This project provides you with the opportunity to write at considerable length and in
some detail on a topic essentially of your own choice. It can sometimes involve original research, but this is not essential. A dissertation must fall into an area considered relevant and appropriate to the particular MSc programme, and the relevant Course Director will decide in cases of uncertainty. If there is any concern over this, the supervisor will alert the relevant Course Director.
To undertake it you will need a dissertation adviser. Once you have completed the taught elements of the programme you can formally begin the dissertation process.
You do not have to be in Bristol to secure supervision or to write the dissertation.
The process of securing supervision is as follows
1. The list of supervisors is circulated after 12 noon on Friday 14 May 2010 2. You contact by email/phone/in person whichever member of staff from the list you might like to supervise your dissertation.
3. If that member of staff agrees to supervise, that's it. There is no need for central approval of this.
4. If the member of staff does not agree to supervise, you need to contact another member of staff on the list. They may decline because they have reached their full quota of supervision. Alternatively, they may not feel suited to supervise that topic: if so you may consider changing or amending that topic or asking someone else.
5. Once a member of staff agrees to supervise, you agree a mutually satisfactory pattern of supervision.
Staff are entitled to be away for substantial periods for both research and vacation purposes. Supervision may be any mix of face to face, email, post or phone, as agreed mutually. The basic rules for the structured supervision follow.
Supervisors may choose to exercise their discretion and provide more support and feedback than indicated above.
We do not begin the dissertation process until after you have completed your coursework. Staff will not make a commitment, even an informal one, to supervise your dissertation until after 14 May. Staff are entitled to decline to discuss dissertations until after that date: they have other duties, including those related to teaching, that they need to prioritise. Furthermore, concentrating on your coursework and then the dissertation is the best way to do well.
After 14 May, you can contact a potential supervisor if you have essay
resubmissions, but those with extensions for first submissions must submit the essays before contacting a potential supervisor. You can have only one supervisor, and the supervisor can only be from the approved list: there are no exceptions to this.
It is well worth emphasising that staff are perfectly capable of, and happy to,
supervise dissertations significantly outside their areas of research expertise. Staff have much broader knowledge and experience than simply their research area, and most of dissertation supervision is about how, in generic terms, to write a dissertation rather than the specific substantive content. So if particular individuals are not available, this does not mean that any areas of dissertation work are closed off to you. Members of staff generally have wide-ranging interests, many of which you will not be aware, so do suggest whatever you are interested in. Supervision by a member of staff who has not taught you or has not taught on your MSc is fine also.
If a particular member of staff is too heavily committed, you will need to approach
someone else. Obviously, this is an argument for finding an adviser soon after 14 May.
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The longer you leave it, the less choice you will have of supervisor. You will then have to decide whether or not you want to modify or change the topic of your dissertation should you wish to do so, although you are not required to modify or change it for the reasons given above.
Students should provide their dissertation supervisor with a proposal document up to 500 words long at the beginning of the dissertation process (after 14 May 2010). Students are entitled to a maximum of 2 hours of individual staff time to discuss the dissertation proposal in person or by email, post or phone during the summer term weeks 25-29 (ends 18 June 2010). After week 29, occasional, brief queries are permitted.
Up to 09 July 2010, staff will read and comment on a synopsis or dissertation introduction not more than 3000 words long, excluding footnotes and bibliography. No proposals or synopses will be read if submitted after 09 July.
Extensions on the above deadlines (ie not the deadline for the submission of the completed dissertation) can be granted by your supervisor. For those students with essay deadline extensions, the above dissertation deadlines are extended automatically for a period equal to that of the extension. However, the deadline for submitting the completed dissertation will remain the same.
Extensions for the submission of completed dissertation can be granted ONLY by the Director of Taught Postgraduate Programmes Dr. Eric Herring or, should he not be available, your Course Director, and the usual rules on grounds for extensions apply.
Detailed below is a suggestion that may be of assistance to you when writing your 500 word proposal and subsequent synopsis for review by your supervisor. You may also agree a particular approach with your superviser.
Note that an MSc dissertation does not have to be original/involve original research, not even to get a Distinction, but originality (eg use of primary sources such as UN documents) is very welcome and certainly boosts marks.
500 word proposal could be organised as follows:
Title: eg 'Explaining Change in Foreign Policy: Thai-Myanmese Relations Since 2000'.
Question: eg 'Why have Thai-Myanmese relations moved from mainly conflict to mainly
cooperation since 2000?'
The question you ask should have multiple, plausible, significant answers eg have relations improved for reasons of national interest, the interests of particular parts of the relevant governments or broader changes in world politics such as economic globalization?
Background ie overview of the facts, and what is interesting about the question.
ie overview of what are the various positions on the question in the academic literature, NGO and government reports, etc.
Sources and Bibliography
You should indicate what sources you will use, as this is important in indicating whether or not what you want to do can be done. The more specificity the better, for example, rather than simply ‘newspapers', do a Google search and indicate how many
All information correct at time of printing – Sept 2009 40
items there are and how useful they seem to be, or specify which newspapers will be used and how they will be accessed. Or which documents you will use, whether they are online and so on. Or who specifically you would interview. Or which academic studies you would use.
This is the bit that most people are most unsure about. What it basically means is 'How are you going to answer your question?' Are you going to compare a state's words with its actions? Are you going to compare different theories to see which provides the best explanation of the facts you are gathering? Are you going to try to integrate more than one theory.
Eg. One could divide the factors behind the evolution of Thai-Myanmese relations into political, economic and social factors, and, using a standard foreign policy analysis text such as Roy Macridis (ed) 'Foreign Policy in World Politics', look at the two states as unitary rational actors or look at them in terms of bureaucratic politics (the actions of parts of those states such as the government, corporations and the armed forces). You would also need to work out how you were going to measure abstract things (such as political factors or economic factors or social factors) in concrete ways (such as border disputes or levels of trade or focus on human rights). You need to describe what the issue is and then you need to explain it.
The chapters of a dissertation are just like the sections of an essay, but longer. You could have
Ch 1: Introduction. Basically the abstract, expanded into the synopsis
Ch. 2: Political factors
Ch. 3. Economic factors
Ch. 4. Social factors
Conclusion. The conclusion would discuss the relationships between the various factors (eg how separate are they, which is more important) eg. One could conclude that the economic interests of the Thai and Mynamese states were the driving force behind the improvement in their relations, and that the funds generated enable those governments to address the bureaucratic interests of their armed forces in continuing conflict by buying them off with new weapons and cooperation programmes).
3,000 word synopsis
This could simply (but does not have to) be an expanded version of the abstract, and you could use this as your dissertation's introduction.
The University has developed a Policy and Procedure, approved by Council, to govern the ethics of research across the University, and to comply with the legitimate requirements of outside research funders and collaborators. The Procedure applies to everyone carrying out research under the auspices of the University. The key points are outlined below.
The University is concerned with protecting the rights, dignity, health, safety and privacy of research subjects, the welfare of animals and the integrity of the environment. It is also concerned with protecting the health, safety, rights and academic freedom of researchers and the reputation of the University as a centre for high-quality research.
Virtually all research will have ethical implications but there are some instances when these will be particularly important, for example:
All information correct at time of printing – Sept 2009 41
? where the research involves human subjects (particularly children and vulnerable
? where the research uses human data or human material
? where there are serious health and safety implications
? where animal experiments are involved
? where there is a risk of damage to the environment
? where the impact of the research may be emotionally damaging
? where the research is politically or socially sensitive
? where the source of funding for the research has the potential to compromise the
University's position as a publicly funded charitable body
For full details of the policy and related documents please see:
If you are in any doubt about whether or not your work for the dissertation might
have ethical implications, you should check with your dissertation supervisor who may in
turn consult the Department's Ethics Committee. It may be the case that the relevant
aspect of your dissertation work has to be approved by the Ethics Committee.
If you want to conduct interviews for your dissertation you MUST have
Department Research Ethics Committee approval in advance. There are absolutely no
exceptions to this. It does not matter how few interviews you are doing: it is a legal
requirement to which the university must adhere and if you do not get Department
Research Ethics Committee approval in advance, it is a disciplinary offence. All the forms
associated with the University's ethics procedures can be obtained through the 'MSc/Dip
Administration' Blackboard course under the tab entitled 'Ethics'. The departmental
administrator in relation to these issues is Louise Chambers. Her email address is
The deadline for submitting all finalised (not draft) paperwork to the Ethics
Committee is Friday 18 June 2010 (end of week 29). If you do not meet this deadline, your
dissertation cannot involve any work that requires Ethics Committee approval.
Every dissertation must set a particular question or enquiry within an identified field of academic literature. Even if the question involved is apparently quite practical, the
student must make references to literature in a relevant academic field. Provisional
discussions of the literature, and selection of reading appropriate to the thesis, falls within
the responsibility of the supervisor. The dissertation should make its analytical premises
clear at the outset, and the argument, case study, and/or other empirical material should
follow from these premises. The conclusion should summarise the answer to the question
posed by the dissertation topic; relate the elements of the various chapters; and, where
appropriate, make some general observations relevant to related topics or case studies
not covered by the dissertation. A dissertation may be wholly theoretical, wholly empirical
or anything in between. Obviously the word limit will constrain this, but a good dissertation
moves from a well defined premise, to an identified and contained academic literature, to a
tight conclusion, but one with obvious relevance to a wider series of subjects or fields of
investigation. Your dissertation topic can be *anything* within the broad remit of your MSc,
even if it does not correspond to any of the particular units within your MSc. It just has to
be something that can be done in the time and with the resources available.
? The dissertation may not contain, in whole or in part, material which counted
towards credit for this or any other degree. It must be a wholly new piece of work.
? Dissertations must be at least 10,000 words long and no longer than 15,000
words long. The Department treats words limits as precise limits. Penalties will be
All information correct at time of printing – Sept 2009 42
applied to over-length dissertations and separately to over-length footnotes. Five
marks will be deducted for every 100 words or part thereof over the word limit. For
example, a dissertation of 15,001 words will be penalised five marks. Marks lost for
being overlength can be restored via resubmission at the correct length only up to a
maximum mark of 50.
? Dissertations are not penalised for being under-length but it will obviously be harder
to achieve the pass mark with an under-length dissertation.
? The word limits exclude the title page, declarations, abstract, acknowledgments, list
of contents and abbreviations, footnotes/endnotes and bibliography, maps, tables,
diagrams and appendices. Appendices are only for reproducing documents, not for
additional text written by you. Footnotes and endnotes should contain minimal
amounts of text. This means the citation and, at most, one line of additional
explanation per page only. Dissertations containing more that this will be counted
as overlength and the extra words will be penalised whatever the length of the body
of the essay. See above for the mark penalties. A guide to referencing and citation
is included in this handbook.
? The word limits include all text, numbers, Harvard referencing in the body of the
text and direct quotes.
? All dissertations must be word-processed. The University provides a number of 24-
hour computer laboratories where word-processing and printing are available; see
Part 9 - Support Facilities.
? If a dissertation receives a mark of 50 or above, the credit points from it count
towards the award of a Diploma or Certificate.
If you need an item on Inter-Library Loan, please ask Dan Hemings
(firstname.lastname@example.org). The Department only has a small allocation each year for
both staff and students. If you are unable to obtain an IIL voucher and you wish access to
another university library please see the Library Helpdesk in the first instance. The
Department can provide a letter supporting your request if required.