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Handbook for Writing a Dissertation - Project Guidelines and Assessment Process


This handbook explains what your dissertation is, how to run your project, how to prepare and submit your report, and the assessment process. The formal module specification is given in Appendix A.

Your dissertation is an important piece of individual and independent work. It can be the most exciting and challenging piece of work you do at university, since you are able to research a topic of interest to you in some depth.

Your dissertation will normally around 15,000 in length (excluding appendices, table and references) though this will vary with topic, and will be undertaken in accordance with your programme’s assessment schedule. You may lose up to 10% of marks if you are outside this word range by a long margin.

The dissertation is different from coursework, because it is a much larger piece of work, and you have a lot more freedom about the topic and approach. You will be assessed on how you manage your dissertation project, as well as on the report and presentation to examiners. It counts for 60 credits, equivalent to four 15 credit modules.

A dissertation allows you to demonstrate your ability to propose and solve problems. It requires you to become familiar with the research process, as well as developing and presenting a detailed academic argument. The work associated with a dissertation will generally call on you to decide on a research problem, thoroughly review relevant work in the area (mainly but not exclusively the academic literature), carry out the research (which can take many forms) and analysis, and draw conclusions.

Many students will have already selected and developed a topic through Assignment B of the Study Skills and Study Skills and Research Methods (SSRM) module, and found a supervisor. For those who have not (or perhaps have changed their mind about their Assignment B topic), there are the following options.

1. Select a topic that has been set by the academics. A list is available on the Dissertation Blackboard Shell – it will be similar to the list in the SSRM module but may be updated. This is probably the easiest route to select an appropriate research topic. They are only ideas and can be tailored to your interests.

2. If you are working, it is a good idea to select a topic that has value to the organisation you work for. This is a good route for part-time and distance learning students. The topic needs to of appropriate scope and content for an MSc dissertation. Check that the organisation gives permission and can provide sufficient data for the project. You must agree the research question and research aim with your supervisor. It must not simply shadow or reproduce a work project; it must be separate and include an element of your own research, although it could certainly use data from your work.

Topic selection

3. Select an area of your own interest. It can take a significant amount of time for students to identify a suitable area of appropriate scope. It is best to choose an area you are already familiar with or is related to the work you do.

4. If you are in any doubt, contact the Dissertation Module Leader.

Many students start out with a project idea which is too broad ranging and ambitious. Have a look at previous examples and focus on a specific area. Remember it is not simply a review, but an investigation, often involving data collection, experiments, development of a model etc. A good dissertation will lead to new insights and may be suitable to develop into an academic paper with your supervisor.

Contact the Dissertation Module Leader with a list of up to 3 topics, so they can identify a supervisor for your chosen topic.

If you are doing a work-based project, it may be useful to find someone at work – perhaps your manager or an experienced colleague – to act as informal industrial supervisor/mentor, in addition to the DMU supervisor. It is very important to identify a topic as early as you can.

3 Dissertation process and timetable
The process is typically as follows, for full time students starting in September:
1. An outline of the dissertation is usually developed in Assignment B of the Study Skills and Research Methods Module. However you can change the topic if you find it’s not suitable.
2. Supervisor chosen via Dissertation Module Leader. Regular correspondence with your supervisor throughout the project.
3. Submission of Interim Report (electronically via Turnitin). This reports summarises your progress and plans for next steps.

4. Submission of final dissertation document (electronically via Turnitin on Blackboard shell). The dates for this in general terms will be:
a. For most students starting in September, submission is in early September in the following or later year depending on study mode.
b. For some students with deferrals, or other reasons, early January
c. For most students starting in January, submission is in mid-May in the following or later year depending on study mode 

5. Oral examination, which takes one of the following form of one of the following (further details in section 7 Assessment):

a) Presenting at the MSc Conference, normally for September and May submissions.
b) A viva voce examination, in person at DMU with two examiners, one of whom is the supervisor, on a mutually agreed date, following submission.
c) A viva voce examination, by video web link for students unable to come to DMU at reasonable cost etc. (usually overseas students) on a mutually agreed date, following submission.

We encourage students to come to the conference if they can, or come to DMU for a viva in person, but remote vivas are permitted if it would be very expensive or difficult to travel to DMU. Students who started in September studying part time, including distance learners, will normally have decided on a topic and worked on it well before May of the year of submission – topic selection will be part of the Study Skills and Research Methods module that may be in an earlier year.

1. Carry out rigourous original research or review, or building design development using modelling.
2. Effectively apply knowledge and skills from taught modules in their dissertation.
3. Carry out a detailed literature review on the topic with correct citation and referencing.
4. Make coherent recommendations based on findings, where appropriate.
5. Produce a report to a high academic standard.
6. Effectively present the work to examiners and respond to questions in a viva or conference presentation.

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