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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


The Year Abroad Dissertation pitfalls

Most problems can be avoided by planning ahead and communicating regularly with your supervisor over the year. Here are some common pitfalls and how to avoid them, or how to deal with issues that arise:

  • Time management problems

The most common error is to leave everything too late. Your dissertation will be significantly improved by a process of editing and reworking, so you should plan to go through several drafting stages. If you work right up to the deadline for submission in October, you run the risk of jeopardizing your work for your other Part II papers and getting behind right at the start of this very important year. Create a timetable for yourself after checking the suggested ones in the Producing a work schedule section.

  • Difficulties in accessing material

If you are on your Year Abroad, it is quite common to find that the material available to you is limited. Plan ahead to avoid this problem: do as much research, photocopying and note-taking as you can before you leave Cambridge or the UK. The MML Faculty Library runs an annual session on how to access electronic resources on your Year Abroad, and Library staff members are also happy to help over email with specific advice on libraries in the country in which you are based. Access help from the Library here.

  • Becoming overwhelmed by the amount of material

It is not unusual to reach a point where you feel daunted or even paralysed by the volume of material you have gathered, and you have no idea how to begin writing. Following the advice given in the Planning your Dissertation section should help you: start working through your notes methodically, tracing links between different ideas and deciding how you might ‘categorize’ individual points within larger ones. Remember that you do not need to read everything that has ever been published on the subject, and that you do not need to know exactly where you are going before you start writing.

  • Feeling that you have nothing new or interesting to contribute

Original ideas rarely jump out of a magician’s hat: they will develop through the slow and careful process of writing, thinking, and rewriting. Check the advice given in the section on Producing original work.

  • Missing references

Many students spend the last few days frantically chasing missing references – avoid this by making sure you note down all the publication details and page numbers of every book or article meticulously, right from the beginning of your research. Ideally, you should use an online referencing tool such as Endnote, Mandeley or Zotero (free to download). This will be extremely helpful to you in recording and formatting your references and your bibliography, and you will be able to access the records from anywhere in the world. See the section on Reading for your Dissertation for a checklist of what to record when you are taking notes from a book, article, website, etc.