Many colleges will provide you with an MA or master’s dissertation handbook which will cover all the basic tools and facilities you need to be aware of in order to complete your MA.  What sort of information should you expect to receive?

The basics – There should be full information about who to contact within your subject department.  This will range from email addresses and webpages to check through to “old school” methods of contact – for example, if the department has post trays for each postgraduate student.

Essay and dissertation deadlines – All the relevant dates should be included.  Missing a deadline can cost you precious marks, so these are really vital details.

Deadline extensions – There should be some guidance on extensions and any penalties that occur if you hand in work late.

Assessment – An explanation of how the different items of assessment (essays and dissertation) count towards your degree.  For example, your dissertation could be 40% of your overall mark.

Teaching methods – An explanation of the ways you will be taught.  Will there only be seminars – or will there be material online that you should access from an e-learning zone?

Libraries and archives – A brief overview of the sorts of libraries and archives you can use for your research should be included.  If you are lucky, your subject department may organize a class visit to the more important archives.

Reading lists – The general, introductory reading lists for the different modules of the dissertation may be included in the dissertation handbook.

Referencing – Different colleges and subjects prefer different styles of referencing.  Does your department like Harvard, Oxford, Vancouver, or another dissertation or essay reference style?  The handbook should make it clear which referencing system you should use.

Plagiarism – This topic has become a priority with cut and paste from the internet becoming so easy.  There will be a section in the handbook explaining how the department tests for plagiarism and the penalties that are given.

Dissertation advice – Finally, there should be a few pages helping you understand how to pick a topic, start your research and collate the material for your dissertation.

If you are lucky, all this information will be given to you in a printed dissertation handbook.  However, if your department doesn’t put this information together in one document, make sure you have all of it.  You need to know all these things in order to tackle your MA and dissertation writing effectively.

Has your department given you an MA handbook to help you with your dissertation writing?  What additional facts did you expect them to send you? Let us know.  Please post a comment below.