Objective and Criteria
The objective of the dissertation is for you to design a research project on a subject of your own choice and carry it to completion. As the culmination of the MA programme, the dissertation allows you to demonstrate what you have learned from the taught courses. You may do this directly, by undertaking research on a subject related to one or more of these courses, or indirectly, by applying what you have learned to another subject.
A dissertation is quite different from an undergraduate essay of whatever length. Rather than merely reporting on what others have done, it is meant to be a contribution to one or more fields of study and so to engage with ongoing work in those fields. You are not being asked to produce work that is completely original, in the sense that no one else has undertaken such work before. Original research and original views are, however, encouraged. A survey of existing academic literature on a subject without any independent response to primary and/or secondary material is not satisfactory. If you choose a topic that is not fully discussed in existing academic literature, you must ensure that the subject is worthy of investigation in that it provides sufficient intellectual challenge, range of materials and intellectual depth for a 12-15,000-word dissertation.
Your topic should fulfill the following criteria:
Sufficient coherence and focus to permit a definite argument to be made;
A scope suitable for a reasonably thorough discussion in approximately 12-15,000 words;
Enough of an intellectual challenge to merit the attention at the MA level.
The challenge may be posed by the need to evaluate an unresolved debate, argue against a mainstream view, follow a suggested but unexplored line of inquiry, develop a new interpretation or analyze new primary material. Excessively broad topics (such as “electronic publishing” with no further qualification) are to be avoided.
Critical thought about your topic is essential. You do not have to say that this or that application of digital technology is a good thing. Indeed, pointing out any limitations or untoward effects such an application may have is part of the job. A dissertation should not be journalistic or in any way promotional, as if the aim were to sell a product. The aim, rather, is to help your readers think more clearly about your topic and so be in a better position to understand it and, where relevant, to make improving contributions themselves.