MSc Dissertation Handbook 2020/21
Updated April 2021 – version 1.2
This Handbook will be updated as necessary – make sure you use the most recent version from the Blackboard site MANG6095
Table of Contents
- How to use this handbook…….. 3
- Objectives of the dissertation 3
- How will your dissertation be assessed?………………………………………….. 4
- Choosing a topic and dissertation title…………………………….. 8
- Planning your work…………………. 9
- Research Proposal / Topic Registration…………………………………… 10
- Supervision……………………………….. 12
- Ethical approval and risk assessment…………………………………….. 13
- Structuring your dissertation……………………………………………………………. 21
- Academic Integrity…………….. 28
- Submitting your dissertation……………………………………………………………. 30
- Additional Resources and Support……………………………………………. 32
- Recommended reading…….. 32
This handbook has been written to guide you through the key stages of the process of writing your dissertation. Guidance may vary depending on your programme of study and you should always check with your programme leader for specific guidance for your programme.
If you are completing an industry project instead of a dissertation then you should consult your Programme Leader for instructions on how to complete and submit your project. This is particularly important this year with potential restrictions/changes due to the Covid-19 situation.
If you are a part-time student, the timescales for your project will vary from the key milestones in this guide. You should check with your supervisor or Programme Leader to plan timescales for your dissertation.
The dissertation is an extended 15,000-word assignment based on an independent study of a topic of your choosing.
Essentially, the dissertation is a test of your ability to create, on your own initiative, a text which demonstrates a Masters level understanding of a particular issue. You will be assigned a supervisor to advise you on how to approach your work, and it is your responsibility to manage and undertake the necessary work independently.
Your dissertation should draw on concepts, techniques and frameworks from your previous studies to:
- Identify a suitable topic for study
- Plan and manage an appropriate schedule of work
- Design and undertake an appropriate investigation strategy
- Identify and access useful and suitable sources of information
- Ensure that you have ethics approval and undertake a risk assessment
- Write a well-presented dissertation with a logical structure and suitable formatting
Masters Dissertations are assessed according to the indicative criteria set out below:
- Purpose & objectives: Clarity and suitability of the research question, or problem definition, theoretical focus, or case study focus, and the project /case study development
- Literature Review: Is there evidence of appropriate selection and discussion of relevant literature? Is there evidence of understanding and critical engagement with what has been read? Does the literature add to the understanding of the problem/ planned development/ case study through effective evaluation and synthesis of a range of literature?
- Research Methodology: Is the approach adequately explained, appropriate to the problem and data? Does the collected data avoid bias and is it carefully collected?
4. Analysis of Primary and/ or Secondary Data: Collection and analysis
- Discussion & Findings: Does the discussion of findings reflect (personal) learning from analysis, and an understanding of the implications and limitations, the strengths and weaknesses of the research or development?
- Conclusion: Do the conclusions do more than re-state the findings? Do they relate to the existing academic debates and /or current evidence? Are they effectively linked to the central theoretical themes/ story/ development?
- Presentation, Structure & Language: Is it written in clear English? Is it presented using appropriate graphics, illustrations and accurate referencing?
Is it well structured, logical and coherent, using appropriate chapter headings?
Criteria and grade descriptors are indicative only: different weighting may be allocated to each criterion depending on your programme and the type of
dissertation you produce. Not all criteria may be appropriate to a given type of dissertation and you should check with your supervisor if you have any
questions about how your dissertation will be assessed.
Please Note: MSc Human Resource Management use an amended form of these
criteria. Students should check with the Programme Leader.
Not all criteria may apply to all types of dissertation. The criteria may have different weightings, depending on type. Please check with your Programme Leader for any variation.
|Criteria||0 – 24%||25 – 34%||35 – 49%||50 – 59%
|60 – 69%
|70 – 79%
|80 – 100%
|1. Purpose & objectives
• Research question or
• Problem definition or
• Theoretical focus or
• Case study focus
• The project /case study development
|Not stated, confusing, unrelated to title, difficult to understand, inappropriate study||Very limited lacks effective focus and clear rational Too ambitious or too basic||Poorly defined and presented, some confusion in
|Clearly stated, some relevance, straightforward||Well stated purpose, appropriate and realistic explanation of the context /problem/case||Very clearly stated, feasible, innovative||Exceptionally well stated, interesting, sophisticated, original, full and convincing justification|
|2. Literature Review
• Is there evidence of appropriate selection and discussion of relevant literature?
• Is there evidence of understanding of, and critical engagement with what has been read?
• Does the literature add to the understanding of the problem/ planned development/ case study through effective evaluation and synthesis of a range of literature?
|Inadequate and/or irrelevant evidence, virtually no evidence of appropriate selection, no discussion of selection criteria, unsystematic or omitted referencing
|Rudimentary coverage, very limited evidence of understanding||Lacks structure with clear gaps, no discussion of selection criteria, unsystematic referencing. Limited evidence of understanding and evaluation of the selected literature.||A basic coverage of relevant literature. Inconsistent referencing, The literature offers some additional understanding of the problem/ project / development of project /case study||Good coverage, awareness of relevant prior research, clear structure, stated selection criteria, consistent referencing,
clarity of understanding, the literature, informs and adds to the development of the project /case study
|Comprehensive and inclusive use of highly relevant literature, good structure, clearly articulated discussion that relates to the topic of research||Exceptional section that fully demonstrates a discerning, creative and critical
engagement with what has been read
|3. Research Methodology
• Is the approach adequately explained,
|No theoretical basis, no discussion or justification of approach, highly||Irrelevant, very limited explanation of the approach to the
|Irrelevant theoretical basis, poorly explained approach||Some evidence of a theoretical basis, reasonably explained||Clear and relevant theoretical basis, appropriate approach, useful and appropriate||Very clear and relevant theoretical basis, persuasive rationale for||Provides excellent theoretical understanding, rigorously argued approach,|
|Criteria||0 – 24%||25 – 34%||35 – 49%||50 – 59%
|60 – 69%
|70 – 79%
|80 – 100%
|appropriate to the problem and data?
• Do the collected data avoid bias and are they carefully collected?
|inadequate, no evidence of critical evaluation of sources and data||information. An awareness of strengths and weaknesses of the approach.||research approach, or methods used for the development of a project/ case study, evidence of critical evaluation||evidence of exceptional understanding|
|4. Analysis of Primary
and/ or Secondary Data
• Collection and analysis
|None, totally inappropriate and unrelated||Extremely limited collection of data, poorly identified data, no criteria for evaluation, no analysis||Casual acquisition of data, lacks structure, limited evaluation against unclear or inappropriate criteria, mostly descriptive||Standard approach to collection, limited validity, limited and basic, but acceptable evaluation or techniques||Standard approach to collection, clear validity and reliability, critical analysis using appropriate techniques and
|Advanced approaches of collection, clear validity, critical analysis using appropriate techniques and appropriate
criteria, fully justified
|Outstanding analytical techniques and approaches, evidence of creation of new approaches (if appropriate), thorough and rigorous analysis, exceptionally well justified|
|5. Discussion & Findings
• Do the discussion of findings reflect
(personal) learning from analysis, and an understanding of the implications and limitations, the strengths and weaknesses of the research or development?
|No attempt to relate findings to theory||Findings are not effective, discussion shows no learning from the evidence presented||Discussion shows a very limited awareness of theory and attempt to link this to the findings. There is a very limited discussion of the implications, and limitations of the research or development||Adequate level of critical analysis and reflection on personal learning. Adequate discussion of implications of the findings and reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of the research or development||Some links with theory, discussion justified with appropriate evidence, good critical analysis of the implications of the findings, and reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of the research or development||Comprehensive
links with theory, complete justification with appropriate evidence, very good critical analysis of the implications of the findings, and reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of the research or development
|Sophisticated and critical discussion of the issues involved, outstanding reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of the research, offers fresh/new insights on the problem or development|
• Do the conclusions do more than re-state the findings? Do they relate
|Conclusions are not justified by evidence, they do not relate to the topic of the dissertation, their||Conclusions poorly justified by evidence, they have a poor relationship to the topic of the||Conclusions have limited justification in the evidence, there is limited relationship to||Adequate attempt to use evidence to reach appropriate conclusions that relate to the topic of the||Clear conclusions relating to the topic of the dissertation and justified by the evidence.||Clear conclusions with a very good relationship to the topic of the dissertation and||Exceptional conclusions that relate strongly to the topic of the dissertation with excellent|
|Criteria||0 – 24%||25 – 34%||35 – 49%||50 – 59%
|60 – 69%
|70 – 79%
|80 – 100%
|to the existing academic debates and /or current evidence? Are they effectively linked to the central theoretical themes/ story/ development?
|development is unclear and incomplete, no recommendations
/ opportunities for further development
|dissertation, their development is of poor quality, recommendations
/ opportunities for further development are not of practical use
|existing theory and the topic of the dissertation, very limited recommendations / opportunities for further development||dissertation, conclusions may be general and
uncritical, adequate recommendations / opportunities for further development
recommendations / opportunities for further development
|justified well by the evidence.
Identifies clear and practical recommendations / opportunities for further development
|justification in the evidence. Conclusions add new insight to the topic of the dissertation and identify clear and practical
/ opportunities for further development
|7. Presentation, Structure
• Is it written in good English?
• Is it presented using appropriate graphics, illustrations and accurate referencing?
• Is it well structured, logical and coherent, using appropriate chapter headings?
|Mostly inarticulate and incomprehensible, very hard to understand and follow, confused and unstructured||Poor presentation, many spelling and grammatical
errors, difficult to understand, inappropriately structured
|Basic layout, inconsistent flow, a few spelling and grammatical errors, poor citation and reference list, poor structure, confused.||Adequate use of graphics and charts, good command of spelling and grammar, some typos, some omissions or inconsistencies in the reference list, most sections have a logical flow and structure||Clear and effective use of graphics and charts, no spelling or grammatical errors, appropriate and consistent referencing, logical, clear and
|Very good logical flow and cohesion,
Discerning use of graphics, charts and tables, no spelling or grammatical errors, appropriate and consistent referencing, well developed and appropriate structure
|Outstanding logical flow, excellent use of language, appealing and effective use of graphics, charts and tables, appropriate and consistent referencing, very
developed structure, outstanding logical flow, most effective use of conventions appropriate for purpose
Your dissertation topic should be based on a particular organisational context or related to a generic ‘management’ or ‘business’ issue (for example, this could include Management, Accounting, Finance, Business Analytics, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Marketing, Organisational Behaviour, etc.). Your project should be clearly relevant to some aspect of your studies and overall degree programme. It might also be relevant to your career plans, which can help to enhance your employability. In general, dissertations that attempt an in-depth study of a focused topic, are more successful than a wide-ranging study, which lacks depth.
You may find the following tips helpful when choosing your research topic:
- Identify which broad topics you are interested in, then think about more specific questions within that topic
- Think about particular modules which you found enjoyable
- Think about topics that relate to your strengths
- Think about topics that relate to your career plans
- Read review articles or quality news sources in the broad topic area that you want to study to find out what has already been researched and if there are any unknowns that might make good topics
- Think about access to potential sources of data
A parallel consideration is what kind of dissertation work you want to undertake.
Dissertations can take a number of forms, for example:
- An in-depth critical review of an area of literature
- Development of a technique or issue(s)
- Empirical work involving quantitative and/or qualitative analysis of collected data
- A survey of business practice in a particular context
- A case-study of a particular firm or industry
- Study of a particular problem in an organisation or industry
Each of these types of dissertation requires a slightly different approach and advice should be sought from your supervisor on the most appropriate way to proceed in particular cases.
You should consider a number of factors when deciding on your topic:
- Is the topic original, or has it already been researched by somebody else?
- Is the topic relevant to your field of study?
- Does the topic have value to organisations or other researchers in your field?
- Is the topic achievable with the time and resources you have available?
- Does the topic require access to data (for example to company information) and if so do you have that access?
Students following a full time MSc programme are expected to complete their dissertations for submission by 16:00 on 13th September 2021.
Give yourself as much time as possible to complete your dissertation by starting early. No two dissertations are the same and different projects will progress at different rates. The table below therefore shows indicative key stages in a generic dissertation process with suggested dates for full-time students. The dates here are for guidance and you should plan target dates for your dissertation with your supervisor. For part-time students, key milestones should be adjusted in discussion with your supervisor.
|Key Date/Time||Key Event|
|Read around your topic in depth and prepare initial research proposal
|April/May||Submit research proposal/ topic idea (See Blackboard for how to do this for your programme)|
|First meeting with supervisor: May||Discuss title and broad approach with supervisor. Also ensure ERGO approval process considered|
|Second meeting with supervisor Early June||Proposal signed off by supervisor. Discuss plans for data collection. Consider what ethics approval or risk assessment may be needed. Discuss with your supervisor and draft ERGO paperwork|
|Third meeting with supervisor: Mid-June||Discuss the literature. Discuss/agree a more detailed data protocol/design
|Fourth meeting with supervisor: End June||ERGO documentation should be completed and submitted (final deadline 1st July 2020). Progress update. Submit a draft chapter (usually either methodology or literature review)|
|Fifth meeting with supervisor: early-mid July||Progress meeting. Feedback on first draft chapter. Submit second draft chapter
|Sixth meeting with
supervisor: end July
|Feedback on second draft chapter. Share early findings if available. Final checks on dissertation structure. Supervision ends.|
|13th September 2021||Submission deadline for fulltime students
After you have chosen your topic, you will be required to produce a short, proposal or topic outline for your dissertation. Depending on your programme, you may have already written a dissertation proposal as part of a research methods module.
Your dissertation proposal will form the basis of your early discussions with your supervisor and you will expand this as you read more about your topic and develop your research.
Please note: If you are taking a research methods module that requires you to submit a research proposal, you may develop your ideas from that assignment into your dissertation proposal. Your dissertation supervisor will not be able to provide feedback on proposals that are being submitted as coursework for other modules until after that coursework has been marked by the relevant module leader.
The main items to include in your research proposal are:
- A topic and tentative title, its background and a justification for its choice
- A question for the focus of the study and the main questions to be investigated
- An explanation of how your study relates to, builds on, or differs from, previous work in the field
- A description of how and what data will be collected, plus the means of collection
- An explanation of how data will be analysed and interpreted and how this will relate back to the initial questions posed
- Comments on the practical value of the study (a brief description of the value of your work to either yourself, managers, business or the wider academic community), and any problems that may be relevant to its conduct
- A plan outlining your proposed timescale
(Easterby-Smith et al, 2013)
Any delay in the submission of your proposal will delay the progress of your dissertation.
Important Note: Due to possible restrictions relating to COVID-19, it is strongly advised that you carefully plan for any data collection that relies on face-to-face interactions (ie. qualitative interviews, observations, focus groups or collecting quantitative survey data in person). Superficial or plans providing insufficient levels of detail for data collection will likely experience a rejection during the ERGO and risk assessment process, depending on the COVID-19 restrictions in place. Indeed, for this coming year, it is recommended that you consider alternative arrangements such as the use secondary sources of data, literature and documents or the collection of primary data that does not involve direct (face-to-face) human contact should circumstance change that prevent data collection based on face-to-face interactions.
Check this link for the latest updates relating to COVID-19 and the potential impacts on your research:
See Appendix II for an example research proposal template.
Guidance will be provided on the MANG6095 Dissertation Blackboard site about how to submit your proposal or topic outline for your programme.
After you have submitted your proposal or topic outline, you will be assigned a supervisor by your Programme Leader. The role of your supervisor is to:
- Advise on the suitability of the title and scope of your dissertation
- Advise on an appropriate dissertation structure
- Advise on the suitability of your methodology
- Advise on your ethics and ERGO application
- Advise you on your work timetable
- Provide formative feedback on your proposal and two chapters of your dissertation (once only and providing these are submitted by the dates agreed with your supervisor)
Supervisors will not normally provide specific advice or guidance on sources of information or literature for your particular topic.
The time available for supervision is six hours in total. This time includes group and individual meetings, approving your ethics application, email correspondence, and reading/ advising on chapters. You should not expect your supervisor to be available for frequent and lengthy guidance.
To get the most from meeting with your supervisor:
- Be proactive about contacting your supervisor for meetings, it is up to you to drive the process
- Attend all meetings or reschedule them if you are not able to attend
- Prepare for your meetings by reading your notes from the previous meeting and completing any actions that you have agreed
- Use a range of communication methods (e.g. face-to-face meetings (where or if possible), email, phone, Teams etc.)
- You should complete your supervision meetings by 31st July as your supervisor will not be available after this date.
Guidelines for ethical research are based on the belief that all research should be conducted within an ethic of respect for persons, respect for knowledge, respect for the quality of research, and respect for justice and within the law.
In any research study, participants will have to establish precise ethical principles of procedure taking the specific context into account. The University of Southampton Research Ethics Policy can be found at:
ERGO ensures that you have considered research ethics and assessed ethical and reputational risks related to your research. (Note, you must also carry out a separate risk review and possibly a risk assessment, which will mean that you are then covered by university insurance – see section on Ethics (ERGO) and Risk on MANG 6095 Blackboard module for more details).
You must use ERGO to complete all of the relevant ethics forms for the type of research you are conducting and submit them online. Your ERGO application MUST be approved by the ERGO reviewers before you collect any data for your research.
To create your ERGO application, go to https://ergo2.soton.ac.uk/. You will need to use your University login and click ‘Create a new submission’ to do this. There are a range of forms in ERGO, which you will need to work through. You are recommended to approach your supervisor at a very early stage to discuss what you need to do, and which of the documents you need to use for your project. Complete the ‘Submission Questionnaire’ first, the system will then indicate which additional forms you will need to complete. The table below indicates which forms are required for different types of dissertation:
All students must complete an ERGO Submission Questionnaire … and then the additional forms depending on the type of research you are conducting:
|Type of Dissertation||Additional Forms required|
|Secondary data: no individuals
• Analysis of aggregated individual level data (e.g. GDP, labour force participation rates, fertility rates…)
• Analysis of data not relating to individuals (e.g. data on firms or businesses; financial data)
• Meta-analyses (i.e. the analysis of studies)
• Literature reviews or reviews/analyses of reports, policies, documents, meeting minutes, newspaper articles, films
• Analysis of published biographies, diaries, letters, interviews
|None (just the ERGO Submission
|Secondary data: incl. individuals
• Secondary data sets (interviews or surveys) involving human participants
• Ethics Application for Secondary Data Analysis
|Social media data||Also include:
Ethics Application Form for Social Media
|Interviews and/or focus groups||Also include:
• Ethics Application Form
• Consent Form
|• Participant Information Sheet
• Debriefing Form (if deception used)
• A list of your questions
• Letter/email of invitation if researching in an organisation. (Organisational approval must be acquired before the research / recruitment begins)
• Ethics Application Form
• Combined Participant Information Sheet (PIS) and Consent Form (will be first page of questionnaire)
• Debriefing Form (will be last page of questionnaire if deception used)
• Invitation email (that you will send to respondents)
• A draft of your questionnaire
• Letter/email of invitation if researching in an organisation. (Organisational approval must be acquired before the research / recruitment begins).
Failure to get ERGO approval before collecting or analysing data is a breach of academic integrity. You will not be able to use any data collected before ERGO approval in your final dissertation. You should therefore ensure that the stated dates for conducting research are consistent on all forms that are presented to ERGO.
Ensure that you have allowed sufficient time to receive ERGO approval. Your ERGO application should be completed by 1st July so that it can be reviewed and approved before the end of supervision. Supervision ends on 31st July and supervisors may be unavailable whilst conducting their own research or attending conferences, during August and September.
If you are collecting primary data, the date that you enter on your ERGO application as the date you will start to collect your data should be after the date you expect to receive ERGO approval. You should be aware that approval may take up to 3 weeks. For example, if you submit your ERGO application on 1st July, you may not receive approval until 21st July. You should NOT therefore plan to collect data until at least three weeks after you submit your ERGO forms.
PLEASE NOTE: If you are requested to revise your ethics application you will need to address all the corrections recommended and should adjust your data
collection dates accordingly.
Once you have completed the Submission Questionnaire and uploaded the necessary forms, click ‘Submit’. At this point you will be able to add any additional comments for the reviewers. You should then add a Supervisor to your submission (this will be your dissertation supervisor). Once you have added your supervisor, there are a few more questions to answer, and then you can click “Submit” to submit your application. You will both receive an email confirming your submission to the ethics system. You can find your ERGO reference number from the ‘Submission Overview’ tab of your application. It is good practice to contact your supervisor to let them know that your ERGO application is ready to review.
ERGO Submission Checklist
Use this to check that you have followed the key parts of the ERGO process. You should aim to have completed ERGO approval before supervision ends on 31st July.
|First meeting with supervisor: Discuss title and broad approach with supervisor and discuss what level of ethics approval may be needed.||Late May|
|Second meeting with supervisor. Confirm with your supervisor what level of ethics approval will be needed.||Early June|
|Create your research project on ERGO at: https://www.ergo2.soton.ac.uk/ and complete the ERGO Submission Questionnaire and draft the ethics application forms that are appropriate to your research.
|Third meeting with supervisor: Review your draft forms with your supervisor.
|End June. Make any final revisions and submit your ERGO application
|Before July 1st|
|Monitor progress. If ERGO reviewers request to revise your application, contact your supervisor, amend your application based on feedback and resubmit. Please note: you may need to amend the date of collection of any primary data on the application.|
|ERGO approved. You may now start to collect your data.
|Before July 31st|
Please see the section in Blackboard on Ethics (ERGO) and Risk for guidance about the correct forms. Supervisors are responsible for ensuring risk assessments are completed for all dissertation research studies.
Recommended on-line survey software
Qualtrics is also available for conducting more complex on-line surveys. To open a Southampton Qualtrics account you need to follow this link. The link can only be used by staff and students within the Business School. You will need your soton.ac.uk email to register and sign up for your Qualtrics account.
Qualtrics has 24/7 phone and email support and a comprehensive support page
You can also phone/email directly using the below details: +353 1440 8952 OR firstname.lastname@example.org +44 203 808 3311
Please note that the Faculty discourages to survey University of Southampton staff or/and students. If you decide to do so, you will need to obtain a permission from the Head of School or the Dean.
Figure 1. Overview of ERGO Process for Postgraduate Dissertations
Southampton Business School Postgraduate Dissertation Handbook 2020/21 V1.2 Page 20
A key feature of any dissertation is the way in which it is structured or organised. Structure is important because it dictates the topics discussed and the order in which they are discussed. A good structure can considerably enhance the finished quality of a dissertation.
Characteristics of a good dissertation structure include:
- Chapters and sections that are ordered in a logical way
- A contents page that clearly differentiates chapter titles and major sub-headings
- Chapter and section headings that are informative, concise and accurate
- Discussion and analysis that develops logically – from general principles or concepts to more specific or detailed analysis and discussion
- Repetition of points is minimal.
The structure of your dissertation will vary depending on whether it is primarily literature based (e.g. a systematic literature review), empirical research (e.g. a survey of company employees), or action research (e.g. an application of theory or concept in a real-world setting).
The following pages provide an example of the structure and format of a typical dissertation. PLEASE NOTE: the structure of your dissertation may vary depending on the type and subject of your research.
The University of Southampton
Faculty of Social Sciences
Southampton Business School
(Title of your dissertation)
ERGO number: (your ERGO reference number)
Student number: (your student registration number)
Presented for MSc (your degree programme)
This project is entirely the original work of student registration number (your student number). I declare that this dissertation is my own work, and that where material is obtained from published or unpublished works, this has been fully acknowledged in the references. This dissertation may include material of my own work from a research proposal that has been previously submitted for assessment for this programme.
Word Count: xxxxx words
[INCLUDE A PAGE BREAK AFTER EACH SECTION]
The abstract is a brief summary of your dissertation (normally no more than 300 words) that includes: a summary of the situation or problem you have researched; an overview of the methods you have used to investigate it; what you found out and your main conclusions and recommendations.
This section is optional and provides an opportunity to thank those who have supported you with your dissertation (for example friends, family, academics, or participants)
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Introduction……………………………………………………………………………1
Chapter 2: Literature Review……………………………………………………………………..2
2.1 Sub section……………………………………………………………………………..3
2.1.1 Sub sub section etc………………………………………………………….4 Chapter 3 Methodology…………………………………………………………………………….5
List of Tables
Table 4.1. Example of a table in a dissertation document……………………………………..6 etc…
List of Figures
Figure 4.1 Graph showing the relationship between one thing and another thing………….6 etc.
1.1 All dissertations should have an effective introduction which may include the following:
- A brief explanation of the nature and significance of the dissertation topic, and the problems or issues implicit in the dissertation title. Some contextual statistics/general information may be useful here.
- What your interest/motivation for working on this topic is (for example, relevant previous work experience, or personal links with a company or issue).
- The objectives of your dissertation.
- An outline of the approach/methodology you have adopted.
- An overview of the line of argument your dissertation will follow (not simply a list of what each chapter contains).
2.1 Discusses prior research in order to: identify relevant theories and concepts; describe the extent of current understanding and identify outstanding problems/issues.
An effective review will critically analyse the literature to support the rationale for your dissertation research by:
- Comparing and contrasting different perspectives in the literature
- Evaluating the relevance, reliability and validity of the sources
- Identifying any limitations or biases that may have affected the research
- Identifying connections between the literature and how knowledge of the subject is structured
- Identifying how the literature is relevant to the topic of your dissertation
3.1 Expands on the literature review to provide a rationale for the research and its objectives and describe the research method that has been used. For example, if you have used a questionnaire, your methodology may:
- Identify the pros and cons of questionnaires to explain your reasons for choosing this methodology
- Explain the rationale for the questions asked, relating this to your literature review, and giving reasons for the questionnaire structure adopted (e.g. multiple choice, Likert scales etc.)
- Provide a complete list of questions either in the text or in an appendix
- Explain who was involved, how and why they were selected (ie. your sampling)
- Explain how the questionnaire was delivered and why (e.g. online)
4.1 Present results in as complete, clear and helpful way as possible, analyse results in a useful way, critically comment on the quality of responses and the reliability/limitations of the findings. It is common to use tables and figures in this section to communicate your data clearly and concisely. Tables and figures should be numbered and titled. Refer to tables and figures in your text by using the table or figure number. For example (see Table 4.1 or see Figure 4.1 below).
Table 4.1: Example of a table in a dissertation document
|Category||Result 1||Result 2|
|Category 1||Data 1||Data 2|
|Category 2 etc…||Data 3||Data 4|
Figure 4.1 Graph showing the relationship between one thing and another thing
5.1 Relate your findings back to the literature review, discuss similarities and differences.
Explain the implications of your findings for managers and decision makers.
6.1 All dissertations need a conclusion chapter that adds value, rather than merely summarises previous chapters. An effective conclusion should include:
- A brief summary of key points made in the dissertation.
- A ‘so what?’ section which discusses the implications of the dissertation for: (a) a given organisation context, (b) organisations in general and (c) concept/theory/technique development. There may also be implications for policy makers.
- Limitations of the scope, quality, and validity of the analysis undertaken in the dissertation.
- Recommendations for further research.
- Personal reflections on any challenges in designing and carrying out your research (if any), and what you have learnt.
A single list of all sources used in your dissertation using Harvard referencing. You should consult the library webpages for guidance on how to reference with Harvard using the examples in Cite Them Right (available online via the library webpages or in hardcopy). See http://library.soton.ac.uk/sash/referencing for more information.
Label each appendix using roman numerals (e.g. Appendix I, Appendix II, Appendix III etc.) and pages numbered within the appendix (I1, I2, … II1, II2 etc).
Formatting and Presentation
All dissertations must be in Arial size 12 font typescript at 1.5 line spacing. Double spacing may be used at a candidate’s discretion for parts involving formulae. The page size should be A4 (210 x 297 mm). Exemption from the use of this size can only be granted by the School in cases where the subject matter of the project renders the A4 size unsuitable. Margins should not be less than 38mm.
Pages should be numbered consecutively. Tables and diagrams must be numbered serially in typescript.
Presentation: Further guidance
Good presentation is important because it ensures that all your hard work is efficiently and effectively communicated to the reader. It implies neatly set out work; a well-organised, clear and logical structure; and clear, understandable analysis. In particular, it is important to ensure that you:
- Write clear, grammatically correct English without spelling mistakes. Remember the Study Skills and Language support available (see details at http://www.sbsaob.soton.ac.uk/study–skills–and–language–support/).
- Make use of chapters, helpful headings, and subheadings to structure your work clearly (see example above). Number your chapters, and number sections within each chapter. Don’t forget page numbering throughout.
- Format pages, headings and paragraphs to make the text easy to read.
- Clearly cite ALL sources of information and list FULL details of ALL cited sources in a list of references.
- Logically order material across and within individual chapters.
- Tables, graphs and figures are effective ways of presenting data, especially in the results and analysis sections of your dissertation. You should label tables and figures clearly and refer to them consistently in the table of contents and text of your dissertation. Be sure to cite the source of any figures or tables (if you have not developed them yourself).
- If possible, try not to split tables over two pages. You may need to use a slightly smaller font in tables, or format column headings to read vertically in order to do this.
The word limit for your dissertation is 15,000 words. Unless stipulated by the Module Leader, 10% either side of the word count is deemed to be acceptable. Any text that exceeds an additional 10% will not attract any marks.
The relevant word count includes items such as cover page, executive summary/abstract, title page, table of contents, tables, figures, in-text citations and section headings, if used.
The relevant word count excludes your list of references and any appendices at the end of your dissertation submission. Appendices are not always needed or expected, but they can be a useful way of providing supplementary material which your dissertation draws on but which is not essential for the reading of the dissertation. Beyond the above points, if you are not sure about whether something is included or not in the relevant word count, then assume it is included.
You should always include the word count (from Microsoft Word, not Turnitin), at the end of your dissertation, before your list of references.
It is your responsibility to ensure that your dissertation meets the University regulations for Academic Integrity. These are available at:
The following are definitions of breaches of Academic Integrity from the University Calendar. In extreme cases, these may result in failure of the dissertation module or your overall programme:
- Plagiarism: is the use of ideas, intellectual property or work of others without acknowledgement or permission, as appropriate.
- Cheating/Collusion: is any action before, during or after an assessment or examination or assessment by which the student seeks to gain unfair advantage or assists another student to do so.
- Falsification: is any attempt to present fictitious or distorted data, evidence, references, experimental results or other material and/or knowingly to make use of such material.
- Recycling: is where a piece of work which has already been used in one context is used again (without declaration and without the University’s permission) in another context.
- Breaching ethical standards: is failing to comply with your ethical obligations when carrying out your Academic Work as set out in the University Ethics Policy and the applicable ethical requirements for your subject area, such as failing to obtain free and informed consent.
- Misconduct in Research: includes any of the above examples in relation to research and/or other factors including a failure to comply with regulatory, legal and professional obligations such as a breach of confidentiality, infringement of intellectual property rights, failure to take due care for participants in research or of personal data, and abuse of research subjects or materials (including artefacts).
Additional guidance on recycling
Recycling (sometimes known as ‘self-plagiarism’) is an academic offence and is defined in the University academic regulations as:
Southampton Business School gives you permission to use material from any research proposal that you may have previously submitted as assessed coursework for your current programme of study. This is acknowledged in the declaration of authorship (see example title page above) and, as long as you have included this declaration on your title page you do not need to further reference work from your research proposal.
If you include material from assessed coursework other than research proposals, (for example essays relating to the subject of your dissertation) then you must acknowledge this as a source in your references. Material that has been previously submitted for assignments (other than research proposals) will not attract marks for your dissertation. It is good academic practice to expand and develop on previous work and acknowledge the original source, even if it is your own work. You can refer to your own work in the Harvard Referencing style as follows:
Surname, Initial. (Year of submission) ‘Title of essay/assignment’, Module code:
Module title. Institution. Unpublished essay/assignment.
Bloggs, J. (2016) ‘Globalisation has increased the complexity of managing people in the 21st century. Briefly summarise why this is and, where possible, illustrate your understanding of this complexity with reference to real world examples.’,
MANG6212: Essay Writing Skills. University of Southampton. Unpublished essay.
It is essential that you indicate clearly throughout your dissertation the source of any material you refer to including papers, textbooks, websites, interviews, newspapers, questionnaires, etc. This applies to all text, diagrams, data, tables, and appendices in your dissertation. You should refer to the latest version of the Business School Harvard Referencing Guide produced by the library. This is available from https://library.soton.ac.uk/sash/referencing
Just like other coursework, you are required to submit your dissertation to Turnitin for plagiarism checking. You are allowed to test submit your dissertation via Turnitin before the due date. You can use Turnitin to check your dissertation for plagiarism before you submit your final version. See “Viewing Your Originality Report” for guidance on how to do this. Please make sure to give yourself more time for your pre-submission. Otherwise, you won’t have enough time to amend your final dissertation!
Specific guidance on how to submit your dissertation will be provided via the Blackboard module in advance of the submission date.
Late submissions will be penalised in accordance with the standard University of Southampton regulations that apply to your programme.
If you are having trouble meeting the deadline for submission you must see your Personal Academic Tutor BEFORE the deadline and complete an Extension Request for Assessment Form. You should discuss the length of any extension requested with your supervisor. There are strict criteria for granting extensions. Neither your Personal Academic Tutor nor your Supervisor can approve an extension request. This can only be done by the Senior Tutor.
Extension requests along with supporting evidence should be submitted to the Student Office prior to the submission date. Extensions can only be granted for circumstances beyond your control. Further information regarding the regulations governing extension requests can be accessed via the Calendar:
The Deadline Extension Request Form can be found on the Quality Handbook along with guidance: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/quality/assessment/special_considerations.page?
If you believe that illness or other circumstances have adversely affected your academic performance you must complete a Special Considerations form. All claims must be substantiated by written documentary evidence, for example a medical certificate or GP/consultant letter, self-certification or a statement from your academic tutor. The purpose of asking for supporting documentation is for you to be able to corroborate the facts of your submission. All claims will be reviewed by the Faculty’s Special Considerations Board. Information regarding the regulations governing Special Considerations can be accessed via the Calendar:
The Special Considerations Request Form can be found on the Quality Handbook along with Special Considerations guidance:
Tier 4 Visa holders should be aware that there are strict requirements until their programme end date. More information is available at:
Library support and databases
Guidance on literature sources and library support is available from:
Guidance on the databases available to support your dissertation research is available from:
Specific guidance on financial databases is available from Finlab and there will be further support offered in the summer.
Study Skills and Language support
Southampton Business School students can access a wide range of support to help you to develop study skills and improve your academic English as you complete your dissertation. There will be lots of relevant resources on your Blackboard module for S4B.
LinkedIn Learning is a library of high-quality video tutorials on a wide range of software and business topics. Your University account gives you access to all of it for free.
A series of materials relating to research methods can be found here:
Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R., Jackson, P. and Jaspersen, L. (2018). Management Research, (6th ed.) London:Sage Publications.
Saunders, M., Lewis, P. and Thornhill, A. (2016). Research Methods for Business Students, (7th ed.), Harlow:Pearson Education Ltd.
The Saunders et al (2016) textbook is available (with limited licenses) to
Southampton students as an eBook via the Hartley library site (you will need to be using a VPN to access it off campus).
There are some free textbooks on Bookboon:
Greener, S. and Martelli, J. (2018). An Introduction to Business Research Methods, (3rd ed.), Ventus Publishing. Free download at: http://bookboon.com/en/anintroduction–to–business–research–methods–ebook#download
Use this schedule template to help you to plan your dissertation writing process.
You may find the following tips helpful:
- It is best to start with the submission date and work backwards.
- Plan to submit your dissertation at least two weeks before the final deadline to give you some protection against delays caused by unexpected problems.
- Include in the schedule any other major commitments you may have during the dissertation-writing period (e.g. examination revision).
- Once you have drafted your schedule, think about when would be the best times for you to meet with your supervisor, agree the dates with your supervisor and insert them into the schedule.
|Stage of the dissertation writing process||Number of days/ weeks needed||Start date||End date|
|STAGE ONE: Reading and research|
|a) Seek to identify an original, manageable topic|
|b) Reading & research into chosen topic|
|STAGE TWO: The detailed plan|
|a) Construct a detailed plan of the dissertation|
|STAGE THREE: Initial writing|
|a) Draft the various sections of the dissertation|
|b) Undertake additional research where necessary|
|STAGE FOUR: The first draft|
|a) Compile and collate sections into first draft of dissertation|
|b) Check the flow of the dissertation|
|c) Check the length of the dissertation|
|d) Undertake any additional editing and research|
|STAGE FIVE: Final draft|
|a) Check for errors|
|b) Prepare for submission|
|c) Final proof-read and final editing|
|d) Compile reference list|
|e) Submit your dissertation|
The University of Southampton Business School
MSc Dissertation – Research Proposal, Ethical Approval and Risk Assessment
This will be the basis for initial discussion as to the ethics and/ or risk approval (ERGO) you need. Please check the ‘Proposal/ Topic Submission’ folder in the Blackboard Dissertation module for guidance on how to submit for your programme and print out a copy for your first meeting with your supervisor. (Please note: you are not required to do this if you are conducting an industry-sponsored project). Once completed the proposal should be approximately 2-sides of typed A4.
NAME (in full): ……………………………………………………… Student No.: ……………………….
Proposed Dissertation Title: ……………………………………………………………………………
- Briefly explain your research question(s)
- Briefly explain your methodology and your reasons for choosing it.
c) Give two key references (research papers or books?), which you have used to inform your choice.
d) According to your research design above, do you need ethical approval for working with human participants (e.g. surveys) or potentially sensitive secondary data (e.g. combining data from multiple sources)? YES/ NO
(NOTE all dissertation research must be entered on the UoS ethics approval system, ERGO)
|Supervisor Comments – This section may be used by your supervisor to provide feedback after your first meeting. Please note: some supervisors may provide feedback in other ways.
(To be printed for discussion and signature: one copy may be retained by supervisor)
|Student Signature||Supervisor Signature|
|Print name||Print name|
|Agreed action points:|