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Dissertation Support for Postgraduate Masters Students

Four-stage infographic - idea, to do, doing, done

The final stage of your taught postgraduate Masters degree is writing and submitting your dissertation or project report.

Here you can find advice on the support that is available to help you to ensure that the process is a smooth one and that you can look ahead to successfully completing your degree:


Masters Degree Final Module

The final module of most taught postgraduate Masters degrees is usually a dissertation or project module completed over the period from June to August.

This module normally takes the form of a period of supervised research or a placement where you will explore a topic in depth. That work is then normally presented in the form of an extended essay (a dissertation) or some form of report or portfolio.

Your Supervisor

Although your dissertation / project report is an independent piece of work – in that you are responsible for its design and execution – you will have a dissertation / project supervisor. You may have a second supervisor if your dissertation / project is interdisciplinary in nature.

Your supervisor(s) will provide you with academic advice and support. Additionally, your supervisor(s) can provide guidance on planning and managing your work so that your dissertation / project report is completed on time.

It is important that you take due account of the advice provided by your supervisor(s), but ultimately you are responsible for the successful completion of your dissertation / project report.

Policy and Requirements

Your school should provide you with advice on the requirements for your dissertation / project report - including advice on how this should be presented and on when to submit it for assessment.

General requirements are set out in the University policy on Masters degree final modules and you are encouraged to familiarise yourself with this.

The policy includes advice on the responsibilities that you and your supervisor(s) have to each other as well as guidance on research ethics, risk assessments, and academic practice.


Planning and Writing Your Dissertation/Project

Many Masters students find it daunting to contemplate having to write their dissertation /project report. A structured approach to planning your writing and reviewing your progress will help you keep momentum and maintain a sense of control and perspective.

You may find it helpful early on to prepare a plan or schedule that breaks your dissertation /project report into discrete sections and which shows how you will use your time to draft and revise each section:

  • your plan should include time for proofreading and editing each section as well as the finished whole

  • it is a good idea to share your plan with your supervisor(s) and to seek their feedback on this

  • regularly check your progress against your plan to help you stay on track

You should also make use of the support that is available to help you successfully complete your dissertation /project report:

M-Skills Dissertation Support

Each summer, as part of the M-Skills programme, CAPOD host a suite of events for Masters students working on their dissertation / project report:

  • the one-day kick start your dissertation workshop will show you how to break down the writing process into achievable tasks, develop a writing strategy, and apply project and time management techniques

  • the three hour dissertation hacks workshop looks at some of the features of MS Word that can help you manage longer documents like a dissertation / project report

  • the intensive two-day dissertation bootcamp provides a structured and supported space in which you can focus on making significant progress in drafting your dissertation / project report

Places on these events are limited and must be booked in advance. Learn more about the M-Skills dissertation support events.

Study Skills Adviser Appointments

Alongside the M-Skills events, you can make a one-to-one appointment with a study skills adviser if you would like to discuss techniques for managing your time, editing your work, etc.

International Student Support

The In-Sessional English Language Service provides additional support for international students whose first language is not English.

Support is provided through a programme of workshops as well as one-to-one tutorials.

Formatting Your Dissertation Guide

Our short guide - Formatting Your Dissertation in Word - has advice on how to use MS Word to make managing your dissertation/ project report easier. 

The guide also has links to online Microsoft resources where you can learn more.


Finding and Using Academic Literature

As a Masters student you have access to the University Library’s extensive store of printed books as well as to full-text ebooks and ejournals, a substantial media collection, and many databases that can be consulted online wherever you are.

You can also apply to use the libraries at the University of Dundee and Abertay University as well as the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh or request items through the inter-library loans service.

Finding Information

The Library's academic liaison team can help you find the information you need for your dissertation / project report. In particular, they can help you with:

  • refining your topic - identifying what information is available, where there are gaps in the research, and whether there is sufficient information for you to research your topic

  • undertaking a literature search - finding books, journals, statistics, financial data, archival sources for your research, developing a search strategy, and analysing search results

  • using special collections

You can make a one-to-one appointment with a member of the academic liaison team if you need help finding information for your dissertation / project report.

To make an appointment, please email library@st-andrews.ac.uk outlining when you are available to meet and the type of the help that you are looking for.

Referencing Styles

You must ensure that the information and literature that you have used to prepare your dissertation / project report are fully and accurately referenced. Different schools use different referencing styles - if you are unsure, check the Library's referencing styles guide.

The guide includes advice on commonly used referencing styles such as Chicago, Harvard, and Vancouver.

You can make a one-to-one appointment with a member of the academic liaison team if you need help referencing information and literature.

To make an appointment, please email library@st-andrews.ac.uk outlining when you are available to meet and the type of the help that you are looking for.

Referencing Software

Referencing software keeps an electronic database of the information and literature that you have used to prepare your dissertation / project report and can easily generate a bibliography and format it in many different styles for you.

You can find examples of how to use referencing software and links to training and support in the Library's referencing software guide.

The guide include advice on commonly used referencing software packages such as EndNote, Mendeley, and Zotero.

You can make a one-to-one appointment with a member of the academic liaison team if you need help using referencing software.

To make an appointment, please email library@st-andrews.ac.uk outlining when you are available to meet and the type of the help that you are looking for.


Maths and Statistics

CAPOD offer a free, confidential, one-to-one maths and statistics support service if you need help with any mathematics or statistics problem relating to your dissertation / project report. ‌

Over the summer you can also attend one of the regular maths drop-in sessions.

Statistics Software

You can download commonly used software packages including R and SPSS from Apps Anywhere.


File Management and IT Support

An organised approach to file management can save you a lot of time later on.

In particular, keep back-up copies of your work. Do not just save back-up copies to your own device - your student IT account includes 5GB of free storage on the University network and, if you need more space, Office 365 gives you 1TB of OneDrive file storage on the cloud.

Just as importantly, use file names that help you identify different versions / drafts of your work and create a folder structure to organise these.

Learn more about your file storage options.

Office 365

Your IT account, as well as providing access to University systems, includes Office 365. You can access Office 365 using any browser on a PC or mobile device giving you access to MS Office web applications - MS Word, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint, etc. - as well as MS Office for installation on up to five personal devices.

Learn more about Office 365.

IT Service Desk

If you have any IT problems you can call or email the IT Service Desk. Alternatively you can visit the IT Help Point in the main library.

Please remember that IT Services staff can provide technical advice only - they cannot help with questions directly relating to the content or presentation of your dissertation / project report.


Wellbeing and Support

Many Masters students find the process of writing a dissertation / project report to be a stressful one. Student Services can help if you experience difficulties - whatever those might be.

Learn more about Student Services support for Masters students.

Student Services also have a number of wellbeing guides on commonly experienced issues such as anxiety, imposter syndrome, and perfectionism.

Stay Connected

One of the best ways to keep motivated while you work on your dissertation / project report is to stay connected with friends and other postgraduates.

The Students' Association building and facilities remain open over the summer and the Postgraduate Society continues to host events for postgraduates staying in St Andrews while working on their dissertation / project report.


Beyond Your Masters

Careers Centre Support

The Careers Centre is committed to supporting you as you take your next steps beyond your Masters degree. You can access Careers Centre resources and support for up to three years after graduation to help you achieve your professional goals:

Our Alumni Community

Remember as well that, as a graduate of St Andrews, you are automatically a member of our worldwide alumni community.


Further Advice and Questions

Your supervisor(s) are likely to be the first point of contact for many questions about your dissertation / project report. In particular, you supervisor(s) should be able to help with questions relating to the structure and content of your dissertation / project report.

You can find further advice in the University policy on Masters degree final modules. For more general topics, use the online Ask a Question.

Finally, FindaMasters.com has some good postgraduate dissertation tips.

St Leonard’s Doctoral and Postgraduate College

The Bute Building, Queen’s Terrace
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stlc@st-andrews.ac.uk
+44 (0)1334 462 032

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