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Code of Practice on Taught MA Dissertations (including 'The Research Proposal')

1 Aims and Objectives

This Code of Practice is intended to inform you about how the Centre 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.

2 What is a Dissertation?

The dissertation is 15,000 words long - roughly the length of two academic articles or book-chapters - and you will need to identify a topic which can be dealt with inside 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 MHRA Style Guide and the rules for presentation outlined by the Academic Office in its information for the presentation of theses. The MHRA Style Guide is available here:


3 Originality

A dissertation is normally expected to show a measure of originality. This is a concept which scholars find easier to recognise than to define. It may be helpful to think of originality as residing either in 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 [ie plagiarism] is obviously to be avoided). Your supervisor will be able to monitor the originality of your work at all levels, but it is also something you will want to think about too.

4 Scheduling Research and Writing

Most of your first two terms’ work will be spent on your MA options and on the Renaissance Culture and Society module. However, you should start thinking about your dissertation from the end of the third term, and you should regard the Easter Vacation and the Summer Term as the period in which you will get most of the reading and research – and some of the writing - for your dissertation done. You should also leave good time for composing your final draft, which, even for experienced writers, is always more time-consuming than one expects.

5 The Dissertation Timeline: an Eight-Point Plan

i) Interview with the Director of Graduate Studies (Term 2, week 2)

At the beginning of Term 2, you will have an interview with the Director of Graduate Studies to discuss a possible topic for your dissertation. The Director will assign you to one or more supervisors, with whom you should make arrangements for an interview at once.

ii) First Supervision (Term 2, week 3)

Your first supervision will take the form of a session in which you talk over possible topics, and approaches to those topics. 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, and further research the topic yourself.

iii) Second Supervision (Term 2, weeks 3-6)

In this session you will present the results of your preliminary exploration (preferably in written form). Your topic can now be firmed up, and your supervisor(s) will agree a topic (and if possible a working dissertation title) and suggest new directions for further work within the topic.

iv) Presentation of Draft Research Proposal (Term 2, week 9)

You will present a Draft Research Proposal, based on what you have done thus far. This will be approximately 2,500 words long, and contain in addition a full Bibliography of works and research materials to be consulted. Working on the Research Proposal will help you to clarify a number of considerations crucial to the design of a successful research project. You will need to show: awareness of the relevant secondary literature on the topic; what central questions you plan to address; what kinds of answer you are going to be looking for; what methods you plan to use; what your source-base will be (printed primary sources, major secondary works, manuscripts, etc); when and where you will be consulting these materials; your preliminary chapter plan. Try to cover as many of these areas as possible in your first draft. You will find it useful to use these topics as section headings in your writing.

v) Third Supervision (Term 2, week 10)

In this session, your supervisor(s) will return your draft Proposal to you, with comments and suggestions for further reading and clarification.

vi) Presentation of re-worked Research Proposal (Term 3, week 1)

This session will go over the second draft of your Research Proposal. By now you should be having a very clear idea of what you are planning to work on and your work-schedule over the next months.

vii) Further Supervisions (Summer Term/Long Vacation)

Over the next few months, you will keep in regular contact with your supervisor(s). You will certainly need to have further supervisory sessions, and you need to agree a programme for these in advance. Normally you should give your supervisor drafts to read ahead of the meeting.

viii) Presentation of Dissertation (date/time tbc)

This 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 Director of Graduate Studies, who must then approach the Chair of the Warwick Graduate School on your behalf.

6 Supervisory Contacts and Availability

As will be clear from the Eight-Point Plan, you are entitled to regular and formal supervisory contact. You can expect three sessions in Term 2 and several further supervisions thereafter. Each supervision should take between 30 minutes and an hour.

You should bear in mind that the summer vacation is the time when staff do the majority of their own research within the academic year. This may involve absence from Warwick. You will therefore need to talk over with your supervisor(s) at an early stage the schedule which suits you both. This may well include contact by email, Skype and telephone as well as by personal contacts. 

7 The Research Proposal

Your Research Proposal should include:

  • A review of the secondary literature relevant to your topic
  • A discussion of the main historiographical and theoretical issues relevant to your research
  • An outline of the research project, including some discussion of the sources you will use and the questions you intend to ask of them
  • A provisional chapter plan
  • A detailed timetable for the research and writing
  • You should also attach a Bibliography, arranged as detailed in the MHRA Style Guide