Soas Masters Dissertation Proposal

Dissertation in Anthropological Research Methods

Module Code:
Taught in:
Full Year

The course is a core component of the MA Anthropological Research Methods, following on from the core course, Research Methods in Anthropology (including an Introduction to Quantitative Methods in Social Research in taught in term 2), and from region-specific, language and other optional courses taken on the programme. It will extend a student’s regional and theoretical knowledge and methodological understanding.

MA Research Methods students will be assigned dissertation supervisors early in the year with whom topics are agreed. They meet regularly with their supervisors to produce a systematic review of the secondary and regional literature which forms an integral part of their dissertation. The dissertation (15,000 words) constitutes the main work in which students demonstrate the extent to which they have achieved the key learning outcomes of research training.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate:

  • command of appropriate anthropological theory and the relevant literature;
  • the capacity to apply this to the topic in question;
  • the ability to frame research questions, consider relevant research design and explain methodological, epistemological and ethical issues related to a proposed research project;
  • the skills to pursue independent research from secondary and in some cases primary sources in their field;
  • how to organize their data and articulate their arguments coherently and clearly.


Supervision: fortnightly meetings with supervisor in Term 1; thereafter regular supervision meetings up to mid-June.

Scope and syllabus

The dissertation should demonstrate a critical understanding of the relevant literature, develop a focused and clear argument, supported by the relevant use of theoretical material and evidence. It should include:

  • A review of the relevant theoretical and ethnographic literature;
  • An outline of the specific questions to be addressed, methods to be employed, and the expected contribution of the study to anthropology;
  • An informed critique of published surveys and other tabulated material that relate directly to their research interest, or explanation of a survey or statistical application that they would propose to mount as part of the research;
  • A discussion of the practical, political and ethical issues likely to affect the research; and A presentation of the schedule for the proposed research together with an estimated budget.

Method of assessment

Coursework 100% -15,000 word dissertation

In round terms, the first two elements will make up two thirds of the dissertation and the last two elements one third. The Dissertation comprises 25% of the assessed work of the Programme. It is submitted no later than mid-September of the students’ final year of registration

[NB.The dissertation for the MA Research Methods is normally will be assessed by two readers in October of the following year (that is, after the September 15th due date), the students who proceed onto the MPhil course from the MA course will then have the first term of the MPhil year to write a supplementary document that reviews the dissertation and provides a full and detailed Fieldwork Proposal. This, along with the original MA dissertation, is examined in a viva voce as early as November of the first term of the MPhil year, where feasible, by the same examiners who have read the dissertation. Successful students can then be upgraded.]


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules

How to write your Research Proposal

The research proposal is a vital part of the application and will be studied in detail by the department’s selectors. The proposal should be around 2,000 words. It is beneficial if you have made contact with a member of the department who shares your research interests prior to the submission of your application.

SOAS has a dedicated Doctoral School offering specialised services and work space for PhD students.


This can change, but make sure to include important ‘key words’. Make sure that your title goes beyond simply describing the subject matter – it should give an indication of your approach or key questions.

Overview of the project

This should include the following sections, but is not necessarily limited to them:

  • Questions and main arguments/hypotheses: What are the main questions that you ask in your project and what do you expect the main findings to be?
  • Literature review: This provides the background and context for the research problem. It shares with the reader the results of other studies that are closely related to the project and relates it to the larger, ongoing dialogue in the field. It basically delineates the ‘jumping-off place’ for your study. How will your study refine, revise, or extend what is now known?
  • Approach: Does your study employ a particular historical approach? How is your project situated in the field in methodological and theoretical terms?
  • Sources: What are the sources you will use for answering your research questions? What are the methodological challenges in using them? Have these or similar sources been used before? What will be your specific way to employ them? How does the choice of sources frame/limit your results?
  • Your work schedule: explain how you intend to research and write your thesis within the three-year period allocated for a full-time PhD research (six years part-time), knowing that:
    • the first year (MPhil) is a preparatory year during which you will take part in seminars, and focus on the literature review and the planning of the next two years. These will make the core of your upgrade (to PhD) paper.
    • the second year is the one during which you will conduct your field research.
    • the third year is devoted to writing your thesis.


Explain how you intend to fund your PhD years, whether private funding or scholarship. If the latter, clarify whether you have one already, or have applied to one or a few (which one/s?), or intend to apply (to which one/s?).


Attach a one-page preliminary bibliography focused on what is most relevant to your specific research topic and your methodological approach.

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