The 10 phases of writing a masters dissertation

The 10 phases of writing a masters dissertation

The feelings we all go through while trying to complete a final dissertation.

If you’ve been through a masters degree, chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about. The emotional rollercoaster that is dissertation writing is rarely an entertaining ride. Going through mountains of literature, months of planning, weeks upon weeks of writing — all to prove that you’ve been paying the slightest bit of attention over the course of your degree. And whilst most rollercoasters are over in less than a minute, a dissertation can drag on for what seems like an eternity. Perhaps that’s why when it’s over you feel so incomplete and directionless. Not because you miss the process, but rather because the process took every part of your soul and left you a mere shell of your former self.

So just find solace in the fact that when you’re going through the following 10 phases, you’re not alone:

1. Optimism


You’re starting your degree! The excitement of being back in the academic world can only be matched by the prospect of being able to display your unrivalled knowledge in the form of a weighty dissertation in the distant future. You even know your topic already! (Sure ya do). The world is yours to conquer!

2. Complacency/Procrastination


You’ve blissfully cruised through the first half of your degree before realising you should’ve at least confirmed a dissertation topic by now. But not to worry, you’ve still got the ENTIRE summer to figure it all out. You DEFINITELY have time for a few weeks of vacation (where you might even get some work done!)

3. Anxiety


You’ve read so much and written so little, and you’re beginning to feel trapped by an existential crisis. ‘Stressed out’ doesn’t even begin to describe the emotions you’re currently feeling. On top of that, you still have quantitative data to analyse and contextualise within a theoretical framework. Panic sets in and the world around you begins to come crashing down.

4. Denial


2 months out — that’s plenty of time, right? Ignore the fact you haven’t touched your sources in a week and that data is still waiting to be manipulated. Going to the pub seems like a much better use of your time.

5. Confusion


What’s the required wordcount? Do you need a literature review? Which referencing method should you use? Why has your dissertation supervisor left the country during your time of greatest need? Many questions, few answers. Time is wasted and alcohol is consumed… “What’s my topic again?”

6. Resentment


Is a masters degree even necessary? Do you really need to write this to be happy and successful? What is the point of it all? These more macro-level questions signify a growing anger and resentment toward the entire structural process of repression that has taken control of every waking (and sleeping) moment of your life. “Don’t you dare ask how I’m getting on with it.”

7. Resignation

Student falls asleep in library

You’ve wasted so much time, and it’s far too late to turn this doomed vessel around now. Also you only have 12 hours to until the submission deadline. Just print what you have and move on with your life.

8. Joy


It’s finally done! You really don’t care how it got done or what you wrote – you’re just glad the entire ordeal has ended. For the next week you drown your emotionally ravaged soul in liquor and poor decisions.

9. Emptiness


You can’t move on with your life because you’re in stuck in a purgatory of knowing you submitted something but not knowing if it was utter nonsense. Was your research completely insignificant? Will it be good enough to get published? Nothing else matters but finding out the answers to these questions. Unfortunately you won’t know for at least a month due to the absurd bureaucracy of the grading process, so in the meantime – Ryan Gosling memes.

10. Acceptance/Moving on


You’ve received your results and apparently your dissertation was good enough – so now what? Do you get a ‘real’ job? Do you move back in with your parents? Do you *gasp* go on to study for a PhD because the real world is a scary place and university is like living in Neverland? The answer is: I don’t have the answer. It’s been over a month since I submitted my dissertation and I still don’t know which way is up.

So for anyone currently reading this as a form of procrastination while completing your own dissertation, just know that you are not alone. For those who’ve successfully completed a masters dissertation and moved on, let this serve as reminder to be content with the boring monotony of your professional adult life. And for those lucky souls who’ve not yet had to endure such an experience, let this serve as fair warning — don’t do it. Or if you do, buckle up for the ride.


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