How long in total?

A simple rule of thumb is that the dissertation should take up time proportionate to the amount of marks allocated to it. So if you do your dissertation in your final year, and it makes up 20% of that year, you should spend a fifth of your time on it.

This is not a hard and fast rule, but the further you deviate from it, the more likely that you are spending too long, or not enough, on it.

And at the start, be clear what a fifth of your time actually means. A typical undergraduate year takes 9 months. So that means that you should spend just under two months – or seven weeks – doing your dissertation. This is a lot, so it makes sense to 1) spread it out; and 2) work on it during the holidays as well, when you’re not distracted by lectures/going out (or other things).

When and What?

Two days before deadline: Print off dissertation (bind if necessary?)
One week before the deadline: Read through for final time. Edit last typos.
End of Easter holidays: Read-through again. Make any last changes to the substance of the text.
Start of Easter holidays: Edit first draft
Two weeks before Easter holidays: Finish first draft
Second Term/Semester: Do econometrics/derive model/write (complete) first draft
End of Christmas holidays: Finish collecting data
Christmas: Finish literature review
First Term/Semester: Identify and read relevant academic papers
End of Summer Holidays: Settle on a title/topic
Summer Holiday: Begin reading academic papers in different areas for ideas/inspiration

As with all timetables, this will vary as your dissertation develops. For example, you might want to edit your literature review after you have finished your empirical work to focus on a different aspect of the literature. The key thing is that you have some sort of timetable, and you make some effort to stick to it.

Spreading your dissertation over the year is not only good because it forces you to do it. It also allows you to think about things over a long period of time, and so you’ll be able to go back and correct things much more readily later.

Time Management and Discipline

Time and again, students persist on leaving work until the last minute. Unlike any old essay, this one counts towards your final degree. For quite a lot of it, usually.

It is common for students to underestimate how long it takes to research, develop and write a good dissertation (a long time). If you leave it to the last minute, it invariably means that you won’t spend enough time on it. By making and sticking to a timetable, you can make sure that it is completed well in advance of the deadline.

Of course, an independent research project will have many twists and turns, and the only way to find out how long something takes is to do it. The aim of your project may even shift if you find an interesting piece of data (or, more likely, can’t find any data at all) or if you have a brainwave halfway through. But it is still a good idea to have a rough idea of where you are going.

The precise nature of the timetable is up to you and depends upon your lecture load over the year and what exactly you plan to do in your dissertation.

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