Specialist Study - Dissertation


The dissertation is worth 40% of your overall award—so it’s important to take it very seriously.


Authors, texts and topics that are central to your work in one component of course assessment (for example, Literary Study) may not be used in any other component of course assessment (for example, your Specialist Study Dissertation). You will be required to record your Specialist Study Dissertation texts and topic on your answer booklet.


You have to make an independent study of and produce a dissertation on an aspect or aspects of language or literature or media or some combination of these.


The first stage in the process is the selection of texts or topics and the formulation of a brief descriptive statement of what you propose to study. This proposal must be approved by your teacher or lecturer in order to ensure that the materials are appropriate to an English course and worthy of study at this level and that the study itself is manageable. Your study should explore a limited area and examine it in detail with lots of appropriate supporting evidence.

It should be noted that texts and topics:

  • must be personally selected by you (under the guidance of your teacher or lecturer)
  • must be accepted by your centre as suitable choices
  • must not be the subject of teaching in this unit
  • must not be the subject of teaching or assessment in other units of the Advanced Higher English course or in the units of other courses.

You should select a topic that will enable you to offer a full exposition and discussion of a particular aspect your chosen field of study. For example, a literary theme might be pursued through the works of a single author, or works of several authors, or over a historical period; a language topic might focus on language acquisition, the dialect of a specific locality, the language of specialist groups; a media topic might be related to the study of language or of literature.

Studies of the works of a single author or single works by two or more authors should avoid a serial treatment in which each work is left isolated from the other(s). Studies that involve the collection and analysis of data and information should be presented in discursive form.


Clearly, production of the dissertation will vary from candidate to candidate and from centre to centre.

In most cases, however, your teacher or lecturer will:

  • brief you on the nature of the task at the outset
  • illustrate the wide range of texts and topics available
  • discuss with you your relevant individual and personal interests
  • guide you towards consultation with librarians or other teachers/lecturers and towards use of databanks
  • you practical help with final choice and location of texts and with the wording of topics and titles
  • provide regular opportunities for consultation and support
  • make clear to you the procedures that must apply in order to meet deadlines and evidence requirements
  • record your progress at different stages in the production of the dissertation in order to ensure the authenticity of your work.

You should:

  • write, type or word-process the dissertation on one side of A4 paper only
  • use italics or underlining to indicate titles of texts
  • set in from the margin all quotations of more than one line so that they are clearly distinguishable from the text of the dissertation
  • use footnotes and page references where appropriate to identify quotations from and references to primary sources
  • use footnotes and page references at all times to identify and acknowledge quotations from, references to and information/ideas gleaned from secondary sources
  • provide an accurate bibliography
  • give footnote and bibliography references in the following form:

    D.Gifford and D. McMillan, A History of Scottish Women’s Writing, EUP, 1997.

Advice on the presentation of your dissertation


Title page

Your title page should include:
  • your centre name
  • your centre number
  • your name
  • your candidate number
  • your title/topic/texts.



If word-processed, your dissertation should observe the following conventions:
  • each page should be numbered, including the title page and the bibliography
  • each page should be single-sided
  • each page should be typed in single line spacing
  • the font used should be Times New Roman
  • the font size should be 12 point
  • your text should be left-justified
  • titles of texts - novels, plays, poems, critical or reference works - should be in italics, without quotation marks
  • quotations, unless only a few words long (when quotation marks should be used), should be preceded and followed by a double line space.


Citing references in the body of your dissertation

Footnotes should be kept to a minimum and numbered sequentially from the beginning to the end of your dissertation.
  • The first reference to a text cited or quoted from should be given in full as follows:
  • Bennett, Joan, Four Metaphysical Poets, (London, 1953), p23.
  • The normal convention for subsequent references is: Bennett, p47.
  • It is acceptable to abbreviate lengthy titles in footnotes or textual references. For example: All's Well That Ends Well can become AWTEW.
  • Simple references, such as line numbers or page references of quotations from a book or a play or a poem already cited in full, can usually be incorporated in the text, normally in parentheses after quotations.
  • Internet sources should be referred to thus:
  • Crowley, J, New York Times (1985), Review of Lanark. Available: http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~crumey/gray1.html


Listing sources in your bibilography

You should take a fresh page for your bibliography.
  • Make separate lists of primary texts (those chosen for study) and secondary sources (critical or reference works, periodicals, Web documents).
  • List sources in alphabetical order, according to the author's surname.



The dissertation you produce must be between 3500 and 4500 words in length, including quotations but excluding footnotes and bibliography. You should note that, in order to achieve consistency in this area, any dissertation that falls outwith these limits of length will not be accepted. You must indicate on the dissertation flyleaf the actual number of words used.


While you should of course consult secondary sources, you must be careful not to rely on them excessively and you must never copy them without acknowledgement. Always remember that to plagiarise is to cheat—and this could lead to your disqualification from any award. Markers are instructed to report all instances where plagiarism is suspected for further investigation (so be warned!).


Read the Advanced Higher English Specialist Study marking instructions. They should help you to see clearly the difference between a dissertation that is acceptable and will pass and one that would earn you top marks.