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The MSc Dissertation

MSc Prize Winning Dissertations

The DV410 dissertation is a major component of your MSc programme and an important part of the learning and development process involved in postgraduate education.

If you have not produced a dissertation before, the tips below and the archive of prizewinning dissertations from previous years may give you some ideas.

What is required?

The dissertation requires you to investigate a topic thoroughly and produce well-written work that showcases your analysis and the results of any research you have carried out.

Unlike the DV431 consultancy projects which are undertaken in small groups, students must work independently on a dissertation. The dissertation may pose unfamiliar problems that are difficult to overcome – this is all part of the exercise.

Your academic advisor will provide guidance and help you establish how much you can reasonably be expected to achieve in order to complete your work by the deadline.

The dissertation is designed to test the following:

  • are you able to identify a relevant research topic?
  • are you able to define a clear and achievable research question?
  • can you identify salient issues?
  • can you spot problems and overcome them?
  • how do you find the information you need?
  • how do you evaluate the validity of any evidence you use?
  • can you demonstrate the ability to argue on both sides of a debate?
  • can you present your work in a clear and cogent fashion?
  • does your work arrive at a cogent conclusion?

How will you get there?

Topic and Research Question

Selecting a topic that interests you is an integral part of the process. If you are spending a large amount of time and energy on this project, you are likely to engage well with a subject that you really would like to investigate further.

But to ensure that your dissertation has a suitable focus, you will need to identify a more specific research 'question' or area of investigation. It is important that the goal of your dissertation is achievable in the time allowed, and that it can be written up the best of your ability within the word count.

Your supervisor will help you to establish a suitable research question. And once you have this, you may find that the route to structuring your dissertation becomes more clear.


The field of Development Studies involves a broad spectrum of quantitative and qualitative research parameters.

You'll find that the specific trajectory of your Master’s degree – the combination of core and optional modules – will provide you with specific insights into different research methods. Every course you take will contribute to the methodological dimensions you acquire as part of the programme.

Depending on your module choices, some students will acquire a more qualitative methodological skillset, while others will develop a more quantitative skillset. The dissertation is a major piece of work that gives you the opportunity to put your own knowledge and experience to good use.

You may prefer to use research methods that you are comfortable with and that you are confident of carrying out well. However, there are courses available to help you establish specific numerate and methodological skills if required.

Writing the Dissertation

What to include:

Individual dissertations can appear very different, depending upon the topic and the methodologies used. But most of the following will normally be required:

  • Abstract: a 100-150 summary of your topic and the outcomes. This should appear on the second page (i.e. after the cover page).
  • Introduction: identify how you reached your research question, and outline the structure of your dissertation.
  • Literature review: evaluate the existing literature surrounding your topic and situate your project within the field.
  • Methodology: explain your methods - their suitability, strengths and weaknesses - and address any points of contension such as anonymity and confidentiality.
  • Results: present the key findings of your work.
  • Analysis / Discussion: link your results to the research question and the literature review. Evaluate the limitations of your work and identify future developments.
  • Conclusion: assess what your project has achieved and what its implications are for ongoing work in development studies.

Seek advice from your supervisor about the structure that will best suit your needs.

Academic writing

The dissertation is a major test of your ability to produce a significant piece of academic work that is clear, cogent, and coherent.

Your writing style will have developed throughout the academic year. Take careful note of any feedback you have been given on your essays that addresses your writing style.

Further assistance is available on 'How to Write Good Essays' in the student handbook.

There is also an excellent Guide to Writing MSc Dissertations by Professor Bernhard von Stengel (Department of Mathematics), much of which is applicable to most degree programmes. 


The maximum word-count for the dissertation is 10,000 words (with a discretionary 1% allowance).

This excludes the frontmatter (title, contents, abstract, list of abbreviations), bibliography and appendices, but includes all other material, such as footnotes, acknowledgements, and glossaries.

All alphanumeric material in charts, tables, graphs and captions is to be included within the word count if it features in the main body of the dissertation. It does not count if these appendages are included as an appendix.

Appendices can be useful to include items such as questionnaires or interview questions that you have used. They may also useful for additional data / tables that are not integral to your argument. However, while an examiner may refer to this, you should ensure that all material you wish to contribute towards your final mark features within the main body of the dissertation.


Good presentation helps your examiners to read and digest your work more easily, which is pivotal for a project of this size. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Use a minimum line spacing of 1.5.
  • Leave a comfortable margin (at least 2.5 cm on all sides).
  • Leave additional spacing between paragraphs.
  • Use standard fonts (i.e. Arial / Times New Roman), at size 12 or similar.
  • Use headers and sub-headers to organise your work.

Suggested Formatting

There are also some formatting requirements:

  • Your dissertation should be flat or perfect bound, as shown in the top samples from the header image (not spiral bound like the bottom samples). Ensure that your margins leave enough room to achieve this comfortably.
  • The title page should be visible. Any front cover should be transparent acetate.
  • Do not include your name anywhere on the dissertation. If you do, you will be asked to reprint, which may put you at risk of a penalty.


The department recommends the use of the Chicago referencing style, which permits very short 'Author-Date' references in the body text and thus minimises the impact of referencing on the word count.

Other recognised academic conventions can be used, provided they are applied consistently.

However, note that all footnotes are included within the word count, and the choice of referencing system could restrict the number of words available - particularly if you have a broad frame of reference.

The Chicago Manual of Style is available here >>

Regulations on plagiarism are strictly applied. See the MSc Student Guide for advice on avoiding plagiarism.


What do you need to submit?

  • Two flat / perfect bound copies of the dissertation.
  • One cover sheet separate to the dissertation.
  • One consent form separate to the dissertation.
  • Electronic copy (MS Word only) to the DV410 Moodle page
  • Electronic copy to the DV410 course on Turnitin.

Uploading to Turnitin

Turnitin is accessed at Submit.ac.uk. You should use your existing profile to log in.

Class ID is 774248
Password: DV410

Your submission title should take the form:
CandidateNumber_CourseCode_Year (e.g. 12345_DV410_2015)

Remember to select the final submit button after uploading. Your submission is not complete until you have done this.

Important Dates 2014/15

  • Friday, Week 4, Lent Term: Submit dissertation topic form.
  • Friday, Week 1, Summer Term: Submit dissertation proposal (2,000 words).
  • Friday 10 June: Final title to be recorded with the International Development office.
  • Thursday 25 August: Submission deadline for dissertations (noon).