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Dissertation - the research process

The PGT Handbook contains a Dissertation Timeline which sets out the various stages of your research project and when you are expected to reach them. It is important that all students are familiar with and adhere to these expectations.

Dissertation timeline


This Code of Practice is intended to inform you about how the Department deals with the framing, supervision and examination of your dissertation. It is aimed to focus your thinking about the choice of topic, how you will conduct the research, and the ways in which you will timetable research and writing.

The dissertation is a piece of academic writing about 15,000 words long (or about 20,000 for History of Medicine students) - roughly the length of two academic articles or book chapters - and you will need to identify a topic which can be dealt with within that length whilst showing originality. It is not a book, nor an essay. You should view it mainly as an opportunity to develop research techniques and methodologies and to present the research in an appropriate format. You will need to follow the Postgraduate Style Guide and the Graduate School’s conventions for presentation, and make sure you have these documents at all times. The Graduate School’s conventions are to be found in the ‘Guide to Examinations for Higher Degrees by Research’ at:


A dissertation is normally expected to show a measure of originality. It may be helpful to think of originality as residing either in a source-base (when a dissertation is based on the analysis of a set of usually primary sources which have not been analysed from a particular angle before), or in treatment (when you are offering a novel view of historiographical problems and topics), or in writing (the ‘voice’ will be your own - and total unoriginality, i.e. plagiarism, is obviously to be avoided). Your supervisor will be able to give you guidance the originality of your work at all levels, but it is something you will want to think about from the very beginning.



You will be assigned a supervisor by the end of Week 4, Term 1 (or Year 1, Term 2, Week 9 if you are a part-time student). The Dissertations lead will lead a session on 'Finding a Supervisor' in Week 2. You are advised to review the staff webpages in the department and identify and speak to potential supervisors as soon as possible after term begins. Ask these faculty members if they are willing, in principle, to serve as your dissertation supervisor. Once you have had this conversation, email the PGT Director with the name of your supervisor. If you are having difficulty with this task, please contact the PGT Director for guidance. We always do our best to ensure that students get their first choice of supervisor but in some cases this cannot be guaranteed.


Your first supervision will take the form of a session in which you talk over possible topics, and angles on those topics. Before this meeting you should conduct a brief library search to see if anything has been directly published on your topic already. Keyword search in the British Library catalogue and various online bibliographies that the library subscribes to, will be a very useful first step. Previous MA dissertations can be consulted via the History Graduate Office (H343). The supervisor(s) will point you in the direction of the most relevant bodies of literature and sources for you to investigate. You will follow this up, searching copyright libraries and journals’ databases to build up a working bibliography.


In this session you will present your working bibliography to your supervisor, with a view to assessing the current state of the debate. Your topic can now be firmed up, and your supervisor(s) will agree a topic and timespan (and if possible a working dissertation title) and suggest new directions for further work within the topic.


You will submit a formal Research Proposal, with a working dissertation title, via Tabula, based on what you have done thus far. This will be approximately 2,500 words long, and contain as an appendix a full Bibliography of works and research materials to be consulted. The Research Proposal will help you to clarify a number of considerations crucial to the design of a successful research project. (It is essentially the first draft of your dissertation introduction.) You will need to show:

a. awareness of the existing secondary literature and gaps within it;
b. central research questions you plan to address and what kinds of answer you are looking for;
c. what methods you plan to use, including any theories you wish to apply;
d. what your source-base will be (printed primary sources, major secondary works, manuscripts, etc.);
e. where you will be consulting these materials (this may involve letters or reconnaissance trips to relevant archives in advance);
f. a preliminary chapter plan;
g. a detailed timetable for the research and writing up.
Try to cover as many of these areas as possible in your proposal. You will find it useful to use these topics as section headings in your writing. When your supervisor has read through the Research Proposal, you should go through it together not later than the end of the Spring Term.


You are required to meet with your supervisor between weeks 1 and 6 in Term 2 (weeks 1-6 in Term 1 of Year 2 for part-time students) to discuss your research proposal and again between weeks 1 and 8 in Term 3 (of Year 2 for part-time students) to discuss the progress of your research. It is important to understand that, unlike previous assessed coursework, it is expected that your supervisor will read a draft of your research work in advance and offer editorial support. Supervisors can be expected to read an outline of your dissertation (perhaps taken from your draft introduction) and one draft of each chapter, provided this material is submitted to the supervisor by 31 July, or another date agreed between you and your supervisor. The supervisor does not read the final draft of the dissertation. Any material submitted after this date will not be read, nor should you ask your supervisor to read multiple drafts of the same chapter. You may not be able to meet your supervisor in person over the summer break, but you can expect them to respond to a reasonable number of email queries. It is not expected that drafts will be perfect or complete – that is why they are called drafts! - but before you get it right, you have to get it written. Your supervisor will also be trying to keep the scope of your research realistic, to encourage you to contextualise your research findings, and to raise the sorts of questions which the eventual markers may raise. Normally, however, your supervisor is one of the dissertation markers.


The deadline date is not negotiable, as extensions are not normally given. If there are special circumstances which affect your ability to present your work at this time, this will need to be explained to the PGT Director well in advance of the deadline.
The dissertation is submitted via Tabula in electronic copy only. No hard copy is required.


  • The Table of Contents should list chapters and sections within those chapters.

  • There should be a 4cm (1½-inch) margin at the left-hand side of the page, and an adequate margin on the other three edges.

  • The text of your dissertation should be double-spaced. The footnotes (or endnotes) should, however, be single-spaced.

  • Except for the very first paragraph under a new heading, the first line of every paragraph should be indented. You do not need to add extra spacing between paragraphs: the indentation alone tells the reader that you have begun a new paragraph.

  • Number each page of your dissertation.
  • The dissertation must be anonymous; the cover sheet should only have your student ID number as a means to identify you.
  • Your student ID must be displayed as a header/footer on each page of the dissertation.
  • The first page of your dissertation should be your cover sheet with your title and student ID clearly displayed.

Comprehensive guidance on the correct formatting of your dissertation, including a sample cover and contents pages, is available in the Style Guide

Word Length

Your dissertation should be 15,000-words long (or 20,000-words long if you are a History of Medicine student). This limit does not include footnotes, bibliography, index, coversheet and any tables and appendices. As stated in the PGT Handbook, 'Marks will be deducted for overlength work (1 mark for every 25 words overlength, or part thereof). You will not penalised for producing underlength work, provided quality is not sacrificed to brevity.


Although extensions for dissertations are not normally authorised, should you need to request one please bear in mind that all extensions need to be approved by the MA Director. Extensions for dissertations may take longer to assess/arrange, and you therefore need to submit your request via Tabula at least five working days before the deadline. Extensions will not be granted after the deadline. Any supporting medical evidence must be uploaded with the request. The process takes a few days and only in exceptional circumstances are extensions approved. Your extension request needs to have been approved (not merely requested) by the deadline; if it has not, you WILL be penalised for late submission.

Submission Process

Please follow the normal Tabula submission procedure - we do not require hard copies of your dissertation. The first page of your dissertation must be your cover sheet with your title and student ID displayed clearly. Please ensure that your dissertation is uploaded as a Word document (not PDF).

Marks and Feedback

Feedback and the provisional mark for your dissertation will be communicated to you via Tabula around six weeks after submission. Marks are not final until they have been ratified by the MA Exam Board that takes place in November.

You will receive confirmation of your grades via an email.

Additional support for your research will also be provided through the delivery of the TSM Dissertation Training Programme, which is compulsory for all MA students.

Submission Deadlines

The deadline for submitting your dissertation proposal is Wednesday 20 February 2019 (for full-time students) and Wednesday 6 November 2019 (for part-time students).
The deadline for submitting the dissertation itself is noon, Friday 6 September 2019.