even if it’s football, Disney princesses, online trolling or Game of Thrones.

3. Have a look at the news. What topics are on the news agenda? Have any particular stories of issues caught your attention?

4. Your lecturers will hint on dissertation topics, so listen out.

5. My parents weren’t much help, but perhaps ask your parents or older siblings for topic advice? They’ll probably be glad to help.

6. Try talking about dissertation topics with your peers or housemates. The thought panicked me at the time as my housemates both knew exactly what they wanted to do and had even written their research question. I hadn’t even chosen mine by that point. But I am glad I did as I was able to identify where they gathered their sources from and understand their thought processes.

7. At my university, we were encouraged to create a poster to get us thinking about methodology, key areas of literature and theory related to our dissertation topic.

8. If you already have a topic in mind, that is amazing! Start reading previous dissertations related to your topic or online journals. You can just read the introduction or conclusion to see if it’s relevant to your topic. You will be able to see whether there is a gap in the research that you could fill.

9. Perhaps email one of your lecturers who you feel you have bonded well with to give you guidance. Look at what specific areas they specialise in and see if they are relevant to your topic choice. They may even enlighten you with key scholars and readings. 

10. There might come a time where you freak out and decide to change your topic or research question. This is normal. I have done this about three or four times. 

11. Good luck! You are not on your own. 

Have you got a top dissertation tip? Let us know in the comments!