A dissertation requires solid organisational skills and effective time management in order achieve a high standard, so we’ve put together a list of some of the best free tools available to make the planning stages of your project easier.
Choosing a Topic
Before you even get near your research proposal , you need to have a topic in mind. Mind mapping is a great way to organise and visualise your early ideas when developing your dissertation topic.
Mind42.com 's mind mapping tool allows you to collaborate with colleagues online, which could be useful for sharing with peers or your project supervisor.
Mindmeister.com also features collaboration and boasts mobile access with it’s free iPhone app, whilst Bubbl.us focuses on speed with it's handy keyboard shortcuts .
Evernote provides tools for your computer, mobile device, or web browser which capture your ideas, notes, and inspiration wherever you are. This free toolset lets users save text notes, web pages, photos, and screenshots with a comprehensive search feature so that you can retrieve your ideas quickly and easily.
Reading and Research
Using Google Scholar you can search a large index of scholarly articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions. To get the most out this research tool check out Google’s guide to Advanced Scholar Searches .
Compiling a bibliography in the required format can be a time consuming task at the end of a dissertation, especially if you haven't kept track whilst writing . Fortunately there are free tools available which help you to store your citations from the beginning of your project and retrieve them in a number of commonly use formats.
Bibdesk is an Open Source Mac app with bibliography management and search features, as well as some useful import and export capabilities.
Alternatively, you could use Zotero 's browser extension for Firefox which can automatically sync your data with multiple computers. It also features browsing for mobile devices, which means you can access your data in away from your computer.
For Windows users, BiblioExpress offers a simple reference manager that can format citations in common styles such as ACS, APA, and MLA.
Planning your time
Time management is crucial in a large project such as a dissertation. It may be useful to plan backwards from your deadline, allowing extra time where necessary for unforeseen delays and revisions.
Gantt charts are a very visual way to allocate time to your dissertation tasks and there are many free tools to help you build your own. This is especially great if you're accommodating some non-work time too . Google Docs has a Gadget in it’s spreadsheet feature which creates Gantt charts for free. Similarly, if you already own Microsoft Excel you can build Gantt charts with it too.
Tomsplanner is a dedicated web-based Gantt generator which is free for personal use, and Team Gantt 's free trial offers an alternative with a slick interface.
If you’re not keen on Gantt charts you could simply plan your project in a standard calendar.
Google Calendars is web based meaning you can access it from any computer and most mobile devices. You could also share your calendar with your supervisor if you think you're likely to miss deadlines. Microsoft Outlook’s calendar and iCalendar on Mac could also be useful planning tools.
If you need to organise your dissertation workload on a shorter time scale, TeuxDeux 's well designed interface helps you to plan your tasks on a weekly basis. There’s also a paid iPhone app for task management on the go.
HabitRPG is an excellent option for those of you who need a bit of positive reinforcement alongside your planning.
If a week is still too much to think about, check out Todokyo which takes simplicity to the next level with a clean-looking daily list.
If you find yourself constantly distracted by the lures of email and social networking, you could try Freedom’s free trial . This Mac app blocks your web connection for up to 3 hours at a time, leaving you to concentrate on your dissertation. Alternatively you can block specific websites from Firefox using Leechblock , and Google Chrome users can do the same with StayFocusd .
If you'd like to know more about dissertations and research projects, check out the following articles: Planning A Good Research Project How To Write A Thesis or Dissertation Publishing Your Thesis or Dissertation Image credit: @boetter
It's probably the most important piece of research and writing you will undertake during your undergraduate career – so the thought of writing your dissertation can be daunting. Starting out with a robust plan will focus your research, use your time efficiently and keep the task manageable.
Select your field of interest
First things first: what topics have you most enjoyed on your course? Investigating a subject you genuinely enjoy will make dissertation research less overwhelming.
Do as much preliminary reading around the subject area as you can to make sure there is plenty of literature out there to support your initial ideas.
Take a good look at the most recent writings in your areas of interest. They will help you to identify the best angle to take and could highlight the gaps in current inquiry that you can address.
Choose an approach and a title
What will your line of inquiry be? You may, for example, wish to extend a study that has already been carried out, apply a theory to some practical experience and critique how successful it is, or closely analyse an idea or object using a particular approach.
Your approach will inform your title. The title should clearly present the line of inquiry your dissertation will take. If you're unsure, make up a working title. You could even compose a few different titles each with a slightly different emphasis, and keep them all in mind as you do your research.
Remember to run your title by your dissertation tutor. They will be able to give you advice, help you refine any grey areas and suggest reading for research.
Make an outline plan
The general essay structure is as follows:
• Introduction – say what you are going to say
• Main body – say it
• Conclusion – say what you've said
You can break down each of these three areas further. In the introduction, your subheadings could include:
• What you are examining
• How are you going to do it (concepts/theories/studies)
The main body might break down into:
• Definitions, setting out areas of research, anticipating problems
• Main argument or theme
• Alternative argument or theme
And your conclusion would include:
• Summary of your findings
• Is there a solution?
• What remains unresolved?
• What future research could illuminate the issue further?
Start a list of sources
When you're planning your sections, include the full names of books and page numbers wherever you can to help you retrieve information quickly as you write your draft. It is also useful to begin to compile you bibliography during the planning stage.
Review and adjust your plan as you go
Even the best laid plans go astray – so don't worry! As you read and research around your key areas, the structure and direction of your initial plan may shift. This is the beauty of having a plan. As a potential new focus arises, you can adjust your title, section headings and content notes to encompass your new ideas before your draft writing begins. A good plan means you will not lose focus on the end result.
• Next in this three-part series: How to write your dissertation.
Thanks to Goldsmiths University for supplying this content.