Dissertation troubles: digital solutions?


As with everything these days, where there’s a need, there’s an app. The same applies for managing your dissertation; let’s take a look at what’s on offer… by Karina Beck

I’m a believer that finding the apps or software packages which suit your style of working is a matter of personal preference, so rather than give you low down of my favourite tools, I thought I’d introduce a few common dissertation woes, and the types of tools which might just solve them…

My notes are a mess

“I can’t keep track of all my scribbles, pdf articles, and lecture notes –there’s too many, in so many different folders.”

There are lots of tools which aim to solve such issues, usually by allowing you to do one or many of the following:

  • Easily organise and search your notes using tags and keywords
  • Collect your notes in a variety of formats (photos, pdfs, webpages, typed notes, emails)
  • Store notes in the cloud and access them anywhere you have internet and a suitable device

Organise your information well, and tracking down that particular thing you know you wrote/read/heard somewhere 2 weeks ago could be that much easier.

Tools to consider:

Evernote, OneNote, Google Drive, Diigo…

I’m not sure I’m referencing correctly

“I’ve got some books and websites I need to reference, but I’m getting confused about formatting them – where does the comma go again? And do I need to include the third author or just et al.?”

Apps and tools promising to solve these problems come in various guises, most commonly:

  • Reference generators – which format the reference details you’ve entered (either manually or from a book’s bar code or URL) into a particular style
  • Reference checkers – which look through your references for mistakes
  • Style guides – support and guidance on a particular style of referencing

I must say – you need to be cautious with referencing apps; make sure you proofread the results, and check that they’re formatting references in the way that’s required for your department. If you’re struggling to understand referencing, I’d still recommend you look to the Library or someone in your department for further help and clarification before you rely on an app.

Tools to consider:

MasterCite, ReCite, RefMe, EasyBib…

Referencing is taking me forever

“My dissertation is getting pretty big – I’ve got so many sources, all in different places, writing them all out in the right format is going to take me ages!”

Reference management tools will aim to save the day here, namely by helping you to:

  • collect all your reference details in one place, importing them from different sources, including library catalogues and journal databases
  • automatically format citations and bibliographies to the correct referencing style within your document

Keep track of your sources, and referencing becomes a doddle less of a headache.

Tools to consider:

Endnote Online, Mendeley, Zotero…

I keep losing track/focus

“I can’t keep all the things I need to do in my head! And when I do try to get on with something, I can’t concentrate…”

Finding the right tool to solve this problem may come down to working out the cause of it, as there are apps and software which aim to support you in:

  • Reducing distractions – by blocking apps, telling you how much time you’re wasting on Facebook, or tidying up unwanted ads and notifications when reading on the web.
  • Managing your time – either by organising your tasks and ‘to-dos’, or by providing you with deadlines and timers for your work.

Tools to consider:

Evernote clearly, Remember the milk, Trello, RescueTime…

There are a great many tools out there to try; do you have a particular favourite we should know about? Have apps changed your approach to dissertation management? Let us know!


Image: Keyboard by Jeroen Bennink CC-BY 2.0


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