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MPhil Coursework: Practical Guidelines

practical guidelines

MPhil By Advanced Study Coursework: Practical Guidelines

These notes deal with the process of choosing a topic, the teaching you can expect to receive, and the presentation of the finished essay. You can seek further advice on these matters, if you want it, from the course director, from the convenor of the module for which the essay is being written, the lecturers and seminar-leaders involved in it, and from the supervisor assigned for your thesis.


Choosing a topic

Essays are to be written on a topic chosen individually by each student in consultation with one of the course lecturers or seminar-leaders, and relating to the lectures or seminars on the course. Essays do not have to be 'original' in the sense of discovering new material or presenting previously unpublished ideas, but they should show evidence of independent research, interpretation and judgment.

Students may plan their essays as part of an ongoing research enterprise, fitting in with their other essays and their thesis, if they wish, but they are also at liberty to write an entirely self-sufficient piece. While there may well be a continuity of ideas between the different pieces of work, each must stand in its own right, and any substantial duplication of argument will be subject to penalty. Students may well find it useful to test out their idea for the essay in a seminar paper.

The Critical Theory essay may be either 'pure' or 'applied', that is, it may study some aspect of a theory at first hand, or it may explore the implications of a theory in relation to a chosen text or texts. The main aim here is to show the critical ability to handle and assess theoretical positions; while references to literary or other cultural material should of course be accurate and well-judged, candidates are not expected to show as substantial a contextual or bibliographical range in this respect as for the module essays. 

Essay topics and title will first require approval from the Course Director. The Faculty Degree Committee then has the final say in approving topics. The deadlines for providing topics and titles are shown at the end of this page.


Language of essays

All students must submit their Core Course essay in English. In January, after Core Course marks have been received, any student who wishes to submit a module essay in a language other than English should seek formal permission from the course director and the relevant supervisor. The chosen language should be appropriate to the essay topic and there should be good intellectual reasons for submitting the work in that language. The course director should also be satisfied that the candidate has reached a satisfactory standard in written English in the Core Course essay. It should still be recognised that the ability to produce fluent critical work in English is one of the key skills tested by the MPhil.​



Students may choose to use seminars as a place to test out their ideas for an essay and obtain feedback on them. But they are also entitled to up to one hour individual supervision for each essay, and this may be divided into half-hour sessions, providing advice on focusing the topic, suggestions for relevant reading, and comments on a rough draft. (In the event that an essay is co-supervised, a candidate may expect 30 minutes of individual supervision from each supervisor. Only one supervisor should comment on the full draft of the essay). Usually the supervisor for each essay will be the senior member most obviously identified with the topic in question: for example, the person who gave the most closely related lecture or led the most closely related seminar. If in doubt as to whom to approach, consult the convenor of the module or the MPhil Course Director. If you encounter any difficulty in your contacts with your supervisor please seek advice from the MPhil Course Director.



We suggest that you use the conventions of presentation recommended in the MHRA Style Book - please note that this book explains both a footnote style and an author-date style. The author-date style is useful for saving on your word count (since bibliographic footnotes are part of the word count but the bibliography itself is not included in the word count). A copy is available to download from the MHRA website. Successful essays submitted by previous years' MPhil students may also be consulted (but they must not be taken away or photocopied), and are available in the MMLL Library. Correct expression is a requisite for successful presentation of written work. Work with frequent misspellings or inconsistent use of conventions, will be marked down. Candidates may seek advice on matters of style and grammatical accuracy from a native speaker of English.

Essays must be typed or word-processed, double-spaced, with adequate margins, on single sides of A4 paper. Two copies of the essay must be submitted (so that the two examiners may read them simultaneously). Each essay should be presented in a semi-durable 'soft spiral' plastic or cardboard binding (as provided by the Graduate Union). In the case of the module essays, the module to which the essay relates should be clearly designated on the title page. An electronic copy of each essay must also be submitted simultaneously (see under 'dates for submission of essays'). Permission to include an appendix must be sought from the Course Director, or they will be included in the essay word count.


A reminder that the word-limits for the essays and thesis are strictly enforced. In the case of the essays, a word count of 4,500 should never be exceeded. In the case of the dissertation, a word count of 15,000 words should never be exceeded. The length includes notes but excludes the bibliography. The word count must be stated clearly at the end of each essay and at the end of the thesis. The word count (which must include footnotes) of the electronic copy will be checked. The examiners can and do deduct marks for even minor infractions.


Before you begin to write in earnest, draw up an outline plan (no more than one A4 sheet). This will clarify your intentions as a basis for initial guidance as to scope and organisation from your supervisor.

Sectioning and Formatting:

It can be helpful to subdivide your argument into titled sections, especially to signpost the reader through the longer thesis format. Excessive subdivision can, of course, be counter-productive. If in doubt, consult your supervisor. In the case of theses a contents page will provide useful orientation. Remember to number pages.


Whether you choose to cite the work of others by direct quotation or by careful paraphrase will clearly depend upon how particular its significance is for your argument. Any points of substance, quoted or paraphrased from other authors, should be properly attributed, using a clear and consistent format. The author/date method is probably most practical for this type of work since it saves on words, as mentioned above. It uses the author's surname, followed by the date of publication in brackets: (Kittler 1981)​ or "As Kittler (1981: 157) says, ....". Where a specific passage is involved, add page numbers : (Kittler 1981: 157-8). If you are citing more than one work of the same year by the same author, distinguish them as follows: (Kittler 1992a)/(Kittler 1992b). If two cited authors share the same surname, add their initials: (F. Kittler 1981)/(W. Kittler 1986). Double-authored works are referred to thus: ​(Kittler and Schmidt 1990). Longer author lists are given in full in the first citation and may subsequently be abbreviated as follows: ​(Kittler et al. 1996).


  • Kittler (1992b: 129-32) argues that...

  • Kittler argues that this is 'an untenable proposition' (1992b: 129-32)

  • I agree with the assertion that this is 'an untenable proposition' (Kittler 1992b: 129-32)

List of References:

An alphabetically organised section, headed References, at the end of your document should give full details of all cited works. Remember to note these details carefully when consulting the texts concerned, rather than having to scramble to find them with a deadline looming. If you wish to list works which have informed your argument without being cited in it, do so under a separate heading (Other sources). No single style is imposed, but students should state which convention they are using at the beginning of the essays and thesis.

Most publishers have their own house-style for references, but in conjunction with the author/date system it makes sense to set out the references as follows:

For books:
Butler, J. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge

For journal articles:
Brooks, P. 1977. 'Freud's Masterplot: Questions of Narrative', Yale French Studies 55/56, 280-300

For contributions to edited volumes:
Habermas, J. 1992. 'Modernity - An Incomplete Project', in: P. Waugh (ed.), Postmodernism: A Reader. London: Edward Arnold


Keep these to a minimum. In general, if something is worth saying, it is worth saying it in the main text.

The best way of ensuring that you are meeting the right standards of style and presentation is by allowing time before submission for your supervisor to read a final draft.


Dates for submission of essays

The deadline for submission of  the core course essay is usually early/mid December.

Since both of the module essays are due on the same date, around mid-March, you may prefer to submit one of them earlier. Extensions will not normally be granted. If exceptional circumstances mean that you wish to seek an extension, you must do so with the support of your College Tutor who should make the request to the Course Director.


Divulging of marks

When the essays have been marked, students will be informed individually of the mark awarded and given a copy of the assessors' report. These marks are absolutely confidential. No student is entitled to know or discuss any other student's mark. Students may obtain feedback on their performance from the person who taught them, and seek advice on how to improve if necessary. The course director is also available (in office hours) to provide advice and help if called upon.



Dissertations must, according to the criteria laid down by the University, 'represent a contribution to learning'. Dissertations must be written in English. The arrangements for their preparation are similar to those for the essays. Titles are chosen by students, in consultation with module convenors and/or prospective supervisors, and then have to be approved by the Course Director and the Faculty Degree Committee. Topics must be submitted by the end of January, and working titles by mid-end May. Up to this point the course director is the titular supervisor of MPhil students, but once the thesis topics are approved, a specialist supervisor is appointed for each student. Students are entitled to up to four hour-long sessions with their supervisor. Dissertations should conform to the same guidelines for presentation as the essays. The word limit for the dissertation is 15,000 words including footnotes but excluding bibliography and the word-count should be indicated at the end of the dissertation. The work is not allowed to exceed the word limit, though it may be shorter. The deadline for submission is usually around early June each year.

NB: the exact dates for submission and key events will be confirmed to current students at the beginning of each academic year.