Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module ENGL51060: Dissertation

Department: English Studies

ENGL51060: Dissertation

Type Open Level 4 Credits 90 Availability Not available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • to offer an appropriate training in research methods and resources in literary studies;
  • to facilitate the transition from undergraduate studies to postgraduate research;
  • to stimulate critical thinking about bibliographical issues and their relation to literary studies;
  • to foster an awareness of the wider scholarly community and of the standards and conventions concomitant with membership of that community;
  • to inculcate academic standards of accuracy, consistency and integrity in the presentation of material and the deployment of secondary sources;
  • to allow a student to make an in-depth study of a particular topic, author, or genre at a complex level, and to give scope for a student to write at substantial length;
  • to encourage the development of sophisticated argument, the marshalling of evidence, the reading of the relevant criticism and contextual material, and the appropriate high level of bibliographical and presentational skills;
  • to provide a foundation for training in higher research at, e.g., doctoral level.


  • This compulsory module is designed to introduce students to methods of literary research and to research resources in Durham. The seminars may, as appropriate, include sessions on issues such as: writing a research proposal, the principles and practices of literary editing; information technology skills of special interest to students of English Literature; making use of Library resources and the Library's Special Collections; research management, presentation skills and methods of disseminating research;
  • the dissertation itself permits a student to present the result of individual and individually supervised work;
  • it allows for the development of a specific research interest to a high level, trains in the use of evidence and constructing an argument, and enhances writing and presentation skills;
  • in preparation for the MA dissertation, each student is entitled to one 30-minute and four 45-minute individual consultations with a nominated supervisor. Each student is entitled to individual feedback from his or her supervisor on a sample of work from the completed draft version of the dissertation.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • to demonstrate an appropriate awareness of research resources, understanding of research methods, and mastery of scholarly conventions of presentation and documentation of sources, tested through coursework as indicated below;
  • to handle an appropriate range of bibliographical terms.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • expertise in, and in-depth knowledge of, an area of literature in English or literary theory from the medieval to the modern period that may be related to a chosen pathway;
  • sophisticated appreciation of the power of imagination in literary creation;
  • knowledge of a linguistic, literary, cultural and socio-historical context in which literature is written;
  • detailed knowledge of useful and precise critical terminology;
  • conversance with the range and variety of approaches to literary study;
  • advanced knowledge of a chosen field of independent research.
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • capacity to initiate and frame an appropriate topic for independent study;
  • a high degree of competence in the planning and execution of written work;
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an advanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in structured and systematic ways involving the use of distinctive interpretative skills derived from the subject;
  • expertise in conventions of scholarly presentation and bibliographical skills;
  • a capacity for independent thought and judgement, and an ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning;
  • an advanced ability to handle information and argument in a critical manner;
  • a competence in information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Through a variety of teaching activities and approaches, seminars will facilitate the development of research skills in preparation for writing the dissertation. Sessions will introduce a range of bibliographical, critical, theoretical and professional topics, contexts and frameworks to aid the development of skills in analysis and research.
  • Summative coursework (see below) will assess the competencies and outcomes outlined above and foster advanced independent study.
  • Students choose their own dissertation titles, subject to the approval of the Board of Examiners, and must submit a research proposal (1000 words) together with a brief synopsis of their proposed topic (c. 250 words) to the Board.
  • Individual supervision sessions provide students with carefully guided advice on shaping arguments and developing bibliographic skills without jeopardising the student's capacity for independent learning.
  • The dissertation tests the student's ability to argue, respond and interpret, whilst demonstrating subject-specific knowledge and skills such as appreciation of the power of imagination in literary creation and the close reading and analysis of texts. Dissertation supervision encourages students to work at an advanced and sophisticated level on an independently conceived piece of work (15,000 words), with appropriate support and advice about the shape of an argument, organisation of material, quality of execution (drafts are read), the importance of assessing the critical ideas of others, and need for bibliographical accuracy and observing scholarly conventions.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 11 Fortnightly 2 hours 22
Individual consultations 5 Easter term and Summer vacation 45 minutes 3.75
Preparation and Reading 874.25
Total 900

Summative Assessment

Component: Dissertation Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Dissertation 15,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Research proposal with bibliography (1,000 words excluding bibliography) submitted in Epiphany term.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University