Undergraduate dissertation guidelines

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Department of Politics, Birkbeck College, University of London

1. Introduction
This document provides important information about the BA dissertation. It discusses the aims and objectives of the dissertation as part of the degree programme, describes the formal requirements that the dissertation must satisfy, provides guidelines on the substance, organisation and presentation of the dissertation, outlines the criteria used by markers in assessment, and offers advice on planning and writing the dissertation. It also describes the role and duties of the supervisor. Although the topic and approach is discussed with the supervisor, the dissertation is an independent piece of work and responsibility for choosing the topic, planning, preparation, writing, presentation and submission lies with the student.
You are advised to read through the document carefully and to raise any queries with your supervisor, or with the BA Programme Director. A workshop will be held to assist you in planning and organising your dissertation, and to answer your queries.
What is a dissertation?
A dissertation is a long piece of written work (8,000–10,000 words) that offers a detailed, sustained and critical treatment of a chosen topic. It is an analytic undertaking. It is not a descriptive account of the topic under investigation, nor is it a review of books and articles read. A dissertation differs from an essay in requiring a more sustained treatment of a topic, greater depth of analysis and wider consultation of sources and materials. The dissertation will differ from your course essays far more than might appear at first glance: it is more than an extended course essay. This makes it all the more important that you begin work on the dissertation as early as possible and that you ensure at the outset that you have a clear idea of what the dissertation will require.
Aims and Objectives.
The aim of the dissertation is to enable students to advance their knowledge of the disciplines they have studied on their BA programme by pursuing an independent research project on a chosen topic within one or more of these fields. Students completing the dissertation will have examined a subject in substantial depth, shown evidence of an ability to undertake sustained critical analysis, developed and improved their research skills, and produced a long piece of written work that demonstrates understanding of an area relevant to your degree.
2. Intellectual requirements
Substance and aims
A dissertation should address a well-defined research question, specified at the outset. It has precise intellectual objectives, and presents a logically developed argument, the claims of which are supported by evidence where necessary. A dissertation requires a central integrating argument. The argument should be logically developed, building up a case point by point and displaying a critical and analytical approach to the subject. The dissertation can be a mixture of primary and secondary research. Some originality will be expected. This can take the form of previously unexplored primary sources or of an original theoretical analysis or interpretation of existing literature. Whatever approach you choose, it is critically important to develop a distinctive argument of your own. It is not enough simply to write about the collection of books and articles which you have read about the topic. Alternatively, you can use primary material to develop your own critique of existing scholarly arguments.
Contextualisation of your argument is a critical issue and one that many dissertation candidates fail to tackle. In simplest terms, you should think of yourself as joining an on-going conversation among scholars. Thus, you will need to show an awareness of what others in the conversation have already said (or are saying) and of the implications of their various views and positions for your own work. You will also need to have something of your own to contribute to the discussion. Your review of the literature on your problem should proceed with this in mind. It is not enough simply to summarise what has been written: you will need to ‘map’ the conversation so as to show how the works of different authors on the topic relate to one another and where your own work is intended to fit in.
Keep this in mind as you read the scholarly literature on your chosen subject: when taking notes on a book or article, try to relate what it is saying to things you have already read. Noting that, say, Smith has made a particular argument is useful enough, but your notes on Smith’s article will be even more useful if you jot down your thoughts on what the implications of Smith’s position might be for Jones. It will then be easier to see where your argument might fit into the debate going on between Smith and Jones.
Choosing an appropriate topic is very important. If you pick too broad a topic, you will not be able to deal with it satisfactorily. The dissertation should be used as an opportunity to show some original thinking. This will not be possible if you pick a topic which has been so thoroughly worked over that there is, for an undergraduate, nothing left to say about it. On the other hand, some other topics may be too narrow, and will not provide enough material to fill your dissertation. Some topics are difficult to key into any scholarly debates or problematics. You need to pick a topic which is substantial enough to allow you to get to grips with it within the parameters of the dissertation, and closely enough defined to allow you to suggest something interesting about it.
The dissertation needs a structure, as does any essay. This is all the more important in a dissertation because of its greater length. Although structure varies according to the topic and methodology chosen, a dissertation typically consists of three parts:

  • The introduction states the objectives of the dissertation, outlines the problematic, and identifies how it is intended to meet these objectives, i.e. a discussion of the methodology employed. The treatment of the topic under consideration must be contextualised by locating it in the relevant literature and relating it to the relevant debates.

  • The main body of the dissertation develops the argument, offers supportive evidence, discusses relevant issues and presents a detailed analysis of the subject matter.

  • The conclusion presents a summary of the findings of the dissertation, relates these to the argument outlined in the introductory chapter and states precisely what has been demonstrated.

Each of these sections (particularly the middle one) should have a clear internal structure of its own.

You will need to show that you appreciate the historical and scholarly context of the topic you are addressing. You must demonstrate not only that you can collect evidence and consider a particular problem or topic in detail, but also that you understand why the topic is of importance and how it relates to the work others have done in the same field.
3. Formal requirements
The length of the dissertation should be 8,000–10,000 words, including appendices and bibliography. A dissertation which is substantially longer or shorter may be penalised by the examiners. The number of words in the dissertation should be recorded on the cover page. This word limit does not give you much leeway or allow for padding, so you will need to write carefully and above all concisely. Avoid repetition and resist the temptation to include material irrelevant to your argument simply because you have collected it or find it interesting. Lengthy or flowery descriptions of how you became interested in a topic are almost always a waste of words.
The dissertation much be typed or word-processed, and preferably bound in some kind of patent file folder. The paper should be of A4 size, of adequate quality, with clear printing, a type face of adequate size (usually font size 12), 1.5 line spacing, on one side of the page, with margins of 1.5 inches on the binding edge and 1 inch on the rest. Candidates are required to submit one copy with a cover sheet.
The cover sheet must state the following:

Name of School

Name of College

Name of University

Title of Dissertation

Your Student Number (this should also appear as a footer on each page)

The following sentence: Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the BA Politics & Society/BA Global Politics & International Relations/BA Politics, Philosophy & History.

Typographic spelling and other technical errors should be avoided by leaving sufficient time for proof-reading the final draft. Particular care should be taken with figures, statistics, diagrams and tables, ensuring that the information presented is clear, that headings and captions are fully self-explanatory, and that sources are correctly attributed.
Students must complete and sign the standard plagiarism declaration (available on the Department’s website) provided by the Department Office, and submit one copy with their dissertation.
Date of submission
All BA dissertations must be submitted in May of the year in which they are to be examined. The deadline for the electronic copy of the BA dissertations is the 15th May.
This submission date is a requirement of the examination regulations. Late submissions will be penalised unless the sub-board of examiners is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances, such as serious illness, which justify the granting of an extension. Where it is not possible to submit the dissertation on or before the deadline, the matter must be discussed urgently with the supervisor and a formal application submitted to the supervisor and the programme director, where the two are not the same person, stating the grounds for the request, the amount of time lost and the period necessary for completion. A decision will be taken as to whether the request is acceptable, and, if so, the length of the extension that can be granted. Extensions will be granted only in exceptional circumstances and that the period of postponement will be strictly proportionate to the time lost. Dissertations which are submitted too late to be properly marked before the examiners’ meeting (even if there are exceptional circumstances) will ordinarily be deferred for consideration by the examiners the following year.
Dissertations are to be submitted on Moodle and one hard copy to the Politics Departmental Office at 10 Gower Street between the hours of 10.00 & 6.00.

It is important that you hand in your dissertation to the department, as the administrator records and receipts all dissertations, to ensure that there is no confusion about whether or not it has been submitted. Dissertations should not be submitted directly to lecturers. Students are responsible for submitting their dissertations on time; the Examinations Sub-board does not make allowances for the loss of dissertations which are posted, or for the loss or late arrival of dissertations dispatched to the departmental office via friends, colleagues or any other third party. Dissertations which arrive late via the post are, however, considered to be on time provided the postmark is not later than the day before the actual deadline. In short, you post at your own risk.

The dissertation is submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for your BA degree. It should therefore address issues of relevance to one or both of the disciplines covered by the degree. You are encouraged to choose a topic which requires an interdisciplinary approach integrating more than one of the disciplines you have studied, but you are free to choose a subject which falls clearly into one of the disciplines.
Presentation and style
The same rules of clear and simple expression should be followed in writing a dissertation as would be in writing an essay. Discussion should be broken up into sections and sub-sections, but excessive fragmentation should be avoided. Sub-sections should be long enough to make a point. Breaking the text into too many very short sub-sections prevents coherent presentation and can encourage a superficial treatment of a wide range of material rather than a detailed and well-substantiated account of a tightly defined area.
Do use data where appropriate. Not only do charts simplify information for readers, but graphics—graphs, tables, charts, diagrams, flowcharts or organigrams—can be very informative. All graphs, tables, charts, diagrams, flowcharts and organigrams must be clearly presented, be a reasonable size, have relevant headings and acknowledge sources.
Excessive sloppiness in presentation will be penalised by the examiners. You should therefore pay close attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation. Be sure to leave enough time to proof-read the dissertation carefully before final submission to ensure that such errors are kept to a minimum. English rules of grammar must always be followed, no matter how arcane they may seem. If in doubt about questions of grammar and style, you might want to consult Oxford English: a Guide to the Language, compiled by I.C.B. Dear (1986), The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (1981) or Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926, revised 1965). All are published by Oxford University Press and all are readily available in many libraries.
It may be useful to consult the following when writing your dissertation:

  • A good English dictionary.

  • Dunleavy, P (1986) Studying for a Degree in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Basingstoke: Macmillan), Chapter 5 ‘Writing Dissertations’, pp. 110-36.

  • Strunk, W and White, E (1979) The Elements of Style (New York: Macmillan).

  • Berry, R. (1986) How to Write a Research Paper (Oxford: Pergamon).

  • Howard, K and Sharp, J (1983) The Management of a Student Research Project (Aldershot: Gower).

  • Strunk, W. and White, E. 1979. The Elements of Style (New York: Macmillan).

  • Turabian, K. 1982. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations, 5th edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Research for the dissertation may involve use of a variety of primary and secondary sources. You are encouraged, where appropriate and feasible, to use primary source material, for example, from interviews, surveys, or the analysis of original documents, provided you demonstrate an awareness of the methodological issues raised by the use of these sources. However, it is important to make sure that fieldwork is practicable, feasible within the time available, and ethical. Successful use of such material is likely to contribute to a higher mark. But make sure that any fieldwork that you do is ‘containable’ in the time-frame for the dissertation. And remember that the use of primary source material is not a requirement of a successful dissertation.
At all costs avoid plagiarism. The dictionary definition of ‘plagiarise’ is to ‘take and use another person’s (thoughts, writings, inventions) as one’s own.’ The most obvious form is using someone else’s words without any acknowledgement, but there are other kinds of plagiarism. For example using a verbatim passage without quotation marks even if the source was acknowledged in a reference. When the work of other people is referred to there should always be an acknowledgement. Examiners are vigilant for cases of plagiarism (see below for the College’s statement on the issue, which you should read very carefully).
The attached notes on referencing in dissertations should help you to use appropriate forms when acknowledging your sources. Please pay close attention to them. Sloppy or inadequate use of referencing will count against you when the dissertation is marked.
4. Supervision
If you wish to undertake a dissertation, you should approach an individual tutor to discuss your topic and to request supervision. It is best to do this in the spring of the penultimate year of your course, so as to have the summer available to begin work on the dissertation. Joint supervision by no more than two tutors may also be requested. Agreement to provide supervision must of course be made at the tutor’s discretion. Once you have found a supervisor who has agreed to oversee your dissertation, please be sure to notify the course administrator of this. You should also give notice of any change in your supervision arrangements (i.e. if you change supervisors or have a second supervisor).
The dissertation is intended to provide an opportunity for students to pursue a research project independently. Students are, therefore, entirely responsible for the work for their dissertation. The role of the supervisor is to offer advice and guidance, not to direct the research. Your supervisor will help you to identify a topic, to draw up a suitable preliminary bibliography and to plan the primary and secondary research you will need to do for the dissertation. He/she will be available to advise you on approach, coverage, questions to be asked and the outline structure and research design.
More specifically, the supervisor is expected to:

  • assist you in the definition and organisation of your project in the early stages of preparation;

  • offer you advice about sources;

  • advise you on the feasibility of what you plan to do; and

  • approve your dissertation proposal.

The supervisor is under no obligation to:

  • find you a suitable topic for the dissertation;

  • read preliminary drafts of your work; or

  • proof read your final draft.

Supervisors are generally more than willing to look at first drafts provided such arrangements are agreed in advance so that ‘logjams’ can be avoided. If you do wish your supervisor to have a look at a preliminary draft, then it is critical to discuss this with your supervisor at a very early stage and to plan your work schedule so as to allow adequate time to submit all or part of a preliminary draft to your supervisor well ahead of the final submission date. Since your supervisor may not be in a position to turn your first draft around as rapidly as you might wish (he/she may have 10 or 15 dissertands preparing to submit at the same time), you will need to consult your supervisor well in advance to agree a date for submitting the rough draft. Do not expect your supervisor to drop everything so as to turn around a draft submitted with little or no notice.

You should have at least four meetings with your supervisor:

  • an initial discussion identifying the topic, questions and methodology and sketching out an initial action plan and bibliography;

  • two intermediate meetings to assess progress on the dissertation and discuss the likely structure of the first draft; and

  • a final ‘trouble-shooting’ meeting as the project enters its final phase.

It is up to you to contact your supervisor for meetings and you should make sure that you do so in good time. Do not leave the dissertation to the last few months, as supervisors are generally not sympathetic to students who turn up two or three months before the deadline expecting extensive guidance on a project they have only begun to pursue actively.

5. Assessment
The dissertation is assessed according to the following criteria, with credit given to the extent that:

  • the research question is well-defined, and contextualised;

  • an argument is specified, coherently presented and supported by evidence;

  • alternative arguments are analysed;

  • the approach is critical, not descriptive;

  • a relevant methodology is employed;

  • relevant sources have been consulted;

  • knowledge of relevant literature, issues and debates is demonstrated; and

  • the style and presentation is clear and careful, and appropriate academic conventions have been observed.

The College common scale for the award of classified marks is used in assessing dissertations.

6. The dissertation process
Choosing a topic
Start thinking about possible topics as early as possible. Look at relevant debates in the literature to see how issues are framed and what arguments are made. Choose something that interests you, since enthusiasm is an important motivating factor in writing a good dissertation. Remember, though, that the project must be intellectually feasible, practicable in terms of gaining access to the necessary sources and manageable in the time available. The subject may be related to your work, but do not choose something for this reason alone or something that will get you into trouble. Also, the dissertation is an exercise in critical analysis, so it can only be about something that has happened, rather than a speculative exercise about what might happen or a stipulative or normative project about what should happen.
Defining the project
Once you have identified a general area, therefore, it is important to find an angle of approach that delimits a specific domain on which you can concentrate your attention. The first step is to identify a subject area that interests you, then to look for debate or contention in the literature and consider how you might use your subject area to make an argument that addresses that debate or assertion. You also need to consider what ground has to be covered to make your argument intellectually robust and what method is suitable. This is the stage at which your supervisor can be of most assistance, and you are strongly advised to arrange an appointment with the most appropriate lecturer in order to discuss whether your project is manageable, what your approach to the subject might be and what literature you might examine.
The treatment of your chosen subject will undoubtedly change as you pursue your research, but it is nevertheless important to define the ground that you need to cover and to plan how the chapters should be organised in order to present your argument. Once you’ve reached this point, you should write an outline, a summary of your argument and a plan of how you intend to divide your material between chapters on one side of A4 paper, submit this to your supervisor and arrange an appointment to discuss it before you proceed. You should not embark on a project before it has been formally approved by your supervisor. A form will be distributed to you for this purpose.
Planning the research
Once you have defined the project , i.e. identified the topic, selected the relevant method and decided what sources you need, it is important to draw up a schedule for carrying out the project. Try to develop a realistic estimate of how long it will take to collect and go through the relevant sources. If you need to do interviews, you should consult your supervisor for advice on their organisation and applying for ethical approval, and to discuss how material from interviews should be used. Interviews can be a very valuable source, providing information that is not available from other sources, or adding colour and emotion. If interviews would enable you to offer a more detailed or insightful treatment of a subject and if you have the opportunity to do them, you should think seriously about doing them.
College rules require that any research by students involving human participants (e.g. face-to-face or telephone interviews; questionnaires or surveys; focus groups; other) requires ethical approval prior to the research beginning. Please see the undergraduate student website (http://www.bbk.ac.uk/politics/current-students/undergraduates) for a link to the ethics proposal form, which should be completed and submitted to your supervisor.
Remember that writing takes a long time, far longer than you may anticipate, so plan carefully and be generous in the time you allocate yourself for various tasks. Leave plenty of time for re-drafting and a final proof-reading before the submission deadline.


It is vital that you keep accurate notes on all the material you read. Make a note of the author, title, date and place of publication of books and articles along with notes on the contents. Be sure to keep track of the page numbers from which you take notes or copy out direct quotations. You should also keep a record of manuscript or newspaper sources. You will need this information (as well as the notes on the contents of the books or articles) in order to supply adequate references to the text when you write it up. You may find it best to use note-cards (file-cards) on which to record information; or you may prefer to stick with notebooks and files. But the main thing is to decide which system of note-taking suits you best and keep to it. Note-cards are also a good way of keeping the information you need to build up a bibliography. More detailed information on how to set out your bibliography is included in the section on referencing.

7. What to avoid
Most weak or failing dissertations reflect a combination of sloppiness, procrastination and/or lack of work. Avoiding these pitfalls is up to you. However, even candidates who do thorough research, who write clear, well-organised prose and who observe the conventions of scholarly writing sometimes produce relatively weak dissertations, because they have fallen into one or more of the ‘traps’ described below. These are the most common complaints examiners cite when criticising dissertations that show real ability and application but nonetheless fall short in some way. While none of these is fatal, all are worth avoiding, as they can seriously detract from the quality of the dissertation:

  • Excessive description. The dissertation should offer an analytical treatment of the subject under investigation. This is probably the most common weakness cited by examiners.

  • Poor definition of the question. One of the biggest differences between a dissertation and an essay or exam is that it is up to you to define the research question you wish to answer. Often, this is the most difficult task of all. It is also one of the most important: many well-researched and well-written dissertations lose marks because the research question has been poorly specified. A fuzzy question often results in a weak overall structure, since the structure of the dissertation should be designed so that each section contributes to the argument you are making in response to the question.

  • Poor integration of theoretical and empirical material. This is probably the second most common weakness. Many dissertations contain theoretical discussions that are meant to inform the analysis of the material under study but that are never rigorously and clearly applied to it. All too often, the theoretical section simply stands isolated from the rest of the text—a summary of some political science theory that is never referred to again in the dissertation. Its inclusion reflects an awareness that it is somehow relevant but it is never brought to bear on the case or cases under discussion.

  • Poor contextualisation. Consider your dissertation as participation in a conversation that is on-going in the literature. You will need, therefore, to identify what the conversation is about and to outline the positions of the main participants in order to be able to situate the topic of your dissertation and the argument that you present. It is not enough simply to make an argument in a vacuum.

  • Uncritical use of sources. It is important to subject primary and especially secondary sources to critical scrutiny. Don’t accept what is written because it is written—even if it’s been published in a prestigious journal. Check for logical, internal coherence and empirical support for arguments made

8. Further guidance
In addition to these written guidelines and your meetings with your supervisor, you should attend one of the dissertation workshops. These will provide an opportunity to raise general questions about the dissertation and also more extensive guidance concerning various possible research methods and models of dissertation design.
9. Finally
Having read all of the requirements for your dissertation in some detail, you may now be viewing it with considerable trepidation. Certainly, you should view it with respect: it is a serious undertaking and will almost certainly be unlike anything you’ve ever done before in your academic career. However, we hope that you will also find it to be among the most satisfying things you do during your course. Its is your opportunity to select a topic that interests you and to focus on it without the pressure of cramming 24 weeks’ worth of material for an exam or trying to write everything you know in sixty minutes in a crowded room full of nervous fellow students. Try to find a topic that really excites your interest. The dissertation is the culmination of your degree programme, and we hope you will find it an enjoyable task and that you will produce a piece of work of which you can be justly proud. Good luck!

References are necessary when you source ideas that you have borrowed and not simply when you cite quotations. References are scholarly acknowledgements of work referred to or quoted. Please note that proper citation of sources is an elementary but critical mark of the presentation of academic work. There are several different conventions and it does not matter which one you adopt provided that you cite sources properly, giving all the necessary information, and keep consistently to the same convention. The ‘Harvard’ system is recommended and is outlined below. It is relatively widely used and also a bit more ‘user friendly’ than some of the more elaborate systems, especially if you do not have a reasonably sophisticated word processing programme at your disposal.
You may, however, use other methods such as:

  • footnotes, appearing at the bottom of each page and indicating the author, title, publisher/journal, year of publication and page numbers; or

  • endnotes, providing the same information but at coming the end of the text.

You will need to rely on an established style manual for guidance as to the proper forms of references placed in footnotes or endnotes. Whatever system you adopt, it is important to employ it consistently. If you opt for footnotes or endnotes, be sure that the notes themselves correspond correctly to the footnote/endnote numbers in the text. (This may sound obvious, but it is all too often the case that the notes and text references in essays and dissertations do not match up!)
Whatever system you opt for, the dissertation should contain a full bibliography listing all the sources you have consulted. If you have used material of different kinds, you may need to subdivide the bibliography into sections—e.g. by listing primary and secondary sources separately, listing any interviews conducted in a specific section, classifying types of primary sources according to type (laws and other official documents, diaries and private papers, etc) or separating printed primary sources from manuscripts. Secondary sources may also be classified by theme. This should only be done if the sub-divisions of the bibliography relate clearly to thematic divisions in your text. Do not list books and articles separately. You may find it helpful to look at the format adopted in the bibliography of a book dealing with the broad subject of your topic. The dissertations co-ordinator, or your supervisor, will advise wherever necessary.
The Harvard system. The Harvard system requires you to put in the text of your work the surname of the author, the date of publication, and the page number, all within brackets. At the end of the dissertation you then give a single list of all the references you used. This list of references should be arranged alphabetically (by author) with full bibliographic information. The alphabetical list should include all the references which have been used (books, articles, reports, government publications, theses etc.). For instance, your essay may start by saying, ‘In this dissertation, I will take issue with some of the more simplistic analyses found in this literature (Tompson, 1997:3) . . .’ This allows the reader to check your bibliography, find the reference for the book/article on the topic published by Tompson in 1997, look it up in the library and verify the banality of what Tompson in fact wrote on p. 3. If you name the author, you need only put the year and page number in brackets: ‘Tompson (1995:346) argues that . . .’
The references in the alphabetical list should contain the name of the author, the date of publication, the title of publication, the place of publication and the publisher, set out as follows:
for books:

Parsons, W. 1995. Public Policy (Aldershot: Edward Elgar).

for articles:

Margetts, H. 1991. ‘The Computerisation of Social Security: The Way Forward or a Step Backwards?’, Public Administration 69 (3), pp.325-43.

for chapters in edited collections of essays:

Keliher, L. 1995. ‘Core Executive Decision Making on High Technology Issues: The Case of the Alvey Report’ in R. Rhodes and P. Dunleavy (eds.) Prime Minister, Cabinet and Core Executive (London: Macmillan), pp. 219-247.

for unpublished theses:

Halsall, G. 1990. ‘Civitas Mediomatricorum: Settlement and social in the Merovingian region of Metz, c.451-c.751’ (Univ. of York D.Phil. thesis).

for government reports and other publications produced by organisations (where there is no author’s name):

Office of Management and Budget. 1997. The US Federal Budget (Washington DC: GPO).

If the bibliography contains more than one work by an author/group of authors/organisation with the same year of publication, then letters are used after the year to make the distinction in both the text references and the bibliography. Thus
Smith, T. 1998a. ‘Mass Killing and Excess Deaths in the Soviet Union in the 1930s’, Europe-Asia Studies 50 (3) pp.325-43.
Smith, T. 1998b. ‘How Many Victims of the Terror? A Reply to Wheatcroft’, Slavic Review 45 (4) pp. 567-98.
You should always italicise the titles of printed books and periodicals. Do not italicise the titles of individual chapters or articles themselves. If you are typing a dissertation and cannot produce italic print, a single underline under the italicised portions of each entry will serve the same function.
Things are rather more complicated if you are using primary sources in conjunction with the Harvard system. In the actual text, primary sources should be cited in an abbreviated form, thus (L.H.III.15; H.E.I.20). This requires that a full list of any abbreviations be set out at the beginning of the dissertation. All primary sources must also, of course, be fully listed in the bibliography. The bibliographic forms for primary sources other than newspapers (which are relatively straightforward: The Times, 23 January 1998, p. 10.) depend on the nature of the sources being used. Consult your dissertation supervisor and/or a style guide which uses the Harvard system for the proper forms if you need to include such sources in your bibliography.
Footnotes. In addition to giving bibliographic information about the sources used, footnotes may be employed when you have a piece of information to give but it is inconvenient to break up the text to give it. Traditionally footnotes appear at the bottom of the relevant page in a smaller font: most word-processing packages will create them for you. Foot-notes and end-notes are never used with the Harvard system except where a note is necessary to expand or clarify a point in the text (in which case the words used count towards the total for the dissertation).

Appendix 2: Plagiarism in coursework and dissertations

Plagiarism—the presentation of another person’s thoughts or words as one’s own—in essays, dissertations or other assessed work constitutes grounds for failing a candidate on the work concerned; more serious sanctions may be also applied if circumstances warrant them.

The College statement on the subject is as follows:

You are reminded that all work submitted as part of the requirements for any examination of the University of London or Birkbeck College must be expressed in your own words and incorporate your own ideas and judgements. Plagiarism—that is, the presentation of another person’s thoughts or words as though they were your own—must be avoided, with particular care in course-work and essays and reports written in your own time. Direct quotations from the published or unpublished work of others must always be clearly identified as such by being placed inside quotation marks, and a full reference to their source must be provided in the proper form. Remember that a series of short quotations from several different sources, if not clearly identified as such, constitutes plagiarism just as much as does a single unacknowledged long quotation from a single source. Equally, if you summarise another person’s ideas or judgements, you must refer to that person in your text, and include the work referred to in your bibliography. Failure to observe these rules may result in an allegation of cheating. You should therefore consult your tutor or course director if you are in any doubt about what is permissible.

Recourse to the services of ‘ghost-writing’ agencies (for example in the preparation of essays or reports) or of outside word-processing agencies which offer ‘correction/improvement of English’ is strictly forbidden, and students who make use of the services of such agencies render themselves liable for an academic penalty.

The handling of cases of alleged plagiarism is governed by the Regulations for Proceedings in Respect of Examination Irregularities. University of London Regulations for Proceedings in Respect of Examination Irregularities shall apply until determined otherwise by the College.

Department of Politics


Please copy and paste this form into a new document, complete it, and send it to your programme director by the first week in the spring term (January) of your final year of study

E-mail address:
BA programme:

Title of proposed dissertation

Description of subject area

What scholarly literature will you be examining?
What primary research material might you use?
Have you identified or spoken with a potential supervisor? If so, who?

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