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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Planning your dissertation: Producing original work

You will see from the Faculty marking criteria that the best dissertations make some kind of original contribution to the subject. This is what is meant in the criteria by references to an ‘individual argument’, a ‘new approach’, or work that is ‘independent and enterprising’.

The challenge of coming up with an original argument or approach for your dissertation can seem extremely daunting, but the following clarifications may help.

Originality does not need to mean coming up with a world-shattering new theory which will change the direction of your discipline. It can emerge through:

  • the careful comparison of different texts or critical viewpoints
  • reading a text in the light of a new or revised critical framework, or a particular set of concepts/theories
  • tracing links between a text and its context
  • taking an idea already outlined by a critic and developing their insights further, either in relation to the same text(s) or different ones

If you feel that everything has already been said, take some time to go back to your primary texts and think critically about what has been published on them. They might present accurate analysis, but is there another side to the story? Is there a different emphasis you could bring to balance their perspective? Have they ignored some contradictions in the text(s)?