Publishing your thesis or dissertation
Although the main aim of your postgraduate programme will be for you to be awarded a Masters degree or a Doctorate, it will add considerably to your achievement if some or all of your work is eventually published in a journal or as a book. For a Masters degree dissertation there is no formal expectation that you will publish, but one of the indicators of the best work at this level is that it is seen as being of publishable quality. Where a distinction award is made this will usually indicate that your dissertation has work in it that should be published. For a Doctorate the standard required to pass is that your work and findings are of publishable quality, so you will find that there is some expectation from your university that you will try to publish some or all of your work.
If you are planning to progress from the postgraduate course to a career as an academic or as a researcher then having some work published from your research is almost essential. What you can publish and when, though, will depend on your own university’s regulations. In some universities you are not allowed to publish work from your thesis or dissertation until after it has been submitted for examination for your degree. This means that you cannot publish as you go along. In other universities there is more flexibility on this, and providing you do not publish the final version of any sections of your work before you are examined then there is not a problem. You need to check this very carefully with your tutor before deciding whether to publish any of your findings, therefore.
As a Doctoral student you will be encouraged to attend academic conferences in your discipline, particularly as you get towards the end of your studies. This enables you to meet and mix with academics and other researchers in your field and to listen to their ideas. It may also be possible for you to present papers on your developing ideas from your research and get some views and ideas from others. Care needs to be taken with this for the same reasons that publishing may be a problem as you go along. But discuss this with your tutor to see if it is possible or a sensible idea.
After you have finished, though, you will be encouraged to publish your thesis. In many disciplines there is a tradition of post-Doctoral studies, when students spend time after their PhD to prepare papers from their research and take their research on a little further. However, this is not easy for Masters students, unless they progress to a Doctorate, and it is also not easy for those who leave academic life after their postgraduate studies and enter a different career.
Whatever your circumstances, though, you should consider carefully trying to get one or more papers from your work published. This will raise the profile for your work, which will then be more easily accessible than your thesis. It will also demonstrate to yourself that you have truly produced some research that has made a ‘contribution to knowledge’.
One final point to consider in all this is that you may not wish your work to be published either because it contains controversial ideas or because it contains findings that are of commercial value. Universities are sensitive to both these problems, and all have systems for ensuring your work stays confidential if necessary – your tutor will be able to provide advice on this. If your ideas are of commercial value then the university will be able to provide expert advice on such things as registering patents or setting up a company to exploit the discovery. While it is not common for students to become wealthy from their Doctoral research, it is not unknown – in which case you can both get a Doctorate and become a millionaire!
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Standard Requirements and Assessment of Masters Dissertations
Word Length – Most Masters Dissertations are 15,000 – 50,000 words in length, although as stated above this can vary significantly depending on the subject area. Do remember that the word count typically does not include front matter, foot notes, bibliography or appendices!
Duration of Study – Most UK Masters programmes are one year in length, with the Dissertation submitted at the end of that year. This can vary for longer degree programmes, or in cases where students are allowed an extra ‘writing up’ year.
Submission Deadlines – Submission deadlines will vary among universities so it’s best to check with your specific institution for details. Masters Dissertations are assessed by examiners and the results must be certified by University Exam Boards, which are held twice yearly (normally in July and September). This means that the deadline for submitting dissertations is usually late June or late August, to allow time for marking prior to the Exam Boards. If necessary, students can request an extension to these deadlines if they can demonstrate genuine extenuating circumstances that will delay their submission. Always check with your university for specific regulations regarding submission and extensions.
Grades – The marking system for Masters dissertations is usually on the same numeric scale that is used for other UK assessments. Students must generally achieve a minimum mark of 40 to pass, but most will aspire to higher marks than this. Marks of 60-69 earn a classification of 2.1, or B; Marks over 70 earn a First classification, or A.
Writing a good dissertation requires honest dedication from students and an ability to motivate themselves over a long period of time. You can start off on a successful path by understanding the typical Masters Dissertation requirements, and developing your plan of study accordingly!
David Brigden and Graham Lamont, 2010. Planning Dissertations. Available: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/subjects/medev/Planning_dissertations. Last accessed 08 Apr 2013.
Kjell Erik Rudestam, 2007. Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process. 3rd Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc.
University of Worcester, 2010. Masters Dissertation Handbook. Available: http://www.worcester.ac.uk/registryservices/documents/Masters_Dissertation_Handbook_2010_2011.pdf. Last Accessed 02 May, 2013.