Dissertation Marking Criteria (HST398)

This is a guide to the criteria used by staff in assigning a mark to a piece of work. Broadly speaking, work is assessed on four criteria:

- Depth of research
- Quality of argument and analysis
- Range of knowledge
- Organization and presentation

To obtain a particular class of assessment a piece of work does not have to fulfil all the criteria listed for that class — judgements are formed on the basis of the predominant character of the work — but the guidelines help to show what examiners are looking for in their evaluations. Evidence of strength in some areas may compensate for weaknesses in others.

The normal assumption is that a 20-credit dissertation will make use of primary source material, but not necessarily to the same extent as a 40-credit dissertation (HST399), commensurate with the more limited amount of time available to the student. Dissertations may have an historiographical focus, in which case the historical arguments, texts and debates under discussion will provide the substantial primary source base for the analysis offered in the dissertation.


  • First Class (70+)
    A well argued and perceptive piece of work, making excellent use of an appropriate body of primary source material; showing independence of thought, as well as an ability to locate a topic within the historiography; well written, with style and fluency; developing and articulating a clear thesis.

    Outstanding work in all aspects that is thoroughly independent, original and insightful; significantly pushes the boundaries of existing historiography; suggests major revisions to our understanding of the topic; writing that has attained the highest professional standards in the discipline.

    Exceptional insight, weight and sophistication. Indicates an ability to undertake advanced historical study with imagination and tenacity. Clear command of the primary sources used. Highly accurate work, analytically rigorous, demonstrating thoroughly original approaches and developing existing historical work in significant ways.

    High level of critical and innovative thought. Evidence of a capacity to pursue independent lines of enquiry and to conduct perceptive and scholarly research on the basis of primary evidence.

  • Shows a clear awareness of the salient points and an ability to discuss them analytically and incisively as well as with some creativity. Undoubted quality in the use of both primary and secondary sources, but not sustained across the entire range. A mark in this range may reflect excellence in aspects of the dissertation but some technical or stylistic weaknesses.

  • Upper Second Class (60-69)
    Well argued and clearly focused, based on wide reading of both primary and secondary source material; well structured, revealing a clear logic; showing a breadth of knowledge but may lack creativity or incisiveness; weighing up and evaluating evidence, and identifying key issues, and, where relevant, appreciating the extent to which historiography is contested. Well written with few technical errors.

    A mark in this range suggests thoughtfulness, good use of primary sources and the ability to develop a cogent and nuanced argument on the basis of primary evidence.

    A mark in this range indicates proficiency, coherent and defensible arguments and adequate examples from primary sources but a rather mechanical performance.

  • Lower Second Class (50-59)
    A competent delineation of a subject, using some primary source material, but may lack sustained focus, have a limited argument or tend towards the assertion of essentially derivative ideas. More descriptive than analytical, without the kind of critical reflection characteristic of answers in higher mark bands. Shows some understanding of strands in historiography where this is relevant. Based on limited reading and documentary work. Provides a reasonably structured account but with some signs of confusion; may contain errors of fact or interpretation. The writing lacks fluency and may be clumsy in places.

    A mark in this range reflects a reasonable degree of competence and knowledge but an insufficiently developed argument, with one or more key points/sources/interpretations neglected.

    A mark in this range indicates a superficial argument, but with little analytical awareness, some inaccuracies and little attempt to evaluate the status or significance of information. Reliant on only a small quantity of source material and reading, deployed in an illustrative rather than an analytical manner.

  • Third Class (45-49)
    A thin piece of work which nevertheless demonstrates some knowledge of relevant material and an ability to marshal it. Inadequately informed; erroneous in matters of fact and interpretation; poorly organised. Poorly written. Careless presentation; absence of references. A mark in this range may denote a failure to address primary sources, and consequent reliance on secondary sources to produce a survey-type account; an absence of serious argument or of any attempt to shape the topic and identify questions and problems; superficiality.

  • Pass Without Honours (40-44)
    Signs of some research but at an elementary level. For the most part confused and poorly expressed. A small element of analysis. Contains significant grammatical and spelling errors.

  • Fail (0-39)
    Work that displays little or no real understanding of the topic. There is no coherent argument. The piece relies on a very limited amount of descriptive material, without any critical reflection of its significance.

    No evidence of independent research; insignificant or no argument. Contains little relevant information, is inadequately informed, erroneous in matters of fact and interpretation, and poorly organised. Poorly written with numerous grammatical and spelling errors.

    Failure to carry out the task assigned. Contains no relevant information. Some attempt at analysis, but misconceived and/or incoherent, and has a weak structure.

    No serious attempt to carry out the task assigned. No structure at all. No attempt at analysis. No understanding or knowledge of the topic.


  • Indicates work either not submitted or unworthy of marking.