- Decide what you want to write about a long time in advance: Don't get to February or March and still have no idea what in the blue hell you are writing about. If you decide on your topic far enough in advance, you can do background reading and hopefully even find your "angle" before you actually start writing it.
- Choose a topic that interests you: This is half the battle. There's no use in writing about something that you find boring or something that you just don't care about. I think in order to be motivated to complete even the most tedious of research tasks (i.e. finding statistics, piecing together appropriate parts of history to create a background for your reader etc.), your topic has to be something that arouses some sort of sentiment within you. This is why I chose the umbrella topic of "feminism" as a starting point, because it is a subject which is relevant and academic enough to warrant writing a paper about it, but which is also something that I enjoy reading about online anyway. Other people on my course chose things like tourism and cinema, because they are things that they themselves are passionate about.
- Make sure you're happy with your tutor: If you aren't, then request a change as soon as possible because they are going to be your guide and first port of call every time you feel like the few thousand words you've just written are utter nonsensical drivel. They will have done all of this before so should be understanding of your situation and should want to help at any opportunity so if you feel otherwise, then request a change because this one piece of work is a large percentage of your final degree classification and you can't afford to be palmed off every time you're in desperate need of some direction.
- Write a preliminary document: What I mean by this is a document which outlines the following: why you want to write about the topic, what interests you, what you may have read in the news recently about it and what questions you have prior to your research and how you will go about answering those. This document will serve as a working introduction for yourself and your tutor (so they have a basic idea of what you will be studying) and will help you to centre your research.
- Read as you write: Don't just do some initial reading and think "wow yes I am now such an expert in this field anything that I write about it will be correct." Until you are a PhD student, you have to back up everything with other people's research and writing and making sure that you read as you write will help you to steer and support your own research. It's also useful because there is nothing worse than having to go through all of the 547329 books you've borrowed from the library to find that one quote that you don't have a source for.
- Allow writer's block to happen: Don't try and force any old crap out if you feel like it's just not happening. My writer's block lasted for a couple of weeks each time and there was nothing I could do about it, so I just got on with other important assignments that needed written and some important knitting that needed knitted. It will pass eventually and the next time you sit down to write you will probably find yourself word-vomiting all over the shop (just make sure it's the good kind of word vomit).
- Don't panic: This is probably (read: definitely) an extremely cliché thing to say where looming deadlines are concerned, but seriously do not panic. There will come a point where you will doubt everything you have written so far and will wonder whether your topic is a worthwhile topic to have chosen at all and whether the moderator will simply fall asleep whilst reading your paper because it is just so fucking boring, but don't let this take you over. Contact your tutor with any doubts you may have (this is why you need a good, reliable person to help you) so that they can reassure you and bring you down from your adrenaline-fueled panic high and encourage you to continue with your research path.
Anyway, I am definitely going off on a tangent and am most likely boring those who will be writing about neither French culture nor feminism in their dissertations next year, but I hope that even the smallest part of this post might have helped at least one person who may be having a premature panic attack about what is to come in the next academic year. Now hand me a Malibu.