Big Study Projects Need Big Plans

Big projects, like research or experiments that you are going to write up as a dissertation or thesis, need long term study skills planning built in and a good deal of flexibility. For example, you might need to consider, among other things:

  • How many people you need to approach, and who they are. How difficult are they likely to be to get hold of and how long it is likely to take.

  • What the best way to contact them is: mail, phone, email or by meeting them in person and depending on which you choose, how long it is going to take.

  • Whether you can easily get hold of information you need or if you have to wait for an inter-library loan.

  • How long it is likely to take to write, test, or have subjects complete a questionnaire or test sheet, and how many you need to be completed to make your results valid.

  • Whether there is a better way of getting the information that you need so that your whole enterprise is less risky.

  • Which information or methods are crucial to the success of your project so that you give them priority, and which you can drop if you have to.

  • How long it will take you to get the results of an experiment and research and how far you can design the format to fit the analysis and so save time.

  • How you can pace your work so that you don’t end up having to do a lot of work at the last minute.

  • How to identify the weak spots in your project and prepare plan B.

In certain types of project you can prepare and write up the general background to your work and the theoretical part while you are waiting for the results, but you must keep a really tight hold on any information you need people to provide you with.

The crucial aspect of long-term planning is managing the sequence in which you expect things to happen. Plan this carefully, so that you are not left twiddling your thumbs. Some writing up can happen before the results are in, so think of the research and write-up as a single process, not two separate ones.

Then you can identify which information has to be in before another part can be produced, like the results precede the analysis, and which parts are mainly dependent on a literature search, and can be written earlier.

Time itself is not the enemy; there is always enough time to do what needs to be done. It’s a questioning of identifying and getting rid of what doesn’t need to be done and finding the best times for what does.

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