Planning your Dissertation - Part 1: 'Dissertations learn to love them' by Roy Horn

So you’re doing a dissertation that’s really exciting! But hang on, that is also really scary! At the start there looks to be a lot to do. How will you organize the biggest thing you have ever attempted?

The good news is that you can learn to love and enjoy your dissertation! No, I am not joking! Some people really enjoy their dissertations. They get a lot out of them and more importantly they get a good grade!

So why do some people enjoy them and get good grades and some people think they are the worst and most boring nightmare? It is all down to Planning. Dissertations are just like any other project! Hell! That is all they are - a project. Once you are at work you will be juggling several projects at once – so the dissertation should be a piece of cake! Like any project, a dissertation is:

  1. A start point
  2. A list of tasks
  3. An end point

Now it seems a lot easier when you think of it like that!

The good news is that the dissertation is a particularly simple type of project for at least two reasons.

One, it is linear; one task is done, and it leads on to the next. There are very few tasks that need to be done at the same time.

Secondly, you do most, if not all, the tasks yourself so there is no one else to control.

Let me prove my point about them being simple projects! This is a list of the tasks, in order, that dissertations need to do:

  1. Find a topic that interests you and is OK for a dissertation.
  2. Write and get approved by your supervisor 1,000 – 2,000 words of dissertation proposal.
  3. Review the literature 3,000 – 5,000 words – the equivalent of a large essay.
  4. Design the method using the literature as the base and driving force, 1,500 - 3,000 words.
  5. Carry out the method and collect the data.
  6. Analyze the data with either statistics or a qualitative method, 2,000 – 5,000
  7. Write up the conclusions and recommendations, 1,500 – 3,000
  8. Add in all the little bits like abstracts, acknowledgments, get it bound, etc.
  9. You are done!

Put your feet up and await the excellent results.

Now you might notice, when we break things down into tasks the whole looks a lot easier to achieve. That’s good planning! Each of my nine points can be broken down into smaller and more manageable tasks. That’s good planning! If you plan the length of each task you have a project plan. That allows you to finish on time and to arrive at the end as sane as when you started!

Now that is where Tom’s Planner comes in! Tom’s planner is a brilliant and free project planning resource you can learn how to use it in minutes. It is an excellent way to communicate with your tutor. They are not going to approve your dissertation proposal without a time plan!

Here’s an example of Tom’s Planner set up with the nine steps above. You can see that some tasks like reviewing your work can be done alongside other tasks like writing.


The next blog looks at how to generate and express doable research questions. The research question is you setting your own examination paper! So it is important! Get a head start on your dissertation by using this template and start planning now! This schedule will save you lots of time and energy.

*** Roy Horn is an academic at Buckinghamshire New University in the UK and tutors dissertation students. He has written two books one on dissertations and one on skills.

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