"10(ish) things I wish I'd known before I did my masters"
1. My number one tip is get a good idea of your dissertation subject as soon as humanly possible. It will really help if you can be thinking it through, even alongside your essay and project work, as you go along.
2. The taught part of the course will change from year to year, of course, so I think the best advice I can give for that is not to be too ambitious and keep within your deadlines. The essays and projects are a lot of work but doable if you keep to the topic and keep your focus reasonably narrow. Remember the essays are not a dissertation - they don't need to be a treatise on the subject, just a competent treatment of it. It's more important to focus on a smaller subject and do it well than make a mediocre job of a bigger theme. Plus any extra time you can get to work on the dissertation will be worth getting.
3. If you're new to the field read around design history and material culture as much as you can to get a feel for how it's written about. If you need an overview before you get into the theorists and primary material I recommend Kjetil Fallan's Design History: Understanding Theory and Method and Ian Woodward's Understanding Material Culture. And when you've done with that don't be afraid to experiment a bit. Not everyone has to write about Bourdieu.
4. Try to answer the "so what?" question about your dissertation topic as soon as you can. You may want to study a particular subject but without a larger feeling of purpose to tie together the various strands you may find yourself struggling. A really good book that helped me a lot with this issue was The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research by Gordon Rugg and Marian Petre. I know it has "PhD" in the title but I found it to be very relevant as a masters student and it's full of "I wish I'd known…" advice.
5. Pick a subject you really love. That way when you come up against issues in the research you'll be sufficiently interested to beat your way through it and get to the end.
6. If you have an idea of what type of method you'll be using for your dissertation try to practice it in your essays. Try not to make your dissertation a test bed for your methods. I can't say I learned this the hard way as such, but it would've saved quite a bit of heartache if I'd borne it in mind. This is the type of advice your tutors will be giving you anyway but I think it doesn't hurt to repeat it.
7. Take the opportunity to get speaking experience if you can. As you might imagine the annual PDHS symposium is an excellent place to start. It's great for your confidence since it's very friendly but it also allows you to meet scholars in your field.
8. As a continuation of tip #7: talk to the experts in your subject as much as you can and be willing to receive help from seemingly unlikely quarters. The contacts and knowledge of others can be invaluable.
5. Start writing as soon as you can. I wish I had. When you write you can see the holes and start to deal with them at an early stage instead of imagining you're "nearly finished" when, in fact, you are very far from it. If you feel like you're not ready I'm afraid to say that you may never feel that way but by doing it you eventually will. Don't worry if what you write doesn't seem terribly clever. It's like chipping away at a block of granite, you'll refine as you go and it will help you to think. Hugh Kearns at Flinders University has written extensively on the subject and his advice is very good. He does workshops locally at certain times of year too. Check out http://ithinkwell.com.au/.
6. Have a full first draft done and submitted to your supervisor with about two months to go to deadline if you can at all. The feedback you receive will be very valuable and you'll need the time to act on it.
7. Give yourself about a week to do your copyediting, adding images and any last minute formatting. You may be able to do it more quickly but you'll save yourself a lot of heartache if you don't rush it. Give yourself a week, at least, for printing too. It may seem excessive but depending on the type of binding you get and whether the print shop needs to send your work away you'll be glad you gave yourself the leeway.
8. Talk about your work, out loud, with other people. It shows up the holes and they can give advice from a perspective you've never considered before. Getting outside of your groove can be very important.
9. Most of all be prepared to have setbacks. Making mistakes and having to go back to previous points that aren't working out are all part of the process and will strengthen the final work.
10. And finally, don't expect it to be easy but just because it's not it doesn't mean you're not doing it properly. Keep going, write something every day to keep up your momentum, and you'll get there. It does not need to be perfect, it just needs to be good enough. Provide yourself with cakes/treat of choice as necessary to keep the motivation up. It helps. Honestly.