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Part IIB

Theoretical and Applied Linguistics


Part IIB Dissertation

Please note that these guidelines apply only to dissertations being submitted under the regulations for Part IIB of the Linguistics Tripos. For information regarding the MML Year Abroad Project and MML Tripos Optional Dissertation please see the relevant Faculty webpages.

What is a dissertation?

A dissertation is an extended essay normally divided into chapters or sections, with appropriate scholarly apparatus - precise referencing of sources, bibliography, possibly footnotes - which sets out to solve a problem, to query an existing belief, or to provide an accurate description and explanation of some phenomenon.

How will I benefit from writing a dissertation?

Writing a dissertation provides you with experience of research. If you think you might want to go on to postgraduate study, it'll give you an idea of what the research component of an MPhil course would involve. It allows you to go into an aspect of the course you find particularly interesting in much greater depth than is possible in a supervision essay. Many students enjoy the fact that, unlike examinations, the dissertation is entirely under their control, and that it is usually possible to find a subject in which they are doing original research. That said, however, it is only fair to add that it is not always easy to judge in advance what constitutes a tractable topic for research on this scale. It is important to get advice on your proposed topic at an early stage.

Proposal of your dissertation title

Towards the end of your Part IIA year you should discuss the topic of your proposed dissertation with your Director of Studies, and identify a potential supervisor.

Your dissertation should be on a subject that falls within the scope of the papers in Section C of the Linguistics Tripos. Note, however, that your dissertation must not be on a subject that falls substantially within the scope of a paper you are taking for your Part IIB examination.

It is important to try out your ideas at an early stage to make sure that your topic is neither too broad nor too narrow, and to ensure that you will have access to the requisite resources over the summer. Once you have a fairly clear idea of its scope and title and have found someone willing to supervise your project, download a copy of the form Proposed Title for Part IIB Dissertation. Complete it in consultation with your proposed supervisor (who will need to sign it) and take it to your Director of Studies, who will check it and sign it.

You should submit the form to the Secretary of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics for forwarding on to the Faculty Board for approval. This form must be submitted no later than 3 pm on the third Friday of the Full Michaelmas Term before your Part IIB exams, but it may be submitted earlier. Please allow plenty of time for consultation with your Director of Studies and potential supervisors as they cannot sign incomplete proposals. You will receive confirmation of the proposed title from the Faculty Board by the end of Full Michaelmas Term.

Making a change to your dissertation title

Applications to submit a change in the title of your dissertation after you have received approval will only be accepted in exceptional circumstances. Applications to change your title must be presented to the Secretary of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics via the email address using the form for Change of Title for Part IIB Dissertation. Applications must be submitted no later than 3 pm on the second Friday of the Full Lent Term.

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Completing the dissertation

You should aim to make significant progress with your dissertation over the summer between your Part IIA and Part IIB years. In particular, if your project includes fieldwork, you should do this over the summer before your Part IIB year. You may be able to arrange with your College to stay up for several weeks either at the beginning or at the end of the Long Vacation to carry out any necessary reading or experimental work. Note that the University Library is usually shut in the third week of September. If you need lab facilities or recording equipment, ensure in advance that they will be available.

It is vitally important that you complete at least a first draft before the start of the Lent Term as you will not have time to carry out major research or rewriting after this. Be aware that your supervisor's schedule may not allow him/her to drop everything and read it precisely when it suits you: aim to submit a fortnight before the deadline to give yourself, your supervisor and your computer a little room for the unforeseen.

You are entitled to six supervisions but not more on your dissertation. In the early stages you can expect your supervisor to help with formulating the topic and structure, and with providing some bibliographical/methodological pointers; and then to read a first or second draft; and then to answer specific questions as you finalise the text. Do not expect your supervisor to read multiple versions as you go along, nor to act as your proof-reader.


Any consistently applied referencing system, such as those described in the MHRA style guide, is acceptable. The Unified Style Sheet for Linguistics Journals sets out one widely used system. Use of the author-date system is normal in linguistics.

Please see the Faculty guidance and University information on plagiarism.


The dissertation must be in English (quotations from original foreign-language sources must be accompanied by a translation into English unless a dispensation is given by the Department), and should be between 8,000 and 10,000 words in length. The Examiners are instructed not to read beyond 10,000 words.

If an examiner has reason to believe that a dissertation has exceeded the word limit and thus infringed the rubric, they will ask the Faculty Office to ascertain the exact word count. One mark will be deducted for every 100 words above the word limit.

Notes, section titles and footnotes are all included in the word count. Excluded from the word count are the title page; index (if any); abstract (if there is one); tables and graphs (including their titles and summaries); appendices; bibliography; acknowledgments;  automatically-generated material (such as Headers, Footers and any numbers that label sections, notes and other structural units) and required lists of experimental materials. Where data from foreign languages is used, only the data itself will be included in the word count: associated glosses and translations will be exempt.

Extensions to the word limit will only be granted in exceptional circumstances where there is a specific reason for additional material to be included, and where such data does not form part of your argument. Extensions to the word limit should be discussed with your supervisor as early as possible in the writing process as you will need their agreement to make such a request. To request an extension, your supervisor must write to the Chair of the Linguistics Tripos Examiners, clearly stating your reasons. Your supervisor will also need to confirm the rationale for the request and their agreement to it. Please ensure that if you are considering requesting an extension you do so as early as possible, to allow sufficient time for the request to be considered and for you to take appropriate action if it is not agreed. 

Dissertations should be typed. The pages should be numbered and securely attached, for example with staples or a binder (paperclips are not acceptable). The title page should include the title as originally submitted, your candidate number, and an accurate word count. Any part of the dissertation which is the outcome of work done in collaboration should be identified as such with a note in the text to that effect, eg: 'These figures were produced in collaboration with another student'.


The University treats plagiarism with the utmost seriousness. The Court of Discipline, to which cases of plagiarism must be reported, has the power to deprive a student of membership of the University.

Please refer to the University information on plagiarism and the University policy on the use of the plagiarism detection software, Turnitin, here.

Submitting the dissertation

The dissertation must be submitted in its final form not later than 3 pm on the last Monday of the Full Lent Term preceding your Part IIB examination.

You will email the Section Secretary with a completed Dissertation Submission Declaration form.This form will include your name and college and you will have to sign the declaration that the dissertation is all your own work. You will be required to give an accurate word count.

You are required to upload an electronic (PDF) copy to the Moodle page by the deadline. Information regarding the format of the electronic submission of the dissertation is available here.

Before submitting electronically please ensure you have read the University policy on the use of plagiarism detection software, Turnitin, here.

Penalties for late submission and exceeding word limits

Dissertations will not normally be accepted after the deadline unless prior permission has been sought by a College Tutor from the Board of Examinations Applications Committee. Normally only serious medical reasons can be accepted; failure of computer equipment is not a valid excuse, and you should therefore allow sufficient time for completing and printing the dissertation.

Dissertations submitted up to 24 hours after the deadline must be handed to the Secretary of the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty Board and may result in a 10-mark penalty being imposed. Submission after this time is equivalent to not appearing at an examination and results in a mark of zero.

If an examiner has reason to believe that a dissertation has exceeded the word limit and thus infringed the rubric, they will ask the Faculty Office to ascertain the exact word count. One mark will be deducted for every 100 words above the word limit.

Examining the dissertation

The dissertation is normally marked by the examiners in the relevant area of linguistics at the same time as normal Tripos examining is carried out, and the mark is treated in exactly the same way as any examination mark. The examiners have the right to summon you for an oral examination on the subject of the dissertation.

View the Marking criteria.

Retention of copies

Students are strongly advised to keep a hard copy of their dissertation in their possession: the Faculty cannot be responsible for loss or damage.

One hard copy of the dissertation will be available for collection from the Department Office within six months following the publication of the Class List with your exam results.

For further information please see the undergraduate examinations data retention policy.

The Department will select some sample copies of dissertations to be stored in the MML Faculty Library and on Moodle for consultation. You will be asked to give your permission for your dissertation to be stored in the Library and on Moodle on the Submission of Dissertation Declaration.