Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)


Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Open Level 3 Credits 40 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • SGIA2341 Research Project


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • The dissertation aims to develop and test students development of a sophisticated knowledge and understanding of a specialist subject. It also aims to provide students with the capacity to undertake largely independent research that combines sustained analysis of a specific topic in the context of an appropriate analytical framework or background. Students may develop in greater depth a topic they have encountered in their studies at other levels, or may bring the knowledge and modes of analysis and argument already acquired to the study of a topic new to them which excites their interest. Dissertations must show an awareness of the wider context of the specific focus chosen, testing students knowledge of the subject in general and their recognition of the contested and shifting boundaries of the subject and the place of their chosen topic within it. The extended length of the dissertation, both in terms of the word count and the period of time over which it is prepared, requires students to demonstrate effective planning of their work and to take responsibility for its production and conclusions, requiring a self-reflective and self-aware approach.


  • The dissertation provides an opportunity to study a topic in greater depth and detail than is possible in other modules. It requires mainly independent work from the student, though the supervisor is involved in the formulation of the topic and can assist with its development. Content will depend on the topic chosen, though in general it will need to display both in-depth knowledge of a field or case as well as understanding of an appropriate analytical context or framework.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will acquire knowledge and understanding in depth of:
  • a chosen topic within the study of politics;
  • the analytical, conceptual or theoretical framework within which the topic may be examined and the contested nature of this framework.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will acquire in depth the ability to:
  • • Investigate in detail a specific case or specific cases of a politically important phenomenon or the content of a body of political argument
  • • Identify and apply appropriate methods of analysis to political phenomena and arguments
  • • Place this investigation in the context of a relevant body of literature of a conceptual, explanatory or normative type
  • • Understand and work with the contested nature of argument at both the level of detail and that of intellectual context
  • • Construct an extended argument with an appropriate structure and produce defensible judgements
  • • Develop an independent and self-critical approach to learning.
Key Skills:
  • Students will develop in depth their ability to:
  • • Define and design a project of research including a programme of reading and writing
  • • Identify, locate, retrieve and assess the suitable sources including specialized secondary sources and primary sources as appropriate
  • • Adjust their use of knowledge and application of intellectual skills to the specific circumstances of their chosen topic
  • • Utilise C&IT in appropriate ways for the retrieval, analysis and presentation of information, analysis and argument
  • • Formulate and put into effect a long-term plan of work, with a specific deadline, managing their time effectively alongside the competing demands and different work rhythm of more intensively taught modules
  • • Present a substantial text in an appropriate format to demonstrate effective written communication of information, analysis and argument
  • • Work independently with a limited level of guidance and supervision.

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

  • The teaching of the dissertation starts in the student's Level 2 Research Project module. In the Easter Term students choose a broad dissertation topic from a predefined list of research areas, on the basis of which they will choose a supervisor. An initial meeting with the dissertation supervisor should take place before the summer break to give initial guidance on reading. Consultations with the supervisor continue in Michaelmas and Epiphany terms of the final year. At a minimum, it is expected that supervision meetings will occur near the beginning and near the end of Michaelmas Term, and near the beginning of Epiphany term. Supervision ends on the final day of the Epiphany term and students complete the writing of the dissertation during the Easter vacation.
  • Supervisors assist in the refinement of the topic, offer leads (but not full lists) for the location of sources, and give guidance on the development of a structure for the dissertation. They will read and comment on a trial chapter or section in draft, amounting to no more than about one quarter of the total anticipated text. Teaching is thus focused on helping the student form and stick to a general line of research and helping to resolve problems both practical and intellectual that arise in the course of it.
  • Assessment consists entirely of the dissertation itself.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Other (Consultations) minimum of 4 over the year 4 hours max 4
Preparation and Reading 396
Total 400

Summative Assessment

Component: Dissertation Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Dissertation 10,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Draft of one section or chapter (equivalent to no more than one quarter of total anticipated text) to be submitted by the deadline in the module handbook and returned with comments by the end of the 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