Supervising Dissertations

Dissertations and projects are increasingly used as forms of assessment: they are very effective and valid (although not always entirely reliable). They are also extremely time-consuming to supervise properly, and their individual nature lays tutors open to accusations of unfairness.

The solution is probably to be found in a learning contract, but in this case a specialised one which sets out the standard, rather than individualised, features of how you are prepared to supervise-and it seems to apply at more or less all levels.

The rationale is that if you are up-front about what can reasonably be expected of both of you, you are less likely to get into recriminations later.


The purpose of supervision of these tutored modules is for me to enable you to produce the best-quality piece of work you are capable of. This means:

My Commitments

Your Commitments

To begin with:

Shape of the dissertation (probable)

The figures in parentheses are the order in which you write the material (based on an October-June academic year).

1. Introduction (1) October: (7) May next year
2. Literature Review (2) January next year
3. Methodology (3) also January (but remember you also have to gather the results)
4. Findings (4) March
5. Discussion (5) April
6. Conclusion (6) April/May: unites 2 and 5


Start keeping a log now. Record

However, go here for the reductio ad absurdum of this approach: I know the context is rather different, but how anyone could produce doctoral standard work under these conditions beats me!

Here is another variation, this time on how to write up a research paper (the subject is statistical modelling, but it works for many disciplines). Note that the order of work is very different.

And here is a more detailed paper on my other site about the shape and structure of a Master's dissertation: what to put where, and why. All the things you didn't know you needed to know about dissertations until you started to write one.


To reference this page copy and paste the text below:

Atherton J S (2013) Learning and Teaching; [On-line: UK] retrieved from

Original material by James Atherton: last up-dated overall 10 February 2013

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