Dissertation guidelines

General guidance

Your dissertation gives you an opportunity to write a substantial piece of academic work on a topic of interest to you. It is an opportunity to produce a work of scholarship, using the academic skills you have developed.

This guidance is designed to help you write your MSc dissertation. Please make sure that you also look at any instructions or guidance specific to your programme. Any programme specific information or requirements takes precidence over this more general guidance. 

Regardless of topic, your dissertation should demonstrate the following skills:

    • Defining and outlining a research topic

    • Defining a clear research question

    • Identifying salient issues

    • Finding or generating relevant information

    • Evaluating the information's reliability and validity

    • Weighing up the evidence on all sides of a debate

    • Arriving at a well-argued conclusion

    • Organising and presenting the results of your work critically, cogently, and coherently

There are two major forms of dissertations:

  • A piece of empirical research, conducted on a topic or issue relevant to health policy

  • A literature-based long essay, providing analysis of specific research question of relevance to health policy

Which type of dissertation you choose to write is up to you, but do check with your Academic Mentor that your project fulfills the criteria for your programme.


Making your dissertation stand out

Research topic and research question

Your first task is to choose a topic that interests you. It should be a manageable topic - one that has not been researched excessively, nor so under-researched that there is no literature available for you to build on. Your Academic Mentor will be able to help you with this.

Having read the relevant literature, you need to focus more specifically on a research question. This will ensure that your dissertation has clear focus. A reserach question is not the same as your research topic but rather a specific question that you want to answer. Your research question needs to be defined with care, and your Academic Mentor can help you. 


When choosing your topic and defining your research question, you will also have to decide on the conceptual approach - or methodology - you will use to answer your question. Methodology concerns the relationship between your theoretical stance and the manner in which you conduct your investigation. Most health policy dissertations do not fit into any one methodological category or paradigm. However, they are likely to fall in one of three schools of thought:

Empiricist: Dissertations which involve the use of empirical evidence even if it is existing evidence reported in the relevant literature. Empiricism is an approach to evidence that is aligned to the conventions associated with the natural sciences. It is concerned with explaining external realities from an objective standpoint.

Interpretive: Interpretivism is concerned with understanding the nature or meaning of the social world from the subjective standpoint of the people involved. It tends to build on processes of qualitative observation.

Critical or criticalist: Any approach can result in criticism of health policy, but a critical(ist) approach is one that is grounded in the analysis of conflict or relationships of power. A critical(ist) approach may draw on elements of either or both of the other approaches but it is sceptical of empiricism and interpretivism because they do not necessarily question the underlying basis of the status quo.

You are encouraged to take any of these approaches. You are required to explicitly reflect within the dissertation on the basis of your approach.

How to structure your dissertation

The following structure includes the elements that are normally expected in an MSc dissertation. You don't have to follow it blindly, but use it as a starting point for thinking about your structure. Remember to ask for advice from your supervisor about which exact structure is right for your dissertation.

If you are doing a piece of empirical research, a common structure is as follows:

  • Abstract

  • Introduction, including the research question and structure of essay

  • Literature review and policy context

  • Methodology and research methods

  • Findings and analysis

  • Discussion and implication for policy

  • Conclusion

  • References


The abstract outlines what you did and what your key findings were.


Your introduction should give details of the research topic you have decided to focus on, why the topic is of interest, what the gaps in current knowledge are, how your dissertation adds value to previous research (i.e., what is new). It should also include your research question and any sub-set of questions. Your introduction should provide a brief overview of the structure of your dissertation (i.e. what different sections/chapters will focus on).

Literature review and policy context

The literature review should include literature that is pertinent to your research topic and the policy context. It should critically evaluate earlier work in the field, paying due attention to contributions, and to any methodological problems and limitations involved. Your literature review might draw on, among others: policy documents, legislation, statistics from surveys and government sources, research studies, relevant theory, etc.

Having identified gaps in the literature and ways in which you can add value to the research, you need to present your research question and explain how the answer will add to current knowledge. This is one of the most important parts of your dissertation as it links with your methods and can help with structuring your dissertation.

Methodology and research methods

Give details of the methods you have used (sample, procedure etc.). Why have you used these methods? How do they enable you to answer the research question? Why are you using a quantitative or qualitative approach? What are the strengths and limitations of your methods? To what extent, if any, will you be able to generalise on the basis of your research?

If you are doing primary research you need to say how you obtained your sample, how you have ensured anonymity of participants, and address any other ethical issues. You need to explain how you retrieved data, e.g. via interviews or questionnaires. If you are doing secondary data analysis you need to describe the data set you are using and any relevant variables.

If you carry out empirical work, remember to get informed consent and ensure confidentiality (i.e. do not use actual names of individuals, organisations, institutions etc.). Please refer to the Research Ethics Policy and Procedures and the Code of Research Conduct.

Findings and analysis

Your findings can be presented in different ways and will vary depending on whether your research uses quantitative or qualitative methods.It is key that you explain the steps of your analysis and how you arrived at your findings. 

Discussion and Conclusion

The discussion links your findings with the research question. 

The conclusions drawn should be substantiated from the body of the dissertation. What are the implications for policy? Are there implications for future research?

Length of your dissertation

Dissertations for MSc International Health Policy, MSc International Health Policy (Health Economics), and MSc Global Health Policy should be no more than 6,000 words. For MSc Health Policy, Planning and Financing, your dissertation should not exceed 10,000 words in length. 

The reference list - bibliography - is not included in the word limit. 

Examiners may refer to your appendices during marking, but you should not include any material in this section that you expect to be read and contribute to your final mark.

Presentation and layout

How you layout and present your work matters. It can help make your text easier to comprehend  - or it can make it more difficult. Try not to add too much to a page and leave so space for the reader to breathe. 


Headings and sub-headings will help to organise and structure your argument and will also improve the presentation. Main headings should be in uppercase and sub-headings in title case. For example:


Health Policy and Planning Challenges in the 21st Century

Tables and figures

If you use tables, graphs, and figures they must be clearly numbered, titled and sourced. Using the chapter number as a prefix will help the reader navigate the tables. Tables in chapter 2 will, therefore, be numbered Table 2.1, Table 2.2 etc. Figures will be numbered in the same way, i.e. Figure 2.1, Figure 2.2 etc.

Formatting guidelines

Make sure you check any programme-specific instructions and consider the guidance of your Academic Mentor. Some general guidelines are:

  • Try not to put too much on one page

  • Use 1.5 or double-spacing

  • Use 3 cm on all margins

  • Number your pages

  • Leave a blank line between paragraphs

  • Check your spelling and punctuation

  • Stick to one or maximum two fonts

  • Use bold and italics sparingly and consistently

Citation, referencing and plagiarism

Please make sure you use a suitable citation and referencing system. The library and LSE Life runs reguarly workshops that will help you get it right. You can find upcoming workshops here

If you don't use a proper citation and referencing system, you run the risk of plagiarism. LSE takes plagiarism very seriously and you should always ensure that your work is all your own. There are ways to avoid unintentional plagiarism. Please read our guide here.

Support from your Academic Mentor

At the start of your programme, you will be assigned an Academic Mentor who will also be your dissertation supervisor. The Academic Mentor will guide and assist you in your learning development and give you guidance and feedback. You need to reach out to your mentor to schedule your meetings. If you do not approach your Academic Mentor, he or she may not necessarily reach out to you. It is your obligation to take the initiative.

When you have found a topic for your dissertation, your supervision will consist of three 30 minute individual meetings between you and your Academic Mentor. It is up to you to make the most of the meetings so you cover a range of topics and get the feedback and advice from your Mentor that you need. The meetings should take place during Lent and Summer terms, with the third and final meeting no later than mid-July.

Your Academic Mentor can help you with how you approach and cover your topic, which research questions to ask, and how to structure your dissertation. It is the your responsibility to submit material before your meetings so your Mentor has time to prepare for the meeting. We also recommend that you list any topics or questions you want to discuss, so you can make the most of your time together. Send these one week ahead of the meeting if at all possible. In one of your meetings, your Mentor will give you feedback on a 1,000 word summary or outline of your dissertation.

When you have decided on a topic for your dissertation, you must submit the Dissertation Proposal Form which you will find on Moodle. During the course of the academic year, your teachers and Academic Mentor will give you more information about the dissertation requirements and expectations. 

Please do not expect your Mentor to give meticulous comments on drafts: the purpose of the dissertation is to give you a chance to show your capacity for contributing to academic discussion and debate, and it should be your own effort.

After the end of Summer Term, you are expected to be able to complete your dissertation without further guidance. Do not rely on your Academic Mentor as he or she will not be available for meetings or feedback outside of term time. 

Availability of past MSc dissertations

The Department makes a selection of the highest quality dissertations available for students to access for inspiration. Please contact your Programme Manager for details.

Deadline for submission

You must submit your dissertation on or before 28 August 2019 at 12.00 (midday) by uploading an electronic copy under the correct assignment on the relevant Moodle page. If you are a part-time student, this applies to the August following your second year of study. 

Please also refer to the summative coursework submission guidelines in your Programme Handbook.

Personal safety and risk assessment

LSE policy and good practice require a risk assessment when you engage in academic work away from LSE which creates 'serious additional risk'. For some writing a dissertation involves poring over the latest Government policies, but if your dissertation means going out to interview stakeholders and policy makers you will need to do a risk assessment. 

To ensure your personal safety, please keep the follwing in mind at all times:

  • Your fieldwork is an important part of your dissertation. However, you should never do anything or go anywhere that you believe would put you at personal risk.

  • You should always ensure that you let someone know where you are going, when you are planning to return, and when you have returned.

  • If you are going to interview stakeholder groups take due care. Where possible go with someone else or hold focus groups. Do not put yourself at risk in order to obtain information. It is not worth it.

  • Use common sense at all times when thinking about where and how to gather your information and always pay attention to your own health and safety.

  • If you are travelling to a country where you are not a citizen and have no right to health care you should take out insurance to cover your costs, should you fall ill or require some form of assistance. Seek advice from the Students' Union or from travel companies.

  • If you are travelling to a country where you are not normally resident you should check that you have all of your immunisations current and do not require any further medical treatment before you travel. It is worth seeking advice from the Travel Clinic which is in Mortimer Market (off Capper Street), London WC1E 6AU; this is part of the Outpatients Clinic of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases. Country-specific information is also available on the Department of Health website.

  • Finally, you should check with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice web pages for specific information regarding the country to which you are travelling.

We expect all students to behave responsibly and comply with the above advice. LSE cannot accept responsibility for problems you encounter as a result of failure to do so.

Please discuss any risk assessment issues of your research with your Academic Mentor before embarking on the research.

Research ethics

The Department of Health Policy promotes the highest ethical standards in the research undertaken by both our staff and students. You must discuss the ethical implications of your research with your Academic Mentor. You may need to complete a research ethics checklist and a research ethics review before doing your research. These are available here.

It is a requirement that dissertations that are based on data directly gathered from human participants must include a statement to demonstrate that the research has been conducted in accordance with LSE ethical principles.

Certain overseas governments have procedures for the approval of all or any research that directly involves their citizens. Before carrying out any research in such countries, you must make sure you have the necessary permits and approvals. 

In the UK, any research that involves patients of the UK National Health Service must have approval by a Local Research Ethics Committee. In addition, the following research also need ethical approval:

  • Research involving vulnerable groups or sensitive topics

  • Research involving groups where permission of a gatekeeper is required for access to members

  • Research conducted without full informed consent

  • Research involving access to records of confidential information

  • Research which would induce unacceptable psychological stress, anxiety, pain or humiliation

In the wider context of research, there is an ethical imperative that people should not be objectified as the 'subjects' of research, but that, wherever possible, they should be empowered as participants in the research process. Ideally, this mean that service users and the members of disadvantaged groups should have a say in how research is designed and conducted. At the very least, it means that you, as a researcher, have a responsibility to fairly and accurately represent the interests and the voices of the participants.

Please make sure you familiarise yourself with LSE's ethical guidelines and code of conduct before doing any research or contacting potential participants in your research. You can find everything you need to know here. And if you have any questions or concerns, discuss them with your Academic Mentor.