WHAT IS THE CHS DISSERTATION?
A dissertation is an extended piece of writing (7000 words in our case) that focuses on a
theme or topic that you have selected, and that is divided into a number of sections or
This unit is your opportunity to work on an exciting, independent research project
culminating in a 7000-word dissertation.
In this unit you will build on the research and analytical skills that you have developed over
the past 2 years of CHS. You will identify a topic, choose a method for undertaking
research, gather primary and secondary research, and write what you have found out over a
number of chapters or sections.
The dissertation is a 40-credit unit, which equates to a third of your final grade for the year.
WRITING AND RESEARCHING THE CHS DISSERTATION
Writing a dissertation will enable you to explore your intellectual and creative concerns and
to investigate cultural phenomena that interest you. The dissertation should demonstrate
an engagement both with an existing body of scholarly research and with primary materials
that you have gathered yourself. It is a substantial piece of writing that gives you the scope
to explore a well-defined topic in depth by interpreting first hand research, academic texts,
and the ideas of relevant theorists.
A successful dissertation will advance a coherent argument or line of reasoning and will
have a clear focus. By the end of the research process you should be able to explain the
broader significance of your topic. Researching and writing your dissertation will require
you to work with greater independence and dedication than in previous CHS units, but you
will benefit from the expert advice of a tutor in both one-to-one supervision tutorials and
dedicated dissertation workshops.
A GOOD DISSERTATION WILL INCLUDE
o a well-defined, focused area of study
o analysis and interpretation of primary research
o a discussion of your choice of research methods and why they have been selected
o a thorough engagement with relevant academic literature
o clear links between the academic literature you explore and your primary research
o correct use of Harvard referencing including accurate use of quotation marks, intext citation, and the inclusion of a bibliography/reference list
o a clear and engaging writing style
o a clear argument or line of reasoning that emerges over the course of the
o a clear research question that can be answered within the scope of a 7000 word
dissertation and/or a clearly phrased dissertation title that explains the purpose of
YOU, YOUR TUTOR AND THE SUPERVISION PROCESS
In producing your dissertation, you are expected to work with a high degree of
independence, maturity and dedication. You will not be set an essay question, you will
come up with your own title, and you will undertake your own reading and research.
o A dedicated tutor will support you through a series of 4 one-to-one supervision
tutorials and 2 workshops.
o One-to-one tutorials will provide you with an opportunity to discuss your writing
and research in depth and benefit from expert advice.
o In the workshops you will join your tutor and a small group of students to develop
your skills in research, analysis and academic writing.
o You will be expected to develop the dissertation iteratively over the course of the 6
sessions: you must attend all of these sessions – if you do not, you will put yourself
at a significant disadvantage.
Your tutor’s role is to guide you and support you:
o they will advise you on the scope of your topic,
o they will discuss your research and your ideas,
o they will advise you on research methods and approaches to analysis,
o they will help you to develop your structure and argument, and they will support you
in developing your academic writing.
However, your tutor cannot come up with ideas on your behalf: they cannot tell you exactly
what to do, or undertake research or analysis for you. You will have to make your own
choices and decisions about how to proceed with writing and research. Support will be
given during tutorials and workshops but not outside of these times.
Students who benefit most from the supervision process are those who prepare for their
tutorials and who come with specific questions or areas of concern.
Your grade will be based on the 7000-word dissertation submitted in week 13 after the
Winter Break (slightly later for students with a validated ISA or validated extenuating
circumstances). For full information on submission refer to the unit handbook on Moodle.
To pass, your dissertation should demonstrate the following:
1. a clearly identified and focused research project and related research questions
2. an ability to identify and critically review a relevant academic literature
3. the collection of primary and secondary data* and reflection on research method(s)
4. the application of appropriate cultural and historical studies theory in an analytical way
5. an ability to present a well-researched, cogent and sustained argument following the
conventions of academic writing.
* The word data is used here to mean research and information in general including
images, archival research, interviews and academic texts. Most students will undertake
qualitative, visual, or textually based research.
FORMATTING YOUR DISSERTATION & USING ACADEMIC LANGUAGE
You should remember that your dissertation will be read by a number of people some of
whom will not be familiar with your research process or your ideas. For this reason, it is
important that your dissertation is clearly written, logically organised and persuasively
argued. You must use the Harvard referencing style and include a bibliography/reference
o Your tutor will offer you guidance on writing in an academic style: you will need to
use technical terms and to refer to key concepts, but you do not need to adopt an
extremely elaborate writing style or vocabulary. It is often better to use clear,
precise, grammatically correct sentences and paragraphs than to use an elaborate
writing style that is difficult to understand.
o The dissertation should have an introduction and conclusion and should be divided
into a number of chapters or sections using headings and sub-headings.
o Double-space the dissertation so that your marker can make notes; use a neutral,
professional, unobtrusive typeface/font such as Helvetica or Times New Roman; and
use page numbers.
o Any images that are analysed in detail can be included in the body text, images
should be numbered and captioned in a consistent way, additional images and other
materials relevant to your dissertation but not discussed in detail (such as
transcripts from interviews) can be included in appendices that come after your
o Where relevant, interview data should be included either as a clearly labelled link to
an audio file, or as a transcription in an appendix. You will also need to quote from
the interview in the dissertation itself.
o It is better to avoid slang terms unless they convey an important idea that cannot be
otherwise expressed (in this case use italics or quote marks and, where relevant,
include a definition of the term).
o It is more unusual to use the first person “I” or “me” in academic writing than in
other forms of writing, but it is not wrong to do so. If you are discussing your own
experiences (for example if you are using autoethnography as a research method)
then you should use the first person.
o You may include an abstract or table of contents at the beginning of the dissertation
but this is not mandatory.
o It is important to offer your interpretations of your research. You will need to discuss
the significance of your research.
Academic Support can offer advice on all matters relating to academic writing, academic
reading, research, and developing strategies to successfully complete your dissertation.
Their support should be used in addition to (not instead of) the support offered by your
dissertation tutor. They can help you to write in an academic voice, to format your work,
and to improve your analysis. Academic Support offer bookable one-to-one tutorials,
workshops and drop-in sessions. They are not a proofreading service:
Your course librarian will also be able to support you in researching your topic, finding an
academic literature, accessing scholarly journals, and even gathering primary research.
The language development service provides excellent support for students working in a
second or other language: firstname.lastname@example.org
GOOD ACADEMIC PRACTICE – AVOIDING ACADEMIC MISCONDUCT & PLAGIARISM
Most forms of academic misconduct that we see – both deliberate and accidental – involve
students not acknowledging other people’s contribution to their work.
Any writing taken from elsewhere and included in your dissertation must be surrounded
with quotation marks and cited. This goes for both English text and text that you have
translated from another language. All sources must be listed in the reference
It is important to acknowledge when ideas discussed in your work have been drawn from
elsewhere using in-text citation and an entry in the reference list/bibliography. It is good
practice to read widely and to reference authors’ ideas in your writing. An absence of
references to other academics will make your work appear poorly researched.
Turnitin Feedback Studio (which is available via Moodle) can help you by highlighting
quoted text in your dissertation: if this text isn’t surrounded in quote marks then you need
to correct this error. Checking your work prior to submission using the practice area of
Turnitin is highly recommended.
Your tutor, Academic Support, and the online resource http://arts.ac.libguides.com/citethemright
can provide advice on Harvard referencing. See also the Library Guide to referencing
Paraphrasing is the practice of summarising other people’s ideas in your own words.
Providing that you include citations and acknowledge your sources, paraphrasing is very
good academic practice. However, simply reordering an existing sentence (or swapping
words for close synonyms) is not paraphrasing (this can count as a form of misconduct).
You must not commission somebody else to write your dissertation for you. You can seek
as much advice as you like from UAL/LCF Academic Support: email@example.com
and UAL Language Development: www.arts.ac.uk/study-at-ual/international/english-languagedevelopment
It is perfectly acceptable to ask a friend to read through your dissertation if you’re
concerned that there may be grammatical, punctuation, or language errors, but they
should not contribute to your ideas or analysis: you should acknowledge their help in a
AVOIDING COMMON PROBLEMS
Common areas which lead to a low grade in a dissertation are:
o Academic Misconduct (see previous section).
o Lack of focus, an attempt to cover too broad a topic, or too many very different
o Unclear research questions which lack focus or are too broad
o No primary research or an unfocused and anecdotal approach to primary research
o Failure to make connections between a discussion of academic literature and your
o Lack of engagement with academic literature and/or literature on methodology
o Work that is under-researched
o Work that is poorly structured
o Over-reliance on non-academic sources
o Weak and limited conclusions
Many forms of research used by dissertation students including textual/visual analysis are,
by and large, pretty safe. However, if you plan to undertake research that involves
interviews, focus groups, fieldwork, ethnography, participant observation, oral history or
meeting people that you don’t know, then there are potential risks.
For these types of research, you should discuss your approach with your CHS supervisor
well in advance. Your tutor will help you to assess risk levels and where necessary help you
to complete risk-assessment paper work. The Risk Assessment form can be located on the
Dissertation Moodle site under the heading “Research Resources”:
We strongly advise that you do not meet unknown persons unaccompanied, or in an
unknown, or private space. Safer approaches to conducting interviews include booking a
room within the University and inviting participants to the campus (note that permission
will need to be arranged so that your interviewees can gain access); or alternatively
conducting an interview by phone. Meeting participants in a public place and having a
friend accompany you are other ways of minimising risks.
Where your research involves interviewing other people, you should ensure that they have
given informed consent for you to quote from their interviews (preferably in writing).
If you wish to analyse very explicit materials, you should discuss this with your tutor and
seek their advice.
Images or text taken from private correspondence, dating websites or similar should only
be used with the participants informed consent – if informed consent cannot be obtained
these materials should be anonymised (all identifying information/imagery should be
It is not necessary to seek permission to use images “in the public domain” (for example
publicly available Instagram feeds), images from magazines, archival materials.
You must avoid putting participants in your research at risk (whether physical risk,
psychological risk, or risk to their reputation or livelihood). If the participant could be
harmed or disadvantaged if their identity were revealed, you should take extra care to
make them anonymous (by removing identifying information such as name, address, or
photographs of the respondent). When in doubt, it is advisable to anonymise respondents.
UAL’s principals of “respect for persons”, “justice“ and ”beneficence” guide ethical research
in the university – the full undergraduate research ethics guide is available here:
You are not permitted to include participants under the age of 18 in your research. You
should avoid working with participants who are very vulnerable or experiencing
GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) LAW
Due to GDPR law you will not be able to submit any material via Turnitin Feedback Studio
that identifies your interviewees/participants. Your tutor will advise you on how to proceed.
The readings listed below – all of which are available through the library – offer guidance on
a number of approaches to conducting research. Select one or two texts that look relevant
to your topic or idea – you are not expected to read all of these!
Benshoff, H. (2015) Film & Television Analysis: an introduction to Methods, Theories and
Approaches. London: Routledge.
Brooker, W. and Jermyn, D. (2008). The Audience Studies Reader. London: Routledge.
Chambers, D. et al. (2004) The Practice of Cultural Studies. London: Sage. See especially
‘Writing and the autobiographical voice’ pp. 81-82.
Gray, C. and Malins, J. (2016). Visualizing Research. London: Routledge.
Hansen, A. and Machin, D. (2013) Media and Communication Research Methods.
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jenss, H. (2016). Fashion Studies: Research Methods, Sites and Practices. London:
Krueger, R.A. and Casey, M.A. (2015) Focus Groups. Thousand Oaks, California and London:
Kvale, S. (1996) InterViews. Thousand Oaks, California and London: Sage. See especially
‘Thematizing & Designing an Interview Study’ pp. 83-108.
Mida, I. & Kim, A. (2015) The Dress Detective: A practical guide to object-based research in
fashion. London: Bloomsbury.
Moore, N. et al. (2016) The Archive Project: Archival Research in the Social Sciences. London
& New York: Routledge.
Pavis, P. (2008). Analyzing Performance : theater, dance, and film. Ann Arbor: Univ. of
Pink, S. (2013). Doing Visual Ethnography: Images, Media and Representation in Research.
Los Angeles: Sage.
Prown, J. (1994) ‘Mind in Matter: An introduction to material culture theory and method’ in
Pearce, S. M. (Ed) Interpreting Objects and Collections. London: Routledge, Pp.133-138.
Rose, G. (2012) Visual Methodologies. London and Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.
Saukko, P. (2003) Doing Research in Cultural Studies. London: Sage.
Silverman, D. (2013) Doing Qualitative Research. Los Angeles: Sage.
Stokes, J. (2013) How to do media and cultural studies. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Sage.
OTHER RELEVANT RESOURCES
Archives – UAL collections are accessible by pre-arranged booking via the Archive Centre
(http://www.arts.ac.uk/study-at-ual/library-services/collections-and-archives/archives-andspecialcollections-centre/) unless otherwise stated. EMAP Archive
http://www.arts.ac.uk/library/collections/lcf/#EMAP_Archive Materials Collection
http://www.arts.ac.uk/library/collections/lcf/#Materials_Collection Also, as directed by
your supervisor to reflect your area of research.
Websites Library i-Page: http://www.arts.ac.uk/library.htm
http://www.arts.ac.uk/library/skills.htm Also, as directed by your supervisor to reflect your
area of research.
OTHER USEFUL LIBRARIES It is a good idea to check the reader requirements for these
libraries before your visit as sometimes you will need to arrange visits in advance or provide
proof of identity and address.
Barbican Library Barbican Centre London EC2Y 8DS 020 7638 0569 Tube: Barbican,
Moorgate Subjects: Fine & performing arts, art history, painting, sculpture, ceramics &
British Film Institute Belvedere Road, Southbank, London SE1 8XT 020 7928 3232 Tube:
Waterloo Subjects: Film & television. http://www.bfi.org.uk/education-research/bfireuben-library/visiting-bfi-reuben-library
British Library 96 Euston Road London NW1 2DB 020 7412 7676 Tube: King’s Cross
Subjects: All subject areas covered copies of most books, journals and magazines held or
available on request.
Chelsea Public Library Old Town Hall, Kings Rd London SW3 5EZ 020 7361 3010 Tube:
Sloane Square, South Kensington Subjects: All aspects of fashion & costume.
City Business Library Aldermanbury London EC2V 7HH 020 7332 1812 Tube: Bank, St
Paul’s Subjects: Current businesses & company information, market data & other business
The National Art Library (V&A Museum) Cromwell Road London SW7 2RL 020 7942 2400
Tube: South Kensington Subjects: Art, design, fashion & costume.
Westminster Central Reference Library 35, Saint Martins Street London, WC2H 7HP 020
7641 1300 Tube: Leicester Square, Charing Cross Subjects: Art, design, textiles, jewellery,
business, UK government publications, international directories.
www.westminster.gov.uk/services/libraries SCONUL: Is a scheme that allows university
students & staff to access other university libraries & some national libraries. To apply for a
SCONUL access card & for more information ask at the library desk or visit:
Bloomsbury Fashion Central is a dynamic digital hub for interdisciplinary research in
fashion and dress. Content is peer reviewed by industry and academic experts and includes
interconnected major reference works, exclusive articles, scholarly eBooks, case studies,
biographies, lesson plans, bibliographic guides, textbooks, video content, runway and
backstage photos from fashion shows, and tens of thousands of images from museums
around the world to create a rich educational resource.