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For the 2023/2024 academic year, the deadline is Wednesday 4ᵗʰ September 2024 at noon.

All taught MA students apart from those following the MA in History of Medicine write a dissertation of 15,000 words. History of Medicine students submits a dissertation of 20,000 words. (This word count does not include the main title page, footnotes, appendices (including acknowledgements) and bibliography). Contents pages are not compulsory and if included will be counted towards the word count

The dissertation is the most important piece of work you will produce in the course. You should begin the course with a clear, if general, idea of your dissertation topic. You will request and be assigned a dissertation supervisor by the end of Week 4 Term 1. You are expected to meet with your supervisors during Week 5, Term 1. This is no different for part-time students.

The PGT Director will run 5 dissertation workshop sessions: 3 sessions in Term 2 and a further 2 sessions in Term 3. These sessions are designed to support you with your research and are an essential part of the course: all students are expected to attend and participate.

Dissertation Timeline:



Term 1 Week 2

Identify a supervisor and complete supervisor request form

Term 1 Week 4

Supervisors allocated

Term 1 week 5

First meeting with supervisor*

Term 1 Week 7

Meet with supervisor

Term 2 Weeks 1-6

Dissertation workshop: 3 sessions

Term 2 Weeks 1-6

Meet with supervisor*

Term 2 Week 7

Submission of research proposal

Term 3 Weeks 2-3

Supervision (monitoring point)*

Term 3

Dissertation workshop: 2 sessions

Summer vacation weeks 2-4

Supervision (monitoring point)*

Summer vacation (September)

Submission of dissertation

*supervisions marked with an asterisk are compulsory, but you are encouraged to contact your supervisor for additional meetings as you need them

What is a Dissertation?

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 style for presentation as listed below.

Aims and Objectives

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.

Thoughts on Originality

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 on the originality of your work at all levels, but it is something you will want to think about from the very beginning.


Your Supervisor

Term 1, Week 4 (Part-time students Year 1, Term 2, Week 9)

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 the term begins. Ask these faculty members if they are willing, in principle, to serve as your dissertation supervisor. Once you have had this conversation, fill in the form below 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.

MA Dissertation Supervision Request


Your Topic

Finding a Topic

Term 1, Week 5 (Part-time students Year 1, Term 3, Week 3)

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. 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.

Firming up your Topic

Term 1, Week 7 (Part-time students Year 1, Term 3, Week 9)

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 on a topic and timespan (and if possible a working dissertation title) and suggest new directions for further work within the topic.


Research Proposal

Term 2, Week 7 (Part-time students Year 2, Term 1, Week 6)

You will submit a formal Research Proposal (non-assessed), 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:

  1. awareness of the existing secondary literature and gaps within it;
  2. central research questions you plan to address and what kinds of answer you are looking for;
  3. what methods you plan to use, including any theories you wish to apply;
  4. what your source-base will be (printed primary sources, major secondary works, manuscripts, etc.);
  5. where you will be consulting these materials (this may involve letters or reconnaissance trips to relevant archives in advance);
  6. a preliminary chapter plan;
  7. 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 no later than the end of the Spring Term.

A completed Taught MA Ethics form (if necessary for your research) should be submitted with your proposal and will be forwarded to your supervisor and the PGT Director for amendment/approval.

Ethics in Research

In most historical research projects there will be no ethical implications, but in cases where your research involves human participants (perhaps involving interviews and the collection of oral histories), or confidential data (perhaps medical records might be among your sources), prior ethical approval will be required.

Any concerns you have about the ethics of your MA Dissertation research should be discussed with your Supervisor in the first instance, but you may also seek advice from the Director of PGT Studies.

If it is decided by your supervisor or the PGT Director that Ethical approval is required, students should complete the Taught MA Ethics Review form and submit it with their Research Proposal.

The form will be reviewed by a panel of academic staff and students will be notified within 7 working days of the outcome of the review.


Supervisory contact

Spring Term/Summer Term/Vacation

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.

Completing a Draft

It is important to understand that, unlike previously 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.



Formatting and Submission of Dissertations

Dissertations should be submitted in electronic copy as a .pdf, .doc or .docx via Tabula, as with every other assessment. No hard copy is required.

  • The first page of your dissertation must be your cover sheet with your title and student ID displayed clearly
  • 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.

More information about assessment, writing style, referencing, etc. can be found here.

Word Count, Lateness and Plagiarism

Penalties apply for exceeding the word count, late submissions and plagiarism. Please follow the assessment guidelines as for any other submission.

Dissertations should use the MHRA referencing style, as for any other submission.

MA Assessment Guidelines




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