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Sample TSM Sophister Handout

TSM Degree

Guidelines for TSM Sophister Essays and Dissertations



Be sure to follow the MHRA Style Guide when presenting extended assignments at sophister level.

Students do not always understand what is expected from an essay or dissertation. Basic errors in approach sometimes lead to an unnecessary loss of marks. These notes are designed to help you to work well and secure a good result. Read them carefully, and if you still have questions, please ask!

Junior Sophisters do two option essays.
Senior Sophisters do a dissertation, and two Special Subject essays assessed by an essay and an examination.

  1. For Senior Sophisters only: get your title approved

    Your dissertation will be an independent piece of work, prepared to a professional standard. In choosing your subject, you have to strike a careful balance and find a topic which is substantial but also manageable, because we will expect you to cover it in depth, using a good range of both primary and secondary sources (original texts and critical materials).

    In consultation with your supervisor, you should start out with a wide area of interest, write a preliminary outline of your approach, then narrow it down to a topic where you know that you can find and evaluate the relevant primary and secondary sources.

    The dissertation title must be approved by the end of the Junior Sophister year. Your first sketch and bibliography need to be ready early in the Michaelmas Term of your final year, and we will need to see a first complete draft by 30 November. Keep in close contact with your dissertation supervisor and with the coordinator of Senior Sophister Italian, Roberto Bertoni.

    A good technique in selecting a topic is to choose a genre (e.g. poetry, novel, theatre) and a period (e.g. medieval, Renaissance, Romantic) which appeal to you, and then narrow down these broad categories until you find a topic or set of works which you feel you can handle effectively. The genre and period chosen should not duplicate other topics in your degree course.

  2. For all students: focus your research

    Once you have located the books and articles you are going to use, your "research" consists in reading them intelligently, with a specific set of questions or hypotheses in mind. The questions will tend to change as you consider the evidence, and you have to keep thinking of how your final "argument", or chain of description and reasoning, is going to account for the materials which you are examining. You should write a rough outline (just headings will do) at the beginning of your research, and update it from time to time. You might sketch a map of your argument, tacking on new points as they occur to you.

    A basic technique is to keep a record of everything you read, on index cards. List books and articles in exactly the form that you will use in your bibliography: author, title, source, publisher, place, date, page numbers, as applicable. Keep your cards in alphabetical order. You should note down page references of passages that you might want to quote in your final draft. It is very important to attribute all statements and ideas correctly to their originators.

    The "material" or "evidence" that you examine is only half the story. Equally important is the method or standpoint which you adopt. You must be clear on the implications of your approach. Remember that the validity of any piece of research, whether in the arts, or the sciences, or in any social setting, lies in the claim that this method, applied to that material, will yield those results, regardless of who carries out the experiment. In other words, your findings are not something purely personal, based on your own taste and sensibility, but are also an impersonal contribution to the general understanding of your subject.

  3. Submit your drafts on time

    The first draft of a Senior Sophister dissertation must be submitted to the Department by Week 11 of the Michaelmas Term. The final version, properly typed and corrected in every detail, must be submitted by the first week of the Hilary teaching term. For an option essay, you would be well advised to discussed your outline early on, and show a draft seeral weeks before the final submission date. You should allow at least a week for the final process of typing and re-typing the text, including notes and bibliography. If you're not doing the word-processing yourself, remember that even a good typist will tend to make serious mistakes when working with a foreign language subject, and those mistakes become your responsibility when you submit your work.

  4. Professional standards

    The organisation and presentation of your work are extremely important. One of the skills which a graduate must possess is the ability to present a coherent, concise and accurate account of a given topic. People will expect you to be able to think and write logically, and your essay or dissertation is a good training-ground for that skill.

    Your work will be judged not only on the quality of your critical perceptions, but also on the organisation of your argument. That includes the ability to draw on existing published sources, to synthesise their findings and add your own. The proper use and acknowledgement of critical material is therefore essential. You must remember who said what, and quote accurately, in well-chosen passages neatly edited into your argument. Each critical borrowing must be noted, by author, work and page. The conventions of presentation are set out in the MHRA Style Book, available from the Italian Department office, and these must be followed. Needless to say, careful proof-reading of your final submission is essential, as gross mistakes (e.g. "it's" used as the genitive of "it"), bad punctuation (e.g. commas used where semicolons are appropriate), ungrammatical sentences (e.g. plural subject with singular verb), or the inaccurate transcription of quotations are all unacceptable. Sentences and paragraphs should be structured to convey specific points effectively, and this too must be checked in your final revision.

    Please note that you can drop up to an entire class in your result (e.g. II 2+ falling to III+) for poor presentation of your work. It really is worth taking the extra trouble.

Remember to follow the MHRA Style Guide when presenting extended assignments at sophister level.

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