Department Of Sociology Final Year Dissertation Guidelines 2011-2012 Sociology; Sociology, Culture and Media; Media Studies; Criminology and Sociology; Applied Psychology and Sociology

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Department Of Sociology

Final Year Dissertation Guidelines


Sociology; Sociology, Culture and Media; Media Studies; Criminology and Sociology; Applied Psychology and Sociology.




Dissertation Coordinator:

Kate Burningham

06 AD 03


Undergraduate Secretaries:

Liz Chang

Sue Jones

26 AD 03



Course Director CrimSoc:

Karen Bullock

10 AD 03


Course Director SCM & Media Studies:

Cornel Sandvoss



Course Director Sociology:

Daniel McCarthy

37 AD 03


Course Director APS:

Katharine Tyler

30 AD 03


Table of Contents:

Overview: the eight most commonly asked questions about the dissertation

1. Introduction
2. The dissertation coordinator

3. What is the final year dissertation?

4. Stages to completing the dissertation
5. Choosing a topic

6. Allocation of supervisors

7. Your supervisor
8. Interim module assignments
9. Doing the research
10. Ethical and safety considerations
11. Plagiarism

12. Writing up the dissertation

13. Submitting the dissertation
14. The marking process

Appendix A: Title Page

Appendix B: Style and Referencing
Appendix C: Staff Research Interests

Appendix D: Some Useful References

Appendix E: Details of interim module assignments

Appendix F: Dissertation Grade Descriptors

Overview: the eight most commonly asked questions about the dissertation

Q. How long does the final dissertation report have to be?

A. 8,000 - 12,000 words. You are required to note the word count in your submitted copy - see section 12.

Q. Does it matter if my dissertation report is longer than the word limit?

A. Yes. You may not exceed the word limit. If you do, the dissertation will be returned unmarked to you. A word count must be included. See section 12

Q. What are the deadlines in the dissertation process?

A. There are four key deadlines:

  1. Yr 2 Week 10 semester 2: one page topic statement due

  2. Yr 3 Week 3 semester one:1000-1500 word proposal due

  3. Yr 3 week 7 semester one: Literature review assignment due

  4. Yr 3 Easter 1 (3rd April): Dissertation due

Q. Does the report have to be presented in a particular format?
A. Yes - see section 12.

Q. How much does the dissertation mark count for?

A. Overall the dissertation module is worth 45 credits, one-third of the overall mark for the final year. The final dissertation report accounts for 80% of the marks for the module, the proposal for 10% and the initial literature review for 10%.

Q . How often should I see my supervisor?

Dissertation supervisors are available for a maximum of 7 hours of contact time across the year and students should normally aim to see them approximately every 3 weeks. The total number of meetings will not normally exceed 10.

A. Q. Are there any simple shortcuts to getting a good mark for the dissertation?

A. No. Planning ahead, completing your data collection and analysis as early as possible, keeping in touch with your supervisor, participating in dissertation workshops and hard work are the keys to success.

1. Introduction
These notes have been prepared to give you the information that you will need in order to complete your final year dissertation successfully. They set out the basic rules and the "dos and don'ts" of the process, as well as giving some more general advice on how to undertake your dissertation.

2. The Dissertation Coordinator
The dissertation coordinator is Kate Burningham 06AD03 01483 686688 and she has overall administrative responsibility for the dissertation process. In your final year, you should normally direct queries about your dissertation to your supervisor, but you can talk to the dissertation coordinator if you have general questions or concerns about the process. If you are in your second year or placement year, you should contact the dissertation coordinator in the first instance to discuss any matters relating to the dissertation.

3. What is the Final Year Dissertation?
The dissertation module comprises a series of workshops, two interim assignments (each worth 10% of the module mark) and the dissertation itself.

The dissertation provides you with the opportunity to put together the various skills that you have learned in the course of your degree, and to demonstrate your competence as a researcher. It allows you to demonstrate your acquired skills in studying a substantive topic, using appropriate concepts and theories, producing original research through the application of an appropriate research method, undertaking data analysis, and presenting your results in writing.

The dissertation is a major piece of work which all final year students on the Sociology, APS, CrimSoc, SCM and Media Studies degrees undertake (NB, APS students who registered from 2003 onwards will be required to submit a psychology dissertation if they wish for BPS accreditation). To reflect its importance, the dissertation is worth 45 credits. Therefore, you should devote a commensurate amount of time to it.

There are four main differences between the dissertation and the essays that you are accustomed to writing for your other courses:

  • It is focused upon a topic that you have chosen

  • It is based upon your own original research

  • It reflects your own academic thinking, based on your study of the appropriate sociological, criminological or media studies literature and any data you collect

  • It allows you time to develop your ideas and, in the final report, space to present them.

4. Stages to Completing the Dissertation
The notes below set out the kinds of things that you might expect to be doing in relation to your dissertation at different points during the degree course:

Second Year
The dissertation coordinator will give a lecture in the Spring Semester of the second year about the dissertation process. This is a good spur to start thinking seriously about what you might want to do and how you will do it.

If you do not plan to take a placement year, it is important that you start thinking about your dissertation project in the second year. You must declare your topic by week 10 of the second semester of the second year (see Section 6). During the summer before you go into the final year you should continue to think about your dissertation and begin a preliminary review of relevant literature

Placement Year
It is often during the placement year that your ideas for a topic really crystallise. Spend some time reading around topics that interest you, with an eye toward choosing a dissertation question. You may speak to your placement tutor about dissertation ideas or concerns. The dissertation co-coordinator will give a talk on the dissertation during the placement return day in March and you will have an opportunity on that day to talk to her and to possible supervisors.

By April of the placement year you should have a fairly clear idea of your topic, as you must declare a topic by May in order to be assigned a supervisor (see Section 6). During the spring and summer, you should continue to think about your dissertation and begin a preliminary review of relevant literature. Some students might have collected data before starting back for their final year, but this is not normally expected. If you wish to collect data while on a placement, discuss this with the dissertation co-ordinator or supervisor.

Some students do a dissertation which is based upon or relates to the work that they did during their placement year. This can make sense because you will already be well grounded in the relevant material and will often be able to gain access to data that would not be easy to obtain otherwise. Bear in mind three points, however:

  1. Your placement employer must know about and approve the work that you propose to do.

  2. The work must be an original piece of research undertaken by you alone for the sole purpose of the dissertation. You may not reproduce work that you undertook during your employment in your placement year. (An example of an acceptable project might be undertaking a new analysis on a specific topic using data from a more general survey that you were involved in collecting or analysing as part of your placement).

  3. There may be ethical considerations which will need to be dealt with by the Faculty Ethics Committee before you can collect data (see Section 10).

During the final year the dissertation process is supported by a series of workshops and two practical assignments. The Workshops will integrate elements of lecture style content with practical, student-centred exercises designed to assist in: developing a research question: reviewing literature; designing a research project; ethical issues; data analysis and drawing conclusions.

You will need to devote enough time in the final year to refine your thoughts on your topic, collect and analyse the data, and write it all up in your dissertation report. You should have regular meetings with your supervisor in your final year (see Section 7). The deadline for submission of the dissertation is the first week of the Easter vacation (3rd April) . Details of the format for the dissertation report are in section 12 and the grade descriptors used in marking are in Appendix F. The dissertation report is worth 80% of the marks for the module.

5. Choosing a Topic
This is often the hardest part of the dissertation. You must choose your own topic, although your supervisor and the dissertation workshops will help you refine your ideas into a manageable project.

There are no hard and fast rules about the topic for your dissertation, but the following guidelines may help.

Think about the areas of your course that you are most interested in or a topic that you yourself are particularly interested in to which a sociological, criminological or media studies angle can be discerned. Also consider which theories and concepts have interested you the most.

Along these lines, consider the courses you've taken so far. Which lectures or courses most captured your imagination? You can go back and look at your notes and textbooks to jog your memory. Perhaps choose a topic in these areas.

Are there aspects of your placement year that are amenable to research, perhaps areas you might have studied while working that you can study independently in more depth, or aspects of the organisation in which you worked? These may provide avenues of inquiry for a dissertation topic.

The television and news media often spark interests in topics, though if you choose one through this route, be sure that you find an aspect to it which relates to the academic themes and approaches of your course.

Find out what other researchers have written about this topic. Go to the library and find some books and journal articles which are broadly relevant to your topic.

You may also be influenced by the type of methods you wish to use or learn more about, e.g. whether you wish to interview people, analyse video data or newspaper reports, or conduct a secondary analysis of existing large scale survey data.

You can also consult past student dissertations. These are held in the dissertation library 42 AD 03. A list of recent dissertations which achieved a 2:1 or first class mark is available on ULEARN. If you would like to consult one of these, speak to Sue Jones or Liz Chang in the departmental office who will let you into the library. Dissertations may not be removed from the library so make sure that you are equipped with whatever you need to make notes while you are there.

Try to turn your general area of interest into a research question(s) and think about what kind of data would answer the question(s) you propose. The data used may be collected by interviewing, self-completion questionnaires or observation. Alternatively you may choose to conduct a documentary analysis of written or visual artistic, literary or mass media texts or productions. Students are also encouraged to consider the secondary analysis of large-scale data sets. If you are considering a more theoretically orientated dissertation this should involve an analysis of primary texts and must be informed by a clear research question rather than comprising an extended literature review.

Do not try to be too ambitious about what you can achieve given your time and resource constraints. The best dissertations are analyses of modest scope done well rather than broad ones done poorly.

Think about the kind of research that you will actually do, and make sure that it is something that you yourself can feasibly do in the time available.

A general word of advice is to choose a topic that is interesting to you. You will spend a great deal of time working on a relatively narrow issue, so choose one you will enjoy! Members of staff may be able to help you refine your thoughts, but the ideas and the motivation have to come from you.

6. Allocation of Supervisors
The dissertation coordinator will allocate you to a supervisor in mid July before you enter the final year.

In order to allocate students to supervisors you are required to submit a Topic Statement to the dissertation coordinator at the end of Week 10 of Semester 2 in either your placement year, or your second year if you are going straight through to the final year.

The topic statement will consist of a page, with: (1) your name and contact details (address, phone number, email address and degree course), (2) a paragraph or two on your research topic, and if you have formulated them, your research questions, and (3) your proposed method of enquiry. You must submit a topic statement regardless of how well you have specified a topic. The topic statement should be electronically attached, not in the body of the message, in an e-mail and sent to The attached file should be formatted thus: ‘surname topic statement year’ eg ‘Smith topic statement 2011.doc’. You will be notified of your supervision allocation by email.

NB: If you do not have a research topic when you are asked to declare one, do not use this as an excuse to delay. You must return a topic statement, and continue to think about your dissertation. It is your responsibility to choose a topic and to inform the dissertation coordinator.

Dissertation supervisors will be allocated, to the best of our ability, on the basis of the topic and methodology you propose in your topic statement. Though it may seem ideal to be allocated to a supervisor with expertise in your particular topic and method, this will not always be possible.

Any member of staff should have the general expertise to supervise any undergraduate dissertation in the sociology department, so do not worry too much about the match between your supervisor's interests and your own. It is always possible to discuss specific issues beyond your supervisor's area of expertise with another member of staff. A list of members of staff and their areas of research expertise is given in Appendix C.

Once you have received notification of who your supervisor is it is your responsibility to make contact with them. Your supervisor will be prepared to see you once (or have an email or telephone conversation with you) at this time of the year in order to get you started on reading and refining your ideas over the summer and then will commence full supervision when you return for the final year.
7. Your Supervisor
Your supervisor is a member of staff to whom you are allocated who will help guide you through the various stages of your dissertation in the final year. She or he should be your first point of contact for all matters relating to your dissertation in the final year. Maintain regular contact with your supervisor; they can help you refine your ideas and give suggestions for things to read or how to overcome problems. You should arrange to meet with them regularly in the first and second semesters. Meetings offer the chance to discuss a variety of different aspects of the project and your progress, including the research process, your use of literature and broader critical and intellectual questions.

Dissertation supervisors are available for a maximum of 7 hours of contact time across the year and students should normally aim to see them approximately every 3 weeks. The total number of meetings will not normally exceed 10. In general, it is best to come to a supervision session with some specific issues to discuss. If you want comments on a draft chapter you should make sure that you give it to your supervisor with enough time before you meet for her or him to read it.

Students may also contact their supervisor by email and, should they do so, can normally expect to receive a reply within two days unless the supervisor’s out of office reply indicates they are away – as per the department’s general email policy. However, students are asked to bear in mind the extensive commitments of staff and to ensure they have checked for answers to questions in the dissertation handbook before emailing staff with generic questions and also to ensure they make the most of face to face supervision meetings in order to minimise unnecessary email contact.

PLEASE NOTE THAT SUPERVISORS WILL PROVIDE WRITTEN FEEDBACK ON NO MORE THAN ONE DRAFT OF EACH CHAPTER IN THE DISSERTATION (either chapter by chapter OR on a draft of the complete dissertation). Students may have the opportunity to have a verbal discussion on the complete draft if this is submitted in time. Students should discuss an appropriate timetable for this with their supervisor.


If, for any reason, you are unhappy with your supervisor you should discuss this with him/her first, and if you are still unhappy you should see the dissertation coordinator or the course director.

8. Dissertation module assignments

Two interim assignments are due during the first semester of the final year. Work on these assignments will help you improve aspects of your dissertation.

The first assignment involves preparing a detailed research proposal for your dissertation. This is due in week 3 of semester one. The second assignment involves preparing an outline of your literature review chapter and a draft of one section of the chapter. This is due in week 7 of semester one. Both assignments will be marked by your supervisor and marks moderated by Kate Burningham, Katharine Tyler and Jane Fielding. The mark for each assignment is worth 10% of the final mark for the dissertation module.

Full details of both assignments are given in Appendix E.

9. Doing the Research
Unlike most other pieces of work you do in the course of your degree, the dissertation involves your own empirical research. Above all, you need to devise a research strategy which is feasible and appropriate for the research questions that you wish to answer, and also one that you feel comfortable with doing.

The main kind of research strategies which are adopted are as follows:

  • In-depth unstructured or semi-structured face-to-face interviews with individuals, usually from one or more specific sub-groups of the population relevant to your topic. Usually, these will be tape-recorded and transcribed.

  • Structured written questionnaires administered to one or more specific sub-groups of the population relevant to your topic.

  • Focus groups incorporating one or more specific sub-groups of the population relevant to your topic. Usually, these will be tape-recorded and transcribed.

  • Observational/ethnographic research in a 'natural' setting, possibly supplemented with interview data.

  • Discourse analysis of relevant texts.

  • Analysis of primary documents; for example, government reports, newspaper articles or advertisements.

  • Analysis of television programmes, films or other cultural products.

  • Secondary analysis of existing (usually government-produced) social surveys. It makes most sense to analyse surveys that are already held on computer files in the department. These include: the British Social Attitudes Survey; the General Household Survey; the British Household Panel Survey; the World Values Survey.

  • Theoretically orientated analysis of primary academic texts

You will be familiar from your course with the kinds of issues that arise in conducting each type of research. Different methods employ different types of skills and will require different kinds of analysis

Your methodology must be appropriate for your chosen research question. Most students are more comfortable with some methods than others. Think about how to formulate your research question in such a way that your preferred methodology will allow you to answer it well.

It may make sense to employ more than one method in order to address different aspects of your topic. This can add strength to the dissertation, but take care not to overburden yourself with too much data collection or analysis that you cannot feasibly complete. The mark for the dissertation is based upon the quality of the final report (how you write it, the connections you draw between existing theory and your research, the depth of analysis, the quality of your conclusions, and the like), and not upon the amount of data that you collect or number of analytic methods employed.

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