Research Design and Dissertation in Development Studies, Development Management, African Development and International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Jude Howell CON.8.11


This course is compulsory on the MSc in African Development, MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Studies and MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies. This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

The course combines a dissertation with supporting lectures on research methods and the use of research in development practice. Students will initially submit a dissertation title with a 150-250 word abstract in the first half of Lent Term. They then go on to write a more detailed research proposal towards the dissertation on a topic within Development Studies / Management / IDHE / African Development. This will be conducted under the supervision of a member of the International Development staff, through individual tutorials. The student research proposals will form the basis for discussion and debate in dissertation workshops. The research proposal will identify a key question for investigation, the theoretical and methodological framework to be employed in the work and a justification for why the topic is theoretically and empirically important, with reference to the literature. A tentative outline and preliminary bibliography will be included.

The course introduces students to basic social research methods widely used in development research.  The objective is to enable students to conduct independent research, to assess the methods used to generate data, and to critically assess the quality and validity of research analysis and findings in development research and policy.  Students will learn about the challenges of conducting research in contexts with often incomplete, out-of-date and poor availability of data; about research design, including how to generate a research question, how to select research methods, how to analyse data, and analytic rigour; what constitutes knowledge; the relative strengths and weaknesses of quantitative and qualitative research; different research methods such as case-studies, participatory observation and process tracing; innovative research methods; the practical and ethical dos and don’ts of doing fieldwork; preparing for the dissertation.



40 hours of lectures in the MT. 9 hours of workshops in the ST.

Dissertation surgeries will run in the MT and Dissertation workshops will run in the ST.

Students will attend individual tutorial sessions with either Academic Advisers or other members of International Development staff, as relevant to the topic, during Michaelmas Term and Lent Term to identify a research topic and to design research proposals. The proposal must be approved by the assigned Academic Adviser. Dissertation preparation will also be addressed in the context of the DV410 lectures. Proposals will be evaluated, commented upon and approved by staff. Students will present their research proposals during dissertation workshops.


Dissertation (100%, 10000 words) in the ST.

Students will submit a research proposal of not more than 2,000 words at the start of ST. This will be evaluated, commented upon and must be approved before proceeding to write the dissertation. Students will submit a dissertation of not more than 10,000 words by midday on the last Thursday in August.

Students will also take tests, which are run electronically. These will be made available in MT. All students are expected to pass these tests. They can be attempted many times. However, they do not count towards the final mark. They are intended to assist in dissertation preparation.

Student performance results

(2012/13 - 2014/15 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 13.4
Merit 63.1
Pass 22
Fail 1.6

Key facts

Department: International Development

Total students 2015/16: 215

Average class size 2015/16: Unavailable

Controlled access 2015/16: No

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills