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Essays and dissertation

Part III students are required to submit four essays and a Dissertation, as follows:

  • A Research Paper of not more than 5,000 words (all word counts here include footnotes but exclude the bibliography and prefatory matter), on a topic chosen in discussion with the supervisor and approved by the HPS Board. The Research Paper must fall into one of the ten designated subject areas. It is due on the Monday of Week 7 in Michaelmas Term.
  • A Critical Literature Review of between 3,000 and 5,000 words, on a topic chosen in discussion with the supervisor and approved by the HPS Board. This essay will be a critical exposition and analysis of the existing literature on a well-defined topic. It is intended to support the work for the Dissertation, even though it is allowable to write the Dissertation on a different subject. The Critical Literature Review is due on the Monday of Week 7 of Lent Term.
    Guidelines for the Critical Literature Review
  • Two Set Essays, each of not more than 2,500 words, covering topics treated in the Part III/MPhil lectures. The list of questions will be issued at the end of Week 7 of Lent Term, and the essays will be due a week later. Choose two questions from a list of 13.
  • A Dissertation, of not more than 15,000 words, on a topic chosen in discussion with the supervisor and approved by the HPS Board. The Dissertation is due at the beginning of Week 5 of Easter Term.

The Research Paper and the Dissertation must be in different subject areas. Any use of the Research Paper, the Set Essays or the Critical Literature Review in the Dissertation has to be appropriately referenced, just like any other primary or secondary source.


Senior members and associates of the Department supervise work for the Critical Literature Review, Research Paper and Dissertation. Supervisions are not available for the Set Essays but are offered for the seminars on which the Set Essays are based.

The Department publishes a list of members of the Department and associates who are willing to supervise Part III work, together with the topics on which they are prepared to supervise.

Dissertation and essay supervisors

If you would like to work with an external supervisor – someone who is not a member of the Department – you must obtain permission from the Part III Manager.

Your supervisors will see you on a very regular basis, but it is up to you to schedule those meetings according to your needs. As a rule of thumb, you can expect the following supervisions:

  • 3 for the Research Paper;
  • 4 for the topics in the Part III/MPhil lectures, in groups of 2–3, but none for the two Set Essays themselves;
  • 2 for the Critical Literature Review;
  • 4 for the Dissertation.

Supervisions are designed to provide you with the opportunity to set your own agenda for your studies. The supervisor's job is to support your research, not to grade your work; your submitted work will be examined by others. Your supervisor for any one piece of work is never allowed to examine it too.

You are not permitted to work with the same supervisor for more than two pieces of coursework.

Topic forms

At the beginning of the year you will be given a set of topic forms for the Research Paper, Critical Literature Review and Dissertation. Extra copies are available from the Departmental Office.

You should complete each form by stating the topic and selecting one of the ten subject areas. You should then ask your supervisor to sign the form. If your supervisor is not a member of the Department, ask the Part III Manager to sign the form as well.

The deadline for submitting each form to the Departmental Office is shown on key dates and deadlines and on the form itself.

Changing the topic

To change the topic, subject area or supervisor of the Research Paper, Critical Literature Review or Dissertation after you have submitted the topic form you must apply for permission; permission is not automatically granted.

To change the topic, you should retrieve the topic form from the Departmental Office and write your new topic on the back. Your supervisor should then sign the form to indicate their approval of the change and note any need for a change in examiners. See key dates and deadlines for the last dates for changing topics.

To change the subject area or supervisor, you should complete the request form. The request must be approved by the Part III Manager.


The University and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science take plagiarism very seriously. Please read our advice about what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

Plagiarism guidelines

The Department uses the text-matching software Turnitin UK to blanket screen all student work submitted in Moodle.

Use of Turnitin UK

Human participants

If you are planning to collect data from human participants, or use data collected from human participants, you will need to plan well in advance to ensure that you have obtained ethical approval before starting work on your project and have given consideration to how you are going to handle the information you collect.

Working with human participants: ethical approval and data protection


You should submit two copies of each essay and the dissertation to the Departmental Office before 12noon on the day of the deadline. They should have numbered pages, footnotes and a bibliography. They should be printed single sided and should be securely bound or stapled.

The essays and dissertation will be marked anonymously, so it is important that your name does not appear anywhere on them.

Each copy should have a cover sheet stating the title of the essay or dissertation, the number of words and the name of the supervisor. You should also submit a completed submission form. Cover sheets and submission forms will be available on Moodle.

In addition, you are required to upload your examined work to the 'HPS Part III Coursework' site on Moodle. Examiners may use this to confirm the word count and check for derivative passages. Please note:

  • The file you upload must be exactly the same as the printed copies. It should include the bibliography and any images.
  • You cannot upload more than one file for each submission.
  • The following file formats are accepted: DOC, DOCX, PDF, RTF.

You are advised to check your email the day after you have submitted to ensure there are no queries about your work.

Please note that the Department will retain a copy of your work and may make it available to future students unless you make a written request to the contrary to the Departmental Administrator.

Word limit

The word limit is 5,000 words for the Research Paper and Critical Literature Review, 2,500 for each Set Essay, and 15,000 for the Dissertation. This includes footnotes but excludes the bibliography and prefatory matter.

Figures may be included in the work and should contribute to the argument. They should be captioned only so as to specify the source; such captions are excluded from the word count. Formulae may be used where appropriate and are also excluded from the word count.

Although the word limit for the Dissertation is 15,000, the Department considers an ideal word count for a dissertation to be 12,000. Less than 10,000 words is unacceptably short.

The word limit is strictly enforced. Each piece of work will be inspected to ensure that the word limit has been respected. If work is over the limit, a mark will be placed at the point where the word limit has been reached. Examiners reserve the right to stop reading when they get to that point.

The Department uses Microsoft Word to check word counts. If you use coding software, such as LaTeX, you should be aware that this software may give a different word count. You may find it helpful to use TeXcount, an online tool that analyses LaTeX code to provide an accurate count of words, formulae, captions and footnotes. If using software other than Microsoft Word you should submit a screenshot to demonstrate the word count from the software used.

Extension of submission dates

All requests for an extension to the submission date for coursework must have a good reason and must be supported by a College Tutor or Director of Studies, otherwise a zero mark will be awarded.

For a piece of work amounting to no more than 10% of the final mark (i.e. one set essay, but not both), we would expect applications to be very rare, but should an application need to be made, please discuss this with the Part III Manager and then complete parts A, B and C of the extension form. Applications must be accompanied by written support from a College Tutor/DoS.

The University Council is the only body empowered to give permission for an extension for any other piece of coursework. In cases where there is a need to make such a request, the approved route is for the College Tutor or DoS to make a case to the Applications Committee.

Policy on editions, translations and bibliographies

An essay or dissertation should be self-contained, including or citing all information needed for an examiner to follow its argument.

The word limit normally includes text and footnotes but not the bibliography. However, in certain cases permission may be obtained for materials strictly relevant to the argument of the essay or dissertation to be footnoted or appended for the information of the examiners, with such materials not contributing to the word count. Materials falling into this category may include primary source materials that are not readily accessible, translations, questionnaire responses, statistical tables, descriptions of objects and analytical bibliographies.

Normally material included in the word count should mainly consist of the candidate's own discussion and analysis. Exceptionally, when a critical edition or translation, an analytical bibliography, or a technical description of objects and their provenances is based on substantial original scholarship and is central to the argument of an essay or dissertation, permission may be obtained for its inclusion within the body of the essay or dissertation, hence contributing to the word count. Normally no more than one third of an essay or dissertation should consist of such material.

Applications for such permissions should be sought, in consultation with the supervisor, from the Degree Committee at the time at which the topic of the essay or dissertation in question is submitted for approval.

Feedback to Part III students

During the course of their studies, students receive feedback in person from their supervisors, and from the Course Manager, as well as from termly online supervision reports. The Research Paper, which is the first piece of work, is examined prior to the end of the Michaelmas Term in order to provide students with early feedback on their performance so they can gauge the level of achievement which the course requires, and so they have reliable pointers as to future applications for the PhD, whose deadlines are often early in the academic year. The Set Essays and Critical Literature Review are examined together at the end of Lent Term. At this meeting provisional marks are agreed for the Research Paper, Set Essays and Critical Literature Review and feedback on this component of the course is available shortly afterwards.

After each Examiners' Meeting, the Part III Manager meets with students, reports the provisional agreed class and provides copies of the non-confidential parts of the examiners' reports. At these meetings the work is discussed and examiners' remarks are put in context for future work. Students may contact their supervisor after this meeting if they want to discuss the reports in more detail.

Marks are subject to moderation up until the final Board of Examiners meeting in mid/late June. At the end of the course the Department provides students with an informal transcript with details of each of their individual marks. Formal transcripts can be downloaded from CamSIS.

Feedback on the overall performance of each year is provided by Senior and External Examiners' Reports which are submitted at the end of the year. Students may find it useful to see examiners' comments on the previous year's work, particularly mark distributions and recommendations.

Request form

Request form (for changing subject area or supervisor, or adding an appendix)