Writing a Dissertation Part 1: Planning Your Writing Schedule

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By Madeline Chandler, MLitt Film and Television Studies

If you want to send a postgrad into a stressed out frenzy, ask them what their dissertation topic is. I am doing my second masters now and as hard as I tried last year, it wasn’t until my dissertation was finished and bound that I could say, with any authority, what I was writing about. The second time around I have successfully learned some hard truths about the dissertation. I want to help my fellow students know what they are getting into. I will expand on some of these topics in other blogs. I am planning on blogging the process I am going through this summer, keep your eyes out for more about being trapped in dissertation land. And without further ado, here are some tips on how to plan out your summer dissertation schedule:


  • I know that the word summer makes people think of very specific things. I’m an American and grew up at girl scout camp. Summer makes me think of tents, star gazing, campfires, canoeing, hiking, and the fact that my parents never had air conditioning for us. However, now summer makes me think of the Gilchrist Café, booths in the library, and the fact that there’s a really rude 40 book limit on our student cards at the library. Last year, my friends and I lived a really fun summer life in May and June. In fact, we often ask ourselves WHAT DID WE DO LAST MAY? We went to beer gardens a lot, but I’m not sure. However, this year, I committed to working on my dissertation earlier in the summer. From the start, it may seem like four months is a lot, but it really isn’t. I sat and thought about how I wanted my days to look. I talked to some friends and we agreed on a schedule. I wake up every week day morning and meet a friend at 8:30. We go to the gym for a couple hours and then I go to a café and start working. We usually work until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. If we’re getting super chatty and have short attentions spans, we give in and leave. Last summer we felt like we weren’t getting anything done if we left the library before 10 PM. This year I am being honest with myself about how I work. Last year I would be at the library for 12 hours and maybe work for 2 of those hours. If you need to go in the middle of the day to go on a walk or read a book, do it. Take an hour break, it’s okay. Now, I get a lot more done and still have time to have me time at night.
  • Think about what you want to do during the summer. We had a dissertation session with our teachers during the year and they gave us a calendar of the four months we would be working once we got our supervisors assigned. IT IS THE MOST AMAZING IDEA EVER. I sat down and figured out when my partner was going to visit, when I needed to go to Norway to visit my dad, and any concerts I want to attend. Now I know how many words I need to write every day. I know that I want to try and take weekends off and I was able to schedule around that. It showed me that while four months is a lot of time, the amount of days I actually had to work was not equal to four months. It has made a huge difference in my productivity levels and it has made planning due dates with my supervisor way easier.
  • BE HONEST WITH YOUR SUPERVISOR ABOUT YOUR SCHEDULE. I am actually going to say this one more time. BE HONEST WITH YOUR SUPERVISOR ABOUT YOUR SCHEDULE. Keeping things secret won’t be helpful for anyone. If you have a crazy week ahead of you and your supervisor is asking you to have 3,000 words to them by Monday and you only actually have two days to work on it, tell them that. Ask them if you can get it to them by Wednesday instead. Sending them a desperate email the night before helps nobody. And your supervisor only has so much time. They don’t want to see your half-assed attempts and it’s unhelpful to give them drafts that you know aren’t your best work. Because then you aren’t getting constructive criticism, you’re getting criticism on something you’re planning on rewriting anyways. Don’t waste your time and your supervisor’s time. Be realistic and be honest, it will make the outcome of your dissertation much better. Also, don’t be flaky on your supervisor. Commit to deadlines and meetings.
  • Every Sunday night, go through and plan out your week. Think about when you can actually work on things, what you actually have to work on. Sit down and think about how many words you have each day. Make sure you think about what you have going on, what you have to do, and put the to-do list on your laptop or in your weekly planner. This way you can keep yourself on top of things and you won’t let things slip between the cracks.
  • Know when to stop doing your work. I like to switch between writing blogs and writing my dissertation. Or else I’ll work on my intro and then work on my lit review for a little. That way I’m not getting fatigued. I also try to let myself work for about an hour straight and then take a ten minute break. It isn’t a contest. Take care of yourself. Also, know when to stop doing research and just sit down and write. And let yourself finish a section, don’t feel dread that you don’t have enough. If you feel done, see what your supervisor says. Or leave it for a day or two and then come back to it. Allow yourself some freedom and some sanity.


Dissertations are hard work. Sometimes it seems like you have all the time in the world, or no time at all. Taking a day, or an hour, to plan your summer or your week will help you alleviate so much stress. It will help your relationship with your supervisor and it will help you feel like you’re on top of things.

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