Guidelines for Dissertations

What is a dissertation?

A dissertation is an extended piece of writing (a 30-credit dissertation is a maximum of 12,000 words) investigating a single clear question or thesis. It provides the stimulus and satisfaction of researching in depth a topic of particular interest, and reflecting on the issues more thoroughly than a shorter essay permits. It also tests certain skills that may be extremely useful in years to come in a way that other forms of assessment do not. All the usual assessment criteria apply. So to get a high mark for a dissertation you need both to demonstrate a very clear grasp of the topic you are exploring and also to engage critically and creatively with the key issues raised, and with other scholars who have written about them. Students who don’t go beyond a description of their topic, and who don’t engage properly with the relevant literature, will get a low mark.

For the MA, a dissertation is a maximum of 20,000 words.

Agreeing a topic and work plan

A provisional broad topic for the undergraduate dissertation must be decided in the Summer Term of the second year (the end of Stage 2) in consultation with appropriate members of staff. You will be expected to have at least a rough idea of the area within which you wish to work; your supervisor will help define the topic in detail and give assistance with bibliography. You will need to start work during the summer, doing some initial reading.

Registration: During the online module selection period for the academic year concerned, you need to apply and register for the module just as you would for an ordinary taught module.

Preparation: You should, as soon as possible and before the start of the academic year, make contact with the Programme Leader, who, after discussion with you, will appoint an Academic Supervisor who has expertise in the subject area you have chosen to study.


First supervision meeting: As soon as possible after the start of the academic year, your Academic Supervisor will meet with you to discuss the topic that you have in mind, its manage ability and the resources available. He or she will then agree with you (a) a provisional title for the essay/project, and (b) the date of the second supervision meeting. He or she will also suggest some initial reading to guide the first steps of your research.

You must submit a research proposal before the end of June in your second year. The proposal will not be marked, and you will be free to change it later as your research progresses. However, it is in your own interests to produce as thorough a plan as you are able: only by doing so will you be able to clarify what you are trying to achieve and the problems with which you will need to cope. The outline must include the following:

a) a brief account of the dissertation topic, indicating questions which you intend to address;
b) a chapter plan, with brief statements of the projected content of each chapter;
c) a bibliography of the works which you have consulted or will need to consult, set out in the format you will use for the dissertation itself;
d) a description of the range of source material available on your topic, with a brief statement of how you intend to handle it and any problems of method which it may pose.

Guidelines on ethics

The department has agreed ethical guidelines for dissertations. Please make sure that you consult these on the ELE page for THE3082.

Working with your supervisor

You will receive feedback on your proposal from your supervisor.  Throughout the term you should keep in regular contact with your supervisor who will ensure that a realistic work schedule is maintained, but it should be realised that a dissertation basically involves the student working on her or his own.  The maximum time allowed for consulting your supervisor is three hours.

Since the dissertation must be substantially your own work, the appropriate assistance provided by the supervisor is defined as:

• initial discussion of an appropriate topic, title, contents and research material
• comment on one draft of each chapter in turn, or on a draft of the whole dissertation.  Such comment will be focussed on identifying any obvious weaknesses in the argument, and suggesting directions for further research.  Supervisors should not be expected to give a mark/grade to drafts.

You should revise the dissertation before final submission in the light of the supervisor’s comments.

Draft chapter for undergraduate dissertations

You will be expected to submit a draft chapter (minimum 2,000 words) by the start of Week 6 in the term you are taking the dissertation module.  If you do not, the Department will not release the mark for the Powerpoint presentation (see below).

Mid-term presentation for undergraduate dissertations

In Week 7 of the term you are taking the dissertation in, you will be expected to deliver a PowerPoint presentation on the topic of your dissertation to a small group of staff and students. This will constitute 10% of your mark for the module.  The presentation should explain as clearly as possible the central question or theme of your dissertation, outline the ways in which you are hoping to answer that question, and indicate the sources on which you are drawing, together with a provisional indication of your conclusion. This process is designed to ensure that you do have a clear central argument or thesis to your dissertation, and that you have been exposed to a wide range of possible questions or challenges to that argument or thesis.

Writing the dissertation

The whole dissertation should form a continuous argument or account, be subdivided into distinct chapters or sections, and preceded by an introduction outlining the aim and structure of the dissertation, and discussing the materials and methods used. It should also have a conclusion that draws together the arguments of the chapters and shows how they answer the central question or contribute to the central thesis.

The body of the dissertation, while drawing on relevant scholarly works, must be independently thought out and written. Reproducing substantial sections from scholarly books and articles or from material on the web is not acceptable; doing so without acknowledging the source is plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious offence (it is intellectual theft), and penalties will be imposed; please consult the statement on the BART cover sheet relating to all University coursework submissions through BART being subject to the University policies on plagiarism. The evidence for the statements made (ancient texts, other sources and modern works) should be clearly identified throughout the dissertation. At the end of the dissertation you must provide a full bibliography, listing all the works cited in the dissertation, usually subdivided into primary sources (ancient or modern texts) and secondary sources (modern scholarly works), arranged alphabetically.

Presentation and submission

The dissertation is subject to the same requirements concerning expression and presentation as apply to all other summatively assessed assignments.

Keep at least one separate electronic copy of your work, constantly updated as you work on it. Unfortunately accidents to computer files do happen, but no allowance can be made for work that is lost as a result of failure to take elementary precautions.

MA students should submit an outline of their dissertation (of 1,000 words) by the beginning of the summer term in the year they take the dissertation module, and a bibliography at an early stage.