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Essays and dissertation


This course is assessed through coursework, and students must complete:

  • A ‘formative’ essay of not more than 3,000 words. This essay is assessed, but does not contribute towards the final mark.
  • Two essays of no more than 5,000 words.
  • A dissertation of 10,000-15,000 words.

Essays two and three each account for 20% of the final mark, and the dissertation accounts for 60%.


Teaching staff will provide lists of up to eight essay titles per module, and will be able to suggest supervisors for these titles. For each essay, you will need to confirm your title and supervisor by submitting a topic form by the date indicated. Essay one should be chosen from a core module, essay two can be chosen from a core or optional module, and essay three should be chosen from an optional module.

Essay titles - core modules 2017-18

Essay titles - optional modules 2017-18


The dissertation is an exercise in original research. You should start exploring topics and supervisors for your dissertation during Michaelmas term with the support of your Subject Manager and any other appropriate members of staff. You will be asked to submit a provisional dissertation form at the end of Michaelmas term, and confirm your title and supervisor during Lent.

If you anticipate working with human participants it is particularly important that you indicate this sooner rather than later, to allow sufficient time for any ethical approval processes to be completed.

Topic forms

You should complete topic forms for each essay, and a preliminary and confirmed dissertation form. These should be handed in at HPS Reception or emailed to the HMS Administrator by the dates shown on the forms. The forms are available below or on the course Moodle site.

Topic forms

Changing titles or supervisors

Once titles and supervisors have been approved by the HPS Degree Committee, you must apply for permission if you want to change them. Permission is not automatically granted.

To change these details, complete the 'change of title' section at the bottom of the appropriate topic form and submit this to the HMS Administrator by email or by handing it in at HPS Reception, by the date shown. Please pay particular attention for the final deadlines for changing any details, shown on the forms themselves and on the key dates and deadlines page.


The University and the Degree Committee take plagiarism very seriously. Please read this advice about what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

Plagiarism guidelines

The text-matching software Turnitin UK is used to blanket screen all student work submitted in Moodle.

Use of Turnitin UK

Working with human participants

If you are planning to collect data from human participants, or use data collected from human participants, you will need to plan well in advance to ensure that you have obtained ethical approval before starting work on your project and have given consideration to how you are going to handle the information you collect.

Working with human participants: ethical considerations

Policy on editions, translations and bibliographies

An essay or dissertation should be self-contained, including or citing all information needed for an examiner to follow its argument.

The word limit normally includes text and footnotes but not the bibliography. However, in certain cases permission may be obtained for materials strictly relevant to the argument of the essay or dissertation to be footnoted or appended for the information of the examiners, with such materials not contributing to the word count. Materials falling into this category may include primary source materials that are not readily accessible, translations, questionnaire responses, statistical tables, descriptions of objects and analytical bibliographies.

Normally material included in the word count should mainly consist of the student's own discussion and analysis. Exceptionally, when a critical edition or translation, an analytical bibliography, or a technical description of objects and their provenances is based on substantial original scholarship and is central to the argument of an essay or dissertation, permission may be obtained for its inclusion within the body of the essay or dissertation, hence contributing to the word count. Normally no more than one third of an essay or dissertation should consist of such material.

Applications for such permissions should be sought, in consultation with the supervisor, from the Degree Committee at the time at which the topic of the essay or dissertation in question is submitted for approval.

Word limits

The word limits are as follows:

  • Essay 1 (formative): 3,000 words
  • Essays 2 and 3: 5,000  words
  • Dissertation: 10,000-15,000 words

The word limit includes footnotes but excludes the bibliography and prefatory matter.

Figures may be included in the work and should contribute to the argument. They should be captioned only so as to specify the source; such captions are excluded from the word count. Formulae may be used where appropriate and are also excluded from the word count.

In order to ensure the equitable enforcing of the word limit laid down for MPhil work, students will be required to submit their work, on the specified deadline, stating the word count in the work, together with an electronic version of the work. Upon submission the Senior Examiner will inspect each piece of work to ensure that the word limit has been respected. If it has not, the work will be returned to the student who will be asked to revise it so that it does conform to the word limit. Given that the inspection will take place at the time of the deadline, the rule governing penalties for late submission will be applied.

The Senior Examiner will use Microsoft Word to check word counts. If using coding software, such as LaTeX, students should be aware that this software may give a different word count. It may be helpful to use TeXcount, an online tool that analyses LaTeX code to provide an accurate count of words, formulae, captions and footnotes. If using software other than Microsoft Word students should submit a screenshot to demonstrate the word count from the software used.

Coursework submission

Students should submit two copies of each essay and dissertation to the HPS office before 12 noon on the day of the deadline. They should have numbered pages, footnotes where appropriate, and a bibliography. They should be printed single-sided and should be securely bound or stapled.

The essays and dissertation will be marked anonymously, so it is important that the student’s name does not appear anywhere on them.

Each copy should have a cover sheet stating the title of the essay or dissertation, the number of words and the name of the supervisor Students should also submit a completed submission form. Cover sheets and submission forms will be available on Moodle.

In addition, students must upload their work to the MPhil Moodle course. Examiners may use this to confirm the word count and check for derivative passages. Please note:

  • The file uploaded must be exactly the same as the printed copies. It should include the bibliography and any images.
  • Only one file can be uploaded for each submission
  • The following file formats are accepted: DOC, DOCX, PDF, RTF

Students are advised to check their emails the day after they have submitted to ensure there are no queries about their work.

Please note that the Management Committee will retain a copy of all dissertations and essays and may make them available to future students unless a written request is made to the contrary to the Graduate Secretary.

Late submission

Students are expected to manage their time appropriately in order to meet submission deadlines. This includes, for example, preparing drafts well in advance to allow reasonable time for feedback from supervisors, and time for any final revisions.

The Senior Examiner will advise the Examiners’ Meeting of any late submissions and, unless there are exceptional circumstances, this will normally entail a penalty.

Work submitted within 24 hours of the deadline will incur a 3-point penalty. Further 3-point penalties will be incurred for every further day late work is submitted. Work submitted later than one week after the deadline, or not submitted, will receive a mark of zero.

The Management Committee adheres strictly to the rule that permission to submit essays or dissertations late will only be granted by the Degree Committee (or by the Degree Committee’s Chair taking chair’s action) if a formal request is received from the student’s College, with medical or similar reasons given in documentary form. Where an extension is granted, the deadline is 12 noon on the new date.

Extension request form

Feedback to MPhil students

During the course of their studies, students receive feedback in person from their supervisors and the Subject and MPhil Managers, as well as from termly online supervision reports. The first essay is examined prior to the end of the Michaelmas Term in order to provide students with early feedback on their performance so they can gauge the level of achievement which the course requires. Essay 2 is examined at the beginning of February, and feedback is given a couple of weeks later in mid-February. Essay 3 is examined at the end of Lent Term, and feedback is given on this shortly afterwards together with a provisional overall mark for the essay component of the course.

After each Board of Examiners meeting, the MPhil Manager meets with students, reports the provisional mark and provides copies of the non-confidential parts of the reports. At these meetings the work is discussed and examiners' remarks are put in context for future work. Students may contact their Subject Manager and supervisor after this meeting if they want to discuss the reports in more detail.

Marks are subject to moderation up until the final Board of Examiners meeting, and require approval by the Degree Committee in late June/early July. At the end of the course the Department provides students with an informal transcript with details of each of their individual marks. Formal transcripts can be downloaded from CamSIS.

Feedback on the overall performance of each year is provided by Senior and External Examiners' Reports which are submitted at the end of the year.

Guidelines on Examinations


Request form(for changing supervisor or adding an appendix)

Extension form (for requesting a deadline extension)