8 Essential Apps For Writing Your Dissertation

Completing your dissertation or thesis means a lot of time, effort and hard work. There’s no shortcut on the road to dissertation success, but as with anything, there are ways to optimise the process and work smarter.

In this post, I’ll share with you a handful of apps, software and services that will make your life a little easier during dissertation time.

1 – Grammarly Premium

Let’s face it – the spell checker in Microsoft Word just plain sucks. False positives and negatives abound, missed errors, ridiculous suggestions – you’re often better off spell checking yourself. Thankfully, you don’t need to do that, thanks to Grammarly.

Grammarly is an essential tool when you're writing your dissertation or thesis.

Grammarly is much more than just a spelling and grammar checker – it picks up much more complex issues such as:

  • Inconsistent writing style and unclear sentence structure
  • Overuse of specific works and ineffective vocabulary
  • Impoliteness and insensitive or non-inclusive language
  • Inappropriate tone or formality level
  • Plagiarism

Simply put, Grammarly is the closest thing you’ll get to having a real-time editor and proof-reader looking at your work. Plus, the plagiarism checking functionality is a huge bonus in the context of writing a dissertation or thesis. Grammarly works in Word, Google Docs and Chrome, so its extremely versatile.

Note that there is a free version, but this is very limited (quite similar to Word, and no plagiarism checker), so you’ll need to go for Grammarly Premium. Fortunately, its less than $12/month – well worth it!

2 – Evernote & Penultimate

No doubt, you’ll be taking an endless stream of notes throughout the research process. Some will be written notes, some will be photos, some might even be audio recordings. You’ll need a way to stay on top of it all and keep things organised. Enter Evernote.

Evernote helps keep all your dissertation notes in one place.

Evernote is the ultimate note-taking app, as it allows you to take notes in various formats, including text (typed and handwritten), photos (snap that workshop slide) and audio (record that interview). You can also attach files of any format (for example, an Excel data set), so absolutely everything stays in one place. The text in any note is fully searchable, and all data is synchronised across your phone, laptop, desktop and tablet.

3 – Dragon Anywhere

Writing up a good dissertation or thesis requires a lot of, well, writing. Spending hours upon hours hunched over a keyboard can be really draining (and potentially physically harmful). Imagine you could just speak instead of type. Well, now you can, thanks to Dragon Anywhere.

Dragon Anywhere is a great tool for writing your dissertation without typing.

Dragon Anywhere is an app that allows you to simply speak into your smartphone or tablet and it converts that audio into text format. This means you can get your thinking on to paper faster than you usually would and minimise the risk of losing your train of thought. It’s also great for getting work done while you’re sitting in traffic, and it can double as a transcribing aid for your interviews.

4 – Dropbox

The number of times I’ve seen students lose hours/days/weeks’ worth of hard work (and even miss the submission deadline) due to corrupted flash drives or hard drives, coffee-soaked laptops, or stolen computers is truly saddening. If you’re not using cloud storage to save your work, you’re running a major risk – and it’s totally unnecessary.

Saving your dissertation in the cloud is essential.

If you take only ONE thing from this post, let it be this point. Go sign up for any of the following cloud services (most offer a free version) and save your work there:

Not only will this ensure your work is always safely stored (remember to hit the Save button, though!), it will make working on multiple devices easier, as your files will be automatically synchronised. No need to have a million versions between your desktop, laptop, tablet, etc. Everything stays in one place. Safe, secure, happy files.

5 – Offtime

Research and writing require laser sharp focus – distraction is the number one enemy of progress. The biggest culprit in the war against distraction is probably in your hand or pocket right now. Thankfully, Offtime helps you block out smartphone distraction and regain control over your time.

Offtime allows you to restrict your phone’s functionality for a set amount of time, whilst still maintaining certain functionality. For example, allowing only calls from certain people. This enables you to disconnect without worrying about emergency situations. Also, the countdown timer acts as a great reminder to stay focused and finish the time period you’ve set.

6 – Mendeley

Correctly formatted citations and references are essential to a polished dissertation or thesis. Even the highest quality piece of research will lose credibility (and marks) if the referencing is not on point. Its such a shame to see students lose marks on this, as its such an easy thing to get right with reference management software like Mendeley.

Mendeley is a free reference management software that takes care of all your citations and references in Word. Simply load up your journal articles in Mendeley and then just drop in your citations as you write up in Word. Mendeley then automatically builds your reference list according to whichever format you choose (e.g. Harvard, APA, etc). Sure, there are many similar pieces of software out there, but personally I find Mendeley to be the most feature-rich. See the video above for a taste of the functionality.

7 – Freemind

When you’re undertaking your research, especially your literature review, you’re going to be dealing with a wide-ranging number of theories, models and frameworks, and it can be difficult to see the big picture and connect all the dots. Mind mapping is a highly effective way to visualise (and connect) all the information, but doing it on paper is so old fashioned. Enter Freemind.

Freemind is a mind mapping software that allows you to easily create highly editable, visually rich mindmaps on your computer. It’s simple and intuitive to use, and 100% free.

8 – Udemy & Coursera

Okay, so this is not an app or piece of software, but I couldn’t resist including it in this post…

While you’re undertaking your dissertation, chances are that you’re going to need to learn about some niche topic very quickly in order to complete some part of your research. For example, how to use SPSS or NVivo analysis software, how to develop statistically sound survey scales, how to undertake structured interviews, and so on. However, these sorts of skills are typically not included in the university syllabus and will have a major impact on the quality of your research. Enter Udemy and Coursera.

Udemy and Coursera both provide a wide-ranging variety of super-short, highly digestible online courses.  These courses are a great way to pick up specific skills (especially software skills) in a very short amount of time (many courses are less than 10 hours total). When I was writing up my dissertation, I learned SPSS from scratch using Udemy – it was a real lifesaver!

Wrapping up

And there you have it – 8 apps, software and services that will undoubtedly make your life easier come dissertation time. To recap:

  • Grammarly – for instant editing and proofreading
  • Evernote – for keeping all your notes in one place
  • Dragon Anywhere – for transcribing text to speech
  • Dropbox – for safely storing all your work
  • Offtime – for eliminating the i-Distractions
  • Mendeley – for ensuring perfect referencing
  • Freemind – for mind-mapping without a whiteboard
  • Udemy & Coursera – for rapidly gaining niche skills
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