You probably heard stories about people who managed to complete their bachelor’s or master’s thesis in less than a month - some even claim to take less than two weeks. Such stories undermine the complexity of this important assignment. Don’t fall into this trap -  instead, plan to write your dissertation months in advance. Impossible? 

This blog post illustrates the ideal timeline for your dissertation process to help you consider all important milestones along the way.

~ 1.5 years before the submission date

Pick a topic

Most students are required to pick a topic for their bachelor/master’s dissertation one year before their graduation. One of the most important decisions is therefore the first to make. And without a good topic, the writing process can become an absolute nightmare.

But what is a good dissertation topic? First, it should reflect your professional interests, knowledge and skills gained in your university program. Ideally, it also considers recent problems or theories discussed in your research field. Factors such as the uniqueness of your topic should be taken into account as well. Moreover, contacting faculty members as early as possible increases the chances that they might offer to become your dissertation advisors. 

As you can see, there are a lot of aspects to take into account before starting your writing. Therefore, beginning 1.5 years before the deadline gives you a headstart. It allows you to review the subjects and content you covered so far and pick a topic you wish to investigate further.

~ 1 year before the submission date

Begin collecting bibliography & consult your advisor

The final year is often packed with exams, revision sessions and essays. The last thing on your mind is to proactively research and collect sufficient bibliography for your dissertation. That’s why it’s important to start working through your literature at the very beginning of that year. Ideally, your key literature references should be defined and understood before you start the actual writing process. This will allow you to structure the general outline, purpose and research question of your dissertation. As a result, the writing process won’t feel as scary or unfamiliar as it would otherwise.

Again, reach out to your advisor as soon as possible. They are most likely experts in the area of your research. They can further help you specify your topic, find your references, and even evaluate your brilliant ideas. It’s worth visiting them before the very start of your research, ideally in person (thanks, COVID). It’s much easier to correct any gaps or issues at the beginning of your research process, rather than by the end of it.

~ 6 months before the deadline

Conduct a survey (if applicable)

For some dissertations, research through a literature review is sufficient. But for other cases, you might be required to conduct a survey and base your research on its outcome. Marketing, Psychology or Business are degrees that most often require an opinion poll - another obstacle on a way to completing your dissertation.

Studies show that 80% of the responses come through within the first week of sharing your survey. But don’t be fooled - this does not mean you should create your questionnaire last minute.

So, if you need to conduct a survey for your dissertation, think about the amount of time needed to reach the required amount of participants. You might need to use your time, creativity and resources to attract participants. Offering money or vouchers are the most obvious choice. 

Try to anticipate how many participants you can expect by which channel. Such channels can include Facebook groups or survey platforms. This would mean you require different places to share your survey, to heighten your chances for enough responses.

Reasonably, you should create and share your survey half a year before your deadline, giving yourself enough time to conduct a detailed analysis of their responses afterwards. 

~ 3-4 months before the deadline

It’s time to start writing! (if you haven’t done so already)

Finally, now comes the moment you’ve been dreading - the start of writing your dissertation. This timeframe is for dissertations of the length of 10.000 - 25.000 words (better start even earlier for longer projects like a PhD thesis!).

Assuming you write 500 words on a day-to-day basis, you should complete your 10.000-word thesis in 20 days, and a 20.000-word thesis - in 40 days. But this is a very optimistic scenario, in which you have time and willingness to write every single day - a rather unlikely situation.

To make sure that you don’t bite off more than you can chew, give yourself at least 2 months for a short dissertation and 3 months for a longer one. Get into a habit of writing a certain amount of words each day or every second day. Give yourself reading days and days off - but only one at a time. Assuming you prepared the broader structure and your literature references in advance, the actual writing shouldn’t be too stressful or time-consuming. Hopefully, you will stay on track and avoid spending the last few nights trying everything awkwardly together.

~ 2 weeks before the deadline

Final touches

It’s good to leave some time between finishing and submitting your dissertation - I would ballpark around two weeks. This will help you to spot any poor phrasing and faulty logic left.

Reading through your own writing millions of times however does not guarantee a clear structure, perfect spelling, and spotless grammar. To work through small nuances that can make the difference between good and great, you need the help of another person. If you have an eloquent friend who would be willing to check your work, ask them for that favor. Alternatively, you can also use professional services - platforms such as Scribbr or Thesis-Pilot provide excellent in-depth feedback and edits.

At last, make sure your work is formatted according to your advisor’s guidelines. Be very diligent with the right quotation and reference methods.

Hurrah! You finished your dissertation!

And… that’s it! Seems like you are finally ready to hand in your work!

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