Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module SGIA40560: Dissertation

Department: Government and International Affairs

SGIA40560: Dissertation

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.
Tied to L2K609, L2K909


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To provide an opportunity for students of the MSc in Defence, Development and Diplomacy and in Conflict Prevention, Sustainable Peace and Security to engage in a substantial piece of scholarship in an appropriate area of their choice and under suitable supervisory guidance. The dissertation is the culmination of the MSc programme.


  • Students will produce a dissertation of no more than 12,000 words. The content of the dissertation is dependent upon the field chosen by the student in consultation with their supervisor.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • • Through the dissertation students should gain:
  • • Advanced and in-depth knowledge of an appropriate field of study of their choice.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Through the dissertation process students should develop the use of highly specialised and advanced technical, professional and scholastic skills including the ability to:
  • • analyse critically advanced academic literature in their chosen field and make appropriate use of selected primary texts.
  • • appropriately structure their work to sustain and advance analytical arguments effectively, commenting upon key points of academic dispute and controversy.
  • • critically review specialised knowledge of the subject with appropriate recognition of relevant contextual influences on this knowledge.
  • • identify and utilise appropriately relevant sources of information and data.
  • • utilise the relevant research methods and demonstrate their ability to conduct their research accordingly.
Key Skills:
  • • Through the dissertation, students' should enhance key skills, including:
  • • Self-reliance in conducting research
  • • A self-critical approach to research and the effective utilisation of resources
  • • Organisational skills in managing time in order to produce a substantial piece of work on time and to the length with limited supervisory guidance
  • • Skills of effective and appropriate presentation of academic work. .

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

  • The dissertation stands as an opportunity for students to undertake a largely independent piece of research, and as such 'teaching', in the sense of imparting knowledge, is minimal. Instead, supervisors serve as a source of advice and guidance through dissertation supervision (DV) on issues such as: developing an appropriate overall structure for the dissertation; advising on possible sources of literature and other data; offering critical feedback on a limited amount of draft material; and providing support and advise on overcoming problems, in accordance with the learning outcomes. Learning is therefore principally self-directed (SGL), with students taking the lead in devising the research project independently, identifying appropriate resources using sophisticated techniques of information retrieval and management, constructing and synthesising arguments critically from different sources of material, developing their ideas, formulating them clearly within the discursive conventions and genres of academic writing and planning how best to conduct and present their work (LOKS1-3, 5-6). This serves the learning outcomes through encouraging students to work effectively, in a self-reliant and self-critical manner to develop their knowledge and understanding and hone their analytical, problem-solving and other relevant subject skills.
  • The in-depth research carried out for the dissertation will contribute to the achievement of subject specific knowledge (LOK1-6, depending on the precise focus of the dissertation). The Dissertation Workshop (DW), which students will have to attend in term 3 as part of the Dissertation module, will reinforce and enhance the continuing methodological training provided in every module throughout the programme, and, in combination with the work carried out for the dissertation, will contribute to the achievement of subject specific skills (LOSS1-6, with a particular emphasis on LOSS5-6).
  • For practitioners or students intent on pursuing a career as a practitioner, there is the option of writing a more policy-oriented dissertation. A policy-oriented dissertation has to fulfil the same criteria as a ‘traditional’ dissertation (e.g. same length, same learning outcomes, same assessment criteria). Where it differs is in its greater emphasis on policy relevance, and making the theory or case study applicable to a particular policy puzzle. Students can use a work placement as the basis for their dissertation topic, using their first-hand access to practitioners and real-time practitioner dilemmas as empirical material (following the usual ethical guidelines guiding ethnographic fieldwork). Their dissertation will nevertheless have to demonstrate a firm grasp of the conceptual and theoretical issues relevant to their case study/work placement, how these apply to the case, and what the case means for the theory.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Workshop 1 Term 2 or Term 3 Half day 4
Other Typically 6 x half hour supervisory meetings Typically between November and June Variable 3
Preparation and Reading 593
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Dissertation Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Dissertation 12000 100%

Formative Assessment:

None formally required although students are encouraged to submit and discuss a draft plan of the dissertation and may submit one draft chapter upon which comments will be offered by the supervisor.

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