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Important Information

What is Expected of a Masters Dissertation

What is Expected of a Masters Dissertation

In order for the degree to be awarded, a Masters dissertation must indicate that a candidate has successfully completed a programme of training in research in that he/she:

  • understands the nature, objectives and scientific principles underlying the investigation
  • is adequately acquainted with the relevant literature
  • has mastered appropriate techniques and analytical methods
  • assesses the significance of findings in a thorough and logically-coherent manner
  • reports on the study in an acceptable scientific format (in accordance with Faculty rules and norms) that is satisfactory in both presentation and literary style.

A Masters degree is essentially a training course to equip a candidate with skills necessary either for employment in a given field, or for further independent research. Consequently, the dissertation need not involve original research, distinctly advance knowledge of the subject or be potentially publishable in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. To obtain a distinction for the degree, these factors are considered together with evidence of critical and independent thought. It is important to note that MSc degrees are awarded with distinction in exceptional cases only. Usually a unanimous decision from all three examiners is required but a distinction may be awarded by the Masters Degree Committee if two examiners recommend this and the third examiner does not object. Examiners are asked to clearly indicate their recommendation, and to provide a detailed report in which they comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the dissertation. The detailed comments in the examiners‟ reports are integral to the final decision on whether to award a distinction or not, and are particularly relevant when all three examiners are not unanimous.

To recommend that the degree be awarded with distinction, the examiner must be of the opinion that the work is outstanding at the Masters level, bearing in mind the methodological complexities involved, and the intellectual difficulty of the particular subject matter. As a guideline, it is suggested to examiners that they might consider a dissertation to be worthy of a distinction if it fulfills the following criteria:

  • the standard is in the top 20%, approximately, of the Masters dissertations that they have examined
  • the structure of the dissertation is appropriate
  • presentation is excellent. Minor editorial errors (such as formatting, grammatical or spelling mistakes) may be tolerated and referred back to the candidate for correction. Ubiquitous and careless errors in presentation that point to a lack of exactitude should militate against the award of a distinction.

Where the work reported in the dissertation is original and directly contributes to knowledge in, or an understanding of, the subject and/or is potentially publishable as a refereed international paper in the field, this should play a part in the decision. However, publication of results contained in one or more chapters of the dissertation prior to submission is neither in itself sufficient nor necessary to gain a distinction, as it is the submitted MSc dissertation that is examined and on which a decision of a distinction will be based. Publications arising from the work subsequent to submission are, for obvious reasons, not considered.