Archive research is one of the most important masters dissertation research strategies and can provide a wealth of valuable and unusual information for your dissertation writing, from case study research to unpublished personal and historical documents.

Our brief guide outlines the function and value of archive data and explains how to use an archive to enhance your masters dissertation.

What is an archive?

An archive is a collection of documents and records that have been preserved due to their cultural, historical or evidentiary value. They often include unpublished manuscripts, personal letters and papers, business records and memos, and historical documents such as land and church records.

The format of information held in archives can be extremely varied and might include rare books, film, photographs, audio records, artwork and other materials. Such unusual and detailed archive data could greatly deepen and improve many masters dissertation examples.

How can archive research enhance my dissertation?

Unlike the type of books and records found in libraries, archive materials are usually unique, meaning that there are no other copies in circulation. So incorporating archive research into your dissertation writing is a great way of showing depth and specificity in your research strategies. It proves that you have gone the extra mile in your dissertation research and made the effort to look into every possible record that may be relevant to your studies.

Of course the unique nature of archive materials also means that including archive data in your masters dissertation writing is likely to help it to stand out and cover new and exciting ground, setting it apart from other researchers in the field or other students writing on similar dissertation topics.

Visiting archives

Unlike libraries, many archives are not open to the public and you may have to make a special appointment and fill out some forms in order to gain access. So it is very important to plan ahead when considering archive research as part of your dissertation writing.

Make sure to contact the archivist early on to allow time for the necessary procedures to be completed before you are able to undertake your archive dissertation research.

Handling archive materials

Each individual archive will have its own guidelines, but do remember that archive materials are unique and precious and must be handled with care. It may be necessary to wear gloves, and use a book cradle. Remember to keep manuscripts flat and not to hold them up to light in order to read them.


Citing archival collections and unpublished manuscripts

As archive materials are largely unpublished, the reference you make to them in your footnotes and bibliography will need to be in a slightly different format from your other, published texts.

Remember the function of a reference is to allow the reader to follow up your sources himself if he chooses, so in the case of archive material you should reference your source in the same way it is catalogued by the collection itself.

This will enable the reader to use your citation to find the source easily himself when accessing the collection. Include all details such as collection name, box number, folder number and document details.

Always check with the archivist to ensure there are no restrictions on quoting and citing archive materials before you include them in your masters dissertation.