SOAS University of London

Faculty of Languages and Cultures

MA Dissertation Guidelines


These guidelines provide you with specific information on the use of sources, referencing and citation for MA dissertations in the Faculty of Languages and Cultures, which are likely to include a certain amount of foreign language data and material.

You are encouraged to make use of the support for essay and dissertation writing available from Learning and Teaching Development. The LTD offers on-line help, workshops and one-to-one tutorials which cover many aspects of academic writing relevant for MA dissertations.

Please also note that some departments or programmes have more specific MA guidelines. In case of doubt, always follow the more specific guidelines.  

Ethical Review

Every dissertation requires risk assessment as well as ethical clearance before the research is actually undertaken. You will receive a Risk Assessment and Ethical Clearance form which has to be signed by your supervisor in dialogue with you. This also applies when there are no obvious ethical issues or risks, e.g., you are writing about a novel. More detail can be found on the page giving ethical guidance for students in the Faculty of Languages and Cultures as well as the SOAS Research Office where you can also download the form.

Scope and aim

The MA dissertation is about showing how well you can independently do research on a particular topic, including a theoretical background. Unlike a UG dissertation, an MA dissertation should be of publishable quality and therefore fulfil the requirements of a good piece of research. Therefore, you will have to isolate a viable topic for research as soon as possible – and your capability to critically analyse this topic will be assessed.

Sources and referencing

Usage and amount of references

Select an appropriate amount of references for your dissertation, so that the research is well founded, more is better than less. Although no clear numbers as to how many sources should be used can be given, it is vital that the paper is not based upon a few works only. When in doubt, please contact your supervisors with your list of references as early as possible.

All works cited in the text should appear on the list of references. Works that are not cited should not be listed in the references. It is important that quotations in the text, and information in the bibliography are formatted to the appropriate academic standard. Please see the referencing guidelines issued by the Learning and Teaching Unit.

Usage of foreign language sources

The MA dissertation is less about showing how well you can deal with foreign language material, however, if you do have the capability of reading research in the language of your area, you are strongly recommended to do so. No clear quota can be given, but the materials from both languages should be referenced in the text and relevant to the argument. When in doubt, please contact your supervisor.

Usage of internet sources

In general, published sources such as books and academic articles are the more reliable source of information and to be preferred over internet sources.

Use ONLY reliable internet sources, such as governmental or institutional websites (e.g. the UN, EU, Amnesty International, University websites, papers written and posted by academics).

Wikipedia, other similar reference sites as well as blogs or chat rooms ARE NOT to be used in a dissertation. This is because Wikis and blogs are sometimes deliberately inaccurate. If you find relevant information on an unreliable website, check this information in a reliable source, and use this as a reference.

HOWEVER: It is acceptable to make use of Wikipedia or any ‘popular site’ IF these are the OBJECT of analysis and NOT a source of information (e.g. a dissertation on the usage of language in relation to emoticons in blogs or chat fora would naturally need to refer to the webpages in question). Nevertheless, even such a dissertation does need to make use of academic sources in order to introduce the topic and give it a sound theoretical framework. It should not consist of the analysis of the webpages only

If you do need to quote from the internet, make sure that the day you last accessed that particular site appears in the list of references, since the internet is not a reliable medium when it comes to permanent access to information, even governments and NGOs update their homepages and delete documents.

It is better to print out anything you might want to use immediately because it could be deleted as you progress with your dissertation. In addition, having a hard copy also means that you can show it to your supervisor upon request.


Citations in text

To avoid plagiarism issues, all direct and indirect quotes should be made clear in the text, either by inserting the reference in brackets in the texts or in a footnote.

PLEASE NOTE: Even referring to somebody’s ideas, or information taken from your source material needs to be properly referenced. Dissertations will receive a lower mark when they are poorly referenced even if the research was original.

Please avoid ‘ibid.’ when you refer to a text you have quoted before. Although it is still widely used in academic texts, it is very confusing for your audience. Instead, please repeat the name of the author, the name and the page number (e.g. Smith 1999: 12). Please also refer to the guidelines by Learning and Development.

References from non-English texts

Indirect references can be treated like English sources. Direct quotes should be translated into English. If no official translation exists, your own translations can be used, but you should highlight them as such by inserting ‘my translation’ or ‘translation by the author’ in brackets behind the quote (e.g. Yamada 2006: 12, my translation).

However, conventions may vary according to discipline. Please check with your supervisors – and make sure you use one coherent system.

Formatting and other important information

MA dissertations need to be double-spaced and there should be a generous margin on both sides.

Please make sure that your pages are numbered.

The word count should be given on the title page.

Please make sure you read and understand the plagiarism declaration. In submitting your dissertation, you will agree the declaration, as the statement is included on the Moodle Turnitin link.

Some useful hints concerning format and presentation (a digest from the LTD style sheet)

  • The main body of a dissertation (excluding footnotes and list of references) should be double-spaced, using clear fonts such as Calibri.
  • You may use non-Roman script, but a transcription also needs to be given. Any non-English word that is not self-explanatory or firmly located in the English language needs to be written in italics and be glossed or explained.
  • ONE copy of your dissertation should be submitted via the the relevant Moodle Turnitin link by 11.59pm on the due date. Please ensure that you have your submission receipt which is evidence that your online submission was successful. Should you experience any technical issues with Turnitin, please email ONE copy of your dissertation to
General appearance

An MA dissertation should have:

  1. A cover sheet containing title of the dissertation, your name, student ID, degree, the date of submission and the word count. 
  2. A table of contents (if applicable):
    Please do try to structure your dissertation along numbered sections; it makes it a lot easier for you to write, because it helps you structure your thoughts – and it also makes it easier for your examiners to read it and follow your train of thought. Please make sure that your dissertation has page numbers. Your table of contents should have the page number for each section correctly. The table of contents should also include the bibliography and any appendices of your dissertation.
  3. An abstract that should provide a brief statement (no longer than 200 words) about the findings and main themes.
  4. Word count: is defined as the number of words contained in the submitted work including quotations, footnotes, captions, titles, abstracts, summaries and tables of contents. Appendices and bibliographies are not included in the word count. Appendices will not normally be marked and they must not include material essential to the argument developed in the main body of the work.  Appendices that are the students' own work and are necessary for the understanding of the arguments, are part of the word count and will also be graded. The word count given is a maximum and you may be penalised for submitting dissertations which are too long. Please refer to the SOAS word count policy for details.
  5. Bibliography: should contain all works cited in your dissertation and none that you have not used. It needs to be sorted alphabetically by the surname of the author, online sources without a clear author need to be listed separately. Please make sure that your reference and citation style is consistent, and follows an accepted style format (such as the Harvard reference style). Reference to works in non-Roman script should include Romanisation. Please note that poor referencing will result in a reduction of the mark, so please make sure you reference properly.
  6. Appendices: Anything that is unavailable to your examiners but vital to the understanding of your dissertation can be put in an appendix – IF you are referring to it in your actual text.

If you are unsure about how to reference, please refer to the documents provided by Learning and Teaching Development  on their self-studies webpage.


The Faculty of Languages and Cultures accepts online submission only. Hard copies are thus not required. By submitting the dissertation on Moodle, you agree to have read and understood regulation 17.9 (Regulations for Students of SOAS) concerning plagiarism and that all material presented for examination is your own work and has not been written for you, in whole or in part, by any other person (s). You also undertake that any quotation or paraphrase from the published or unpublished work of another person has been duly acknowledged.