Taught Modules and Dissertation

Each taught module is led by one or more module tutors, who are responsible for the teaching of the module and with whom you work on a day-to-day basis. Any questions that you have regarding a particular module, or your work within it, should be directed to the relevant tutor. Modules are of either one or two semesters in length. The type and amount of work required for different modules varies according to its credit-value, its subject matter and the preferences of the tutor/s. All modules have some formal meetings but you will also need to devote a considerable period of time to independent study outside of these meetings. Every module we offer, and the work required to complete it, is described on a module descriptor. In order to complete a module you need to attend all relevant seminars and meetings, undertake all the work assigned by the tutor (included under the heading ‘Assessments’ on the descriptor) and to fulfil the assessment requirements (included under the heading ‘Assessment’ on the descriptor). Our module descriptors can be found on our programme information web pages.

A mix of teaching methods is employed at Master’s level. In comparison to undergraduates the expectation is that postgraduate students are more independent and are more capable of taking an active role in defining, exploring and mastering a subject area. For example, you are expected to have the ability to organise and manage your own work, to know how to compile a bibliography, or to lead a discussions .You should aim to work with your tutors rather than expecting that they will supply everything for you. In turn, tutors are expected to provide you with guidance and support, and to comment critically and constructively on your work. Accordingly, very few modules have lectures or other kinds of passive learning as the main teaching method. In some cases there are demonstrations, where a particular practical skill is being taught.

Your Work

The main kinds of work that you will have to do are outlined below. We cannot stress enough the importance of good planning and preparation in getting the best out of a module. Be careful to spread your workload, do not let deadlines pile up, and be careful to allow time to get material from the library and to prepare well. Your tutors are there to help you with your work, so talk to them about it and let them know well in advance of any problems you might be encountering.

Seminars: all modules have seminars and group discussions devoted to particular aspects of the subject matter of a module. These can be face-to-face or online. Seminars are the chance to share and discuss ideas. They can be a very productive way of working together. Their nature can vary: in some cases you may be asked to present a paper or to organise a group activity, for example. In almost every case you will need to prepare for seminars in advance by reading around the topic. Tutors will normally advise you as to appropriate reading matter, though you should also be able to research a topic yourself. Seminars only work well when students are well prepared and are willing to interact. You need to organise your reading in advance and be careful to prepare any presentation in good time to meet any deadline given by the module tutor. In some modules, presentations are part of the overall assessment of the module.

Coursework: all modules require written work. All the required coursework normally needs to be completed before the end of the term in which the module is taught and submitted by the given deadlines. Written work varies in nature between different types of modules. Most typical are essays of various lengths. These might focus on a particular question related to the subject matter of the module, or they might ask you to evaluate a particular piece of evidence, or to outline a methodological problem. In some cases, where a particular skill is being taught, you might have to prepare a research outline, compile a critical bibliography, compose a questionnaire or show the results of a survey. You may well need to use both secondary works (books and articles) along with primary material (documents, statistics, memoirs, survey data, reports etc.). Tutors will give advice and assistance on appropriate reading, but again you should also be able to take the main role in researching your essays and other coursework. They may also comment on plans or drafts of the work before the work is submitted. Written work needs to be presented in a particular format and to follow established academic conventions.  All or some of the coursework that you do may also contribute to the overall assessment of the module.  Once again, you need to plan your work well in advance in order to undertake the reading and research, and to allow sufficient time for writing drafts and then the final version of an essay or other assignment. You also need to make sure that you stagger your workload to meet deadlines.

Exams: Assessment details are given in each module description. Most Masters’ modules do not involve formal examinations, but this does not apply to all modules, for example, language modules in IAIS are assessed by examination as are some modules in the School of Law.  


In all the work you submit, you must take great care to ensure that you do not inadvertently plagiarise the work/ideas of someone else. Plagiarism is a serious offence and any student suspected of this will be subjected to a formal enquiry and if found guilty will be disciplined and in some cases could be withdrawn from the course. There is guidance on the website about how to avoid committing plagiarism, and the Study Skills team can also help if you are uncertain about what it is and how to avoid it. Within ELE you will find a module called Academic Honesty and Plagiarism which will give you very clear guidance. Please see the section entitled Presentation of Written Work for a more comprehensive section on plagiarism.

Dissertation Modules

Every student researches and writes a dissertation on a topic of his or her choosing. These vary in length according to different programmes and credit values (check the details of your programme or ask your Programme Co-ordinator). All require you to undertake independent research under the guidance of a supervisor. Personal research is an attempt to answer a self-posed question or set of inter-related questions. It is best to think about subjects as soon as possible as dissertations require considerable time and planning: it is not something that you should leave until you have finished all your taught modules. Subjects will naturally vary in nature according to your own interests and the discipline within which you are working. In any event, the topic chosen should be relatively narrow, well defined and feasible - one that you can research in depth within the word limit.

The general requirements of any dissertation are that it should address a particular question or series of questions and that it should be an analytical and argued response. It is important that you work out what is right for YOUR dissertation, with the advice and support of your supervisor. Beyond this, the exact requirements might vary slightly according to the conventions of different disciplines.

Dissertations must be produced according to University rules and to conform to accepted academic conventions.  Your mark for the dissertation will be judged in part on your ability to follow these rules and conventions.

Preparation, choice of topic and appointment of supervisor

Preparation for dissertations either takes the form of sessions within one of the Core modules or the completion of a dissertation preparation module. The earlier that you decide on a dissertation topic and start work with your supervisor, the better. Accordingly, you will usually be asked to identify the general area of your dissertation topic and be appointed a supervisor early in the second term of the academic year. The following guidelines may be helpful in identifying a topic.

  • The research must have a clearly defined aim: what question(s) do you want to ask and what is the significance of the answer(s)?
  • The research must be placed in context, which might involve a literature review.
  • What methodologies are required to enable the question(s) to be answered?
  • What materials - original sources, statistics, secondary works and/or other are required? Is it readily available? If not, can it be obtained and how long will this take?
  • Is it feasible to complete research and writing on the topic in the time available?

If appropriate, the introductory chapter when you write the dissertation might briefly address these points.

Sources and resources

It is important that you identify the resources that you will need early on in your research. You need to be sure that the material is available and in sufficient quantity. Learn to make maximum use of the library facilities available at Exeter - if necessary consulting the subject librarian. Resources are available in other areas of the University and City, including subject bibliographies: for example in the Arab World Documentation Unit Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, the Devon County Record Office, Exeter Institution, Cathedral Library and West Country Studies Library. A limited number of books/articles not available in Exeter can be obtained through the Inter-Library Loan system. The vacations also provide the opportunity for students researching overseas subjects to collect relevant material from outside Exeter and from abroad.


The form of supervision varies, but it is primarily your responsibilityto seek advice and to submit drafts on which your supervisor can comment. You are entitled to submit plans and a draft of the dissertation for comment by your supervisor. Draw up in consultation with your supervisor, a schedule of work with the aim of completing well before the submission deadline (see below for information on deadlines and submission). The earlier you start work on the dissertation the better. Leave plenty of time to write as well as research: a rushed final product can devalue good research. Find out when your supervisor will/will not be available during the summer vacation and take this into account in your schedule. It is your responsibility to ensure that your supervisor and the College Office is able to contact you, so make sure that you always leave them details of any new address, email and telephone numbers with them.

College Ethical Guidelines

All research projects (conducted by undergraduates, graduates and staff) involving human subjects need to be submitted for an ethical review to the Ethics Committee.   

Projects that need to be submitted for ethical review:

  • All projects involving the participation of human subjects need to be submitted for ethical review.
  • In cases of taught postgraduate students it is, in the main, the responsibility of the supervisor to identify projects that need to be submitted for ethical review. It is the responsibility of research students and members of staff to familiarise themselves with the ethics procedure and submit their work for review.
  • In some cases projects based on documents need to be submitted for ethical consideration. In principle historical research should respect the rules of privacy set by the archive. However, in some cases research on archival resources, such as private patient records, may need to be submitted for ethical review.
  • Studying Internet communication is a grey area, but in some cases projects studying electronic communication should also be submitted (e.g. when communication verges on the private, such as discussion on some of the self-help newsgroups or listservs).
  • Projects that are submitted to the local health authority for ethical consideration are exempt from review, but the committee should be informed of the project.

Project descriptions submitted for the Ethics committee should, as a minimum, contain a synopsis of the research project and an assessment of the following:

  • The voluntary nature of participation. A brief outline on how participants will be recruited and whether written consent is obtained.
  • The informed nature of participation. Description of how participants will be informed of the nature of the project and whether they will be given an information sheet.
  • Assessment of possible harm. Assessment of any possible harm that research may cause participants (e.g. psychological distress or repercussions of political and economic nature). Any information sheet should clearly state any possible disadvantages participating in the study may have.

Note: Staff and students conducting informal interviews with “elite” should consult the Chatham House Rules about information that is given under strict understanding that it will not be quoted, even anonymously if this could identify the source.

  • Data protection. An account of how the anonymity of the participants will be protected and how the security of the data will be guaranteed. Any specific questions should be addressed to the University Data Protection Officer/University Records Manager.
  • Declaration of interests. Indication of how the participants are informed of any commercial or other interests involved in the project and who funds the research and how and for what purposes the results will be used and how and where they will be published.
  • User engagement and feedback. Indication of whether and how the participants and users of the research will be consulted when designing, executing and reporting on the study.
  • References/bibliography are required
  • Students and staff are referred to the ethical guidelines and codes of professional conduct published by the following professional bodies:

British Sociological Association

Political Studies Association

The Association of Research Ethics Committees