Dissertation Marking Guidelines


Guidelines for Marking of Dissertations for Postgraduate (MSc) Programmes

Below are guidelines for first and second markers of dissertations. It is important that you are familiar with these.

The guidelines are in three parts. The first part sets out the procedures that must be followed by first and second markers, and includes a section on borderline marks. Please note that for dissertations, Distinction, Merit, and Pass borderlines are all relevant.

The second part sets out guidelines for interpreting Turnitin reports. It is the responsibility of the first marker to check these, and these guidelines are intended to help determine if there is a potential plagiarism issue.

The final part is an assessment guideline. Please note that these guidelines are intended to be that – to help guide decisions – and not as an absolute measure. They can be helpful in determining marks to be awarded and also in helping markers and second markers decide an agreed mark.

Please also note that University regulations require that dissertations should be assessed by two markers, and so are separate from recent changes to the moderation of exams and coursework.


1. First Marker

The first marker provides the larger part of feedback on the MSc Dissertation Feedback Form and under headings which have been designed to reflect the intended learning outcomes of the dissertation

Feedback should be full and detailed enough for students learn from it.

No mark should be entered on the feedback form, but instead entered a mark on the MSc Dissertation Mark Record Sheet


Checking for Plagiarism

There are guidelines later on how to read a Turnitin report. If, following your own assessment of the Turnitin report, you believe there is cause for concern, please first discuss this with your dissertation coordinator. Likewise, if you have good cause to suspect plagiarism but it does not show on the Turnitin report (possibly purchased), please first discuss this with your dissertation coordinator. Any suspected cases of plagiarism should then be forwarded to Humphrey Bourne together with as much evidence as can be found


2. Second Marker

The second marker should also mark the dissertation in the normal way, but is not expected to write detailed feedback to the student. Instead, the second marker should write a brief overall summary of the dissertation’s strengths and weaknesses to be added to the Feedback Form.

The marker should then add their mark to the Mark Record Sheet.


3. Agreeing final marks

Markers need to agree a final mark. It is imperative that once the mark has been agreed and recorded on the mark record sheet that a brief explanation of the mark is given. Where the initial mark of the two markers differs by more than five marks, a fuller explanation of how an agreed mark has been reached needs to be given.The reason for this is because it is the primary means by which external examiners can see that the process has been followed correctly and with consideration. External examiners raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the agreeing of marks for dissertations, and a clear trail is important in demonstrating that we are carrying out marking responsibilities properly.


4. Borderline marks for Dissertation pass and permission to resubmit


Two important points to note with regard to grade boundaries in the marking of dissertations:
  • 1. In order for a student to be permitted an opportunity to resubmit a failed dissertation it must record a mark of 45% or higher. This is a University regulation which places markers in an awkward position of having to choose between recording what they believe to accurate and what they believe to be fair. In view of this, the School policy is to avoid all marks between 40-44 in the dissertation and ask markers either to agree that the dissertation is so poor that it does not warrant the student being given an opportunity to resubmit or to record a mark of 45% so that a resubmission is permitted. In doing so, we recognise that a recorded mark of 45 means, in effect, that it is not worse than 40 but a lot worse than 46. It is messy, but it is fair from the student’s point of view.
  • 2. The regulations require the dissertation to be in the category of the eventual award. The pass mark is 50%; the minimum mark for the dissertation to gain a Merit is 60%, and for a Distinction it is 70%. Marks close to the boundary between fail and pass, pass and merit, and between merit and distinction will come under scrutiny by the Exam Board if it makes a material difference to the student’s exit award. Please, therefore, make sure that you are clear in your agreed marks of the following:
  • A mark ending in 9 (49, 59, 69). Markers should only give such a mark in exceptional circumstances (and are likely to be asked to review it before the Exam Board). It indicates that the internal examiners believe that while, on balance, the script is in the lower class, or outside what could be considered for compensation, there is clear evidence of work in the higher class as well. The internal markers would have no objection to this mark being raised by the Exam Board. However, the award of these marks should be avoided unless absolutely necessary and with good reason.
  • A mark ending in 8 (48, 58, 68). This indicates that the internal examiners have agreed that the script is in the lower class. However, either one examiner believes that the script contains work at the higher class or both examiners believe there is some evidence of work in the higher class that is not completely offset by weakness elsewhere.
  • Dissertations awarded marks ending in 8 or 9 will be reviewed by the external examiner where it makes material difference to the student’s exit award, and the Board will accept the external examiner’s recommendation in deciding the final mark.
  • A mark ending in 7 (47,57, 67). The internal examiners are in no doubt concerning the class of the script or that it has insufficient merit to be considered for compensation. The mark is outside the range that may be raised by the Exam Board.


  • How to interpret a Turnitin similarity report: Guidance for Dissertation Markers.

    The University uses the text comparison software Turnitin to help us to identify plagiarism. The report that Turnitin generates includes a number referred to as a ‘similarity index’. If there is a suspicion of plagiarism, the Chair of the school board of examiners will decide, in consultation with the Faculty plagiarism officers, and using the criteria listed in section 8 of the examination regulations, whether the case appears minor and can be handled at school level or is more significant, requiring involvement from the Faculty. The % similarity index indicates the amount of matching text, but this is not necessarily plagiarism. Turnitin does not itself identify plagiarism but highlights matching text. Reports are interpreted and any plagiarism determined by academic judgement.


    There are a few points to note when considering Turnitin reports.

  • For quotes to be recognised by Turnitin and excluded they must be enclosed in double quote marks
  • Graphical materials such as diagrams, images or equations are not checked
  • For references to be recognised by Turnitin and excluded they must be appropriately labelled with headings of Bibliography, References, or Referenced Works, on a new line and not followed by any punctuation.
  • Turnitin reports can include discipline-specific phrases (for example 'international business organisations'; 'cross-cultural research'), or common phrases (for example 'research paradigm') which, although not original, would not be considered plagiarism.
  • A low similarity index on a Turnitin report does not necessarily mean there is no plagiarism. Work plagiarised from books, or unpublished papers may still be identified by markers.

  • The following points can be helpful when looking at Turnitin reports:

  • 1. What is the total amount of similarity overall? The higher the figure the more likely it is that a problem exists. But the similarity score may include references and quotes as well as some common elements such as title, front page wording, and common concepts in the subject area (xyz framework, abc theory etc). It is difficult to put an actual figure for a dissertation: 15% of a 15,000 word dissertation amounts to over 2,000 words; if this is in a few blocks of text then it needs further investigation. If it is scattered through the dissertation in short phrases and is drawn from several sources, none more than 2-3% then it is much less likely to be plagiarism.
  • 2. What do the first five highest matches add up to? High matches from few sources are more likely to be associated with plagiarism.
  • 3. What is the pattern of similarity? We look at the proportion of each page that has matches, and the pattern in the form of either blocks of text or scattered sentences and phrases. We might also consider where in the document any similarities lie. For example, similarities in data and in the discussion may be regarded as more serious than similarities in the literature review.
  • 4. Have matches been referenced? Are they properly referenced? Sometimes high matches are correctly referenced but reveal poor academic practice in how the work of others is used to develop arguments. Sometimes text has been incorrectly referenced (for example by omitting page numbers for direct quotations) or not referenced at all. At other times, references within a matching block of text are not in the list of references, indicating unthinking copying of sections.
  • 5. Is there evidence of intention to try to avoid Turnitin identifying matches? We consider how the student appears to have worked with the sources used, for example whether words may have been substituted within blocks of text, perhaps as a wholly unsatisfactory attempt to paraphrase, perhaps to try and avoid detection. This is most obvious in long blocks of text where, for example, words such as 'organisation' may be substituted for 'firm'.



  • Criteria Distinction 70% plus Merit 60-69% Pass 50-59% Fail 45-49% Bad Fail below 45%
    Framing a research topic and question(s) Well argued, imaginative choice of problem/area of study Clear and considered central research question and supplementary questions / hypotheses where appropriate Excellent knowledge of related concepts Importance and relevance of research discussed Clear and relevant statement of purpose and research outcomes Suitable choice of problem / area of study Relevant and clear central question identified, and supplementary questions / hypotheses where appropriate Good knowledge of related concepts Importance of research discussed with limitations Clear statement of purpose and intended research outcomes Mainly coherent identification of problem / area of study, development of the central research question and of supplementary questions / hypotheses where appropriate Useful knowledge of related concepts Some discussion of relevance and/or importance of research Weakness in the choice of problem / area of study Research question too broad, or too vaguely articulated, or inappropriate Little or no knowledge of related concepts Little or no discussion of relevance of the research Unsuitable choice of problem / area of study Little or no attempt at framing the research topic or question Little or no knowledge of related concepts evident No discussion of the relevance of the research
    Understanding and use of literature Wide-ranging, independent reading evident Excellent knowledge and understanding Critical appraisal strongly evident Development of original thinking and insights Excellent organisation of literature allowing for well-reasoned arguments, High degree of coherence Evidence of independent reading, although range of issues limited in scope Good knowledge and understanding Developing critical appraisal evident Good organisation of literature allowing for logical development of arguments Good level of coherence Some evidence of independent reading although may rely too much on recommended reading Satisfactory knowledge and understanding Some emerging evidence of critical thinking Organisation of literature satisfactory Key concepts addressed Satisfactorily coheren Little or no evidence of independent reading Limited level of knowledge and understanding of key concepts and ideas There is little or no evidence of critical thinking Organisation of literature is poor and does not allow development of arguments Significant gaps in the literature Little coherence Scant evidence of familiarity with literature relevant to topic Insufficient knowledge and understanding of key concepts and ideas There is no evidence of critical thinking Organisation of ideas is very weak or non-existent
    Methodology A clear and deep knowledge of methodology used and of underpinning theories Understanding of alternative approaches Fully justified choice of research methods Clear indication of strengths and limitations of approach Well-justified methodology and useful considerations of underpinning theories Awareness of alternative approaches Choice of research methods well justified Indication of strengths and limitations of approach Methodology adequately justified and chosen methods satisfactorily explained Some awareness of wider research methodologies Choice of research methods largely suitable and justified Strengths and limitations of methodology considered Methodology mot adequately justified and/or not clear what kind of study was undertaken Choice of methods inappropriate or poorly executed Underpinning theories not considered at a satisfactory level Strengths and limitations inadequately considered Not clear what kind of study was undertaken. Choice of methods inappropriate and poorly executed No consideration of underpinning theories
    Analysis, discussion and conclusions Analysis carried out accurately and with high degree of competence in line with methodological and theoretical premises Selection, interpretation, comparison, evaluation, and integration of material from empirical or library sources are extremely effective Significant insight achieved Judgments strongly based on critical appraisal Discussion highly relevant to research question and literature Appropriate discussion of limitations Logically developed and pertinent conclusions Good analysis of data / concepts or theoretical ideas in line with methodological and theoretical premises Selection, interpretation, comparison, evaluation and integration of material from empirical or library sources are effective, perhaps with some omissions Useful insight achieved Judgements are based on critical appraisal Discussion relevant to research question and literature Some discussion of limitations Conclusion summarises issues and considers implications Satisfactory analysis of data, concepts or theoretical ideas perhaps with some deviation from theoretical premises Satisfactory selection, interpretation, comparison, evaluation and integration of material from empirical or library sources, with limitations Some insights achieved Judgements show some but limited critical appraisal Discussion of relevance but not comprehensive Conclusion provides summary Analysis of data, concepts or theoretical ideas is uncertain and/or overly descriptive or anecdotal and/or incorrect Inadequate selection, interpretation, comparison, evaluation and integration of material from empirical or library sources Little or no insights achieved Judgements show lack of critical appraisal Little or no discussion of relevance Conclusions may lack any insight due to inadequate analysis Little or no analysis of data, concepts or theoretical ideas; descriptive, simplistic and anecdotal and/or incorrect Negligible ability to select, interpret, compare, evaluate and/or integrate material from empirical or library sources No adequate evidence of: insight achieved; critical appraisal; and/or discussion of relevance No conclusions made
    Style and Presentation Introduction is tightly focused with a clear rationale High degree of internal consistency overall and within each chapter Well-chosen subheadings Highly readable style; ideas communicated clearly Careful editing and proof-reading; few errors Length within stipulations Referencing accurate, appropriate, and conforms exactly to conventions Presentation meets required expectations fully Introduction is focused and provides useful guidance to rationale Good internal coherence overall and within each chapter Subheadings summarise content effectively Readable; ideas generally communicated clearly Well edited with few errors Length consistent with expectations Referencing is accurate, appropriate and conforms to conventions Presentation meets required expectations fully Introduction describes the central concerns Overall structure and organisation is satisfactory Internal coherence of the whole, and each chapter, is satisfactory. Subheadings broadly effective Ideas are generally communicated clearly but language used may present some comprehension difficulties Length is acceptable Referencing generally conforms to expectations with occasional inaccuracies Presentation meets most expectations Introduction may not reflect focus of study Structure and organisation may not be satisfactory leading to weakness in internal coherence overall and within chapters Subheadings not effective Ideas may not be presented clearly and language may present comprehension difficulties Length may not be consistent with expectations Referencing may contain inaccuracies in citation and attribution Presentation may fail to meet expectations Ineffective introduction Poor structure so that arguments that may be present fail to develop logically Incoherence within and between chapters evident throughout Language used presents significant comprehension difficulties There may be significant typological errors The length may be unacceptable Referencing may contain substantial inaccuracies in citation and attribution Presentation may fail to meet expectations