School of Communications

Student Resources

Guidelines for Students for Academic Theses and Production Projects (Undergraduate, Masters)

(This edition published 30 September 2013)


Every degree, where relevant, will be assigned a thesis/project co-ordinator who will advise students in choosing a topic, formulating a proposal, consulting a supervisor, clarifying research methods. There will be seminars timetabled for this purpose. Every student is required to make a presentation of their own topic and methods of research and to be present and to contribute to the discussion of the work of their classmates.

Attendance and participation of all students at any such workshops is required. This will be assessed on a pass/fail basis. Failure to present as scheduled and to participate in at least 75% of seminars may mean that you are ineligible to submit your thesis.

Choosing a topic

In choosing a topic many factors come into play, but at a preliminary stage the following are particularly important:

  • interest: do you have sufficient interest in a subject area, theme, issue, or topic?
  • ability: do you have the necessary skills?
  • relevance: how relevant is the topic to what matters in the world? to your degree programme? Your career expectations?
  • feasibility: is it possible to carry out all the work envisaged in the time available? are necessary resources available?
  • visualisation: for image-based projects, can you envisage the final work and present a basic production schedule to achieve it?
  • supervision: does your topic come within the academic expertise and professional experience of possible supervisors?


Students will normally be allocated a supervisor for the project/thesis. Early consultation with a lecturer who has knowledge and skills relevant to your idea, prior to allocation of supervisors, does not guarantee that the lecturer consulted will be assigned to supervise the project, but may be taken into account in deciding the ultimate allocation of supervisors and can help a student to focus her/his mind and to articulate a coherent project/thesis proposal. Once supervisors are assigned, you should arrange to consult your one as necessary up until the deadline for submission or until 30 June, whichever comes first.

Submitting a proposal

This should be done in a word document and delivered to the thesis co-ordinator of your degree programme by the date specified, by email and if specified by hard copy. It should be in the following form: name of student: title: type of proposal: academic thesis or production project abstract: (300 words approximately) methodology: related literature: (where appropriate) production schedule: (where appropriate) technical requirements: (where appropriate) supervisor consulted: date.

Your email should include a return receipt to verify that your proposal has been received by the coordinator.

Academic theses

The thesis should be viewed as a major piece of independent research and its importance as such is reflected in the substantial weighting it carries in determining the final degree classification. Theses should show evidence of substantial research and original thought, particularly at the postgraduate level, where a higher standard of originality, investigation and reflection is expected.

Undergraduate research dissertations should be in the range 10,000 to 12,000 words. Postgraduate research dissertations should be 12,000 to 20,000 words in length; but note that some degrees have more specific requirements, so check with your supervisor.

For Multimedia undergraduate students opting for an academic thesis as opposed to a production based thesis, research dissertations should be 15,000 words in length, reflecting the fact multimedia students have a full semester to prepare, research and write up their thesis.

Components of academic theses

  • conceptualisation - formulation of research question(s); aims and objectives, development of theoretical framework to conceptualise the problems or issues
  • review of literature - articulation of state of the questions and identification of appropriate theoretical perspectives from a detailed review of the literature
  • explanation of research methods - discussion of possible research procedures and a rationale for the methods chosen data collection - clear description of the research process undertaken to implement the research design, description, analysis and evaluation of findings
  • reporting of results – linked to research objectives, and referring to key methodological issues outlined earlier
  • analysis/discussion - effective presentation, discussion and synthesis of results
  • conclusion - recommendations for future research
  • presentation, layout - physical format of your work, clarity of writing style, effective use of images, tables, figures, charts diagrams etc., coherent use of argument, and critical analysis of evidence, in support of one's investigation

Layout of thesis

  page 1: title "study submitted in part fulfilment of the requirement for the award of [title of degree]" author’s name (s) date
  page 2: signed declaration that this is your own original work and that all sources used have been cited
  page 3: abstract (300 word summary of the whole study)
  page 4: table of contents (chapters and sections) with page numbers
  page 5: list of maps, diagrams, illustrations, etc with page numbers
  page 6: acknowledgements, including name of supervisor. at end of thesis: appendices, bibliography, filmography


Be rigorous about acknowledging sources. Be sure to give relevant page numbers whenever quoting another author or when referring to specific ideas or sections of any article, book, report or other work. Give adequate details of websites and broadcasts of referenced. Consistency in referencing is important, and references should correspond clearly to titles in your bibliography. DCU recommends the Harvard system for referencing. You may find relevant guidance at


Depending on the degree programme, these might be print or broadcast journalism, online, creative writing, photography, slideshows, websites and online content, radio, video or multimedia productions. These must be comparable in depth and breadth to academic theses. They should take on a substantial theme and relate to the subject matter and skills of the degree programme in question.

All projects must be accompanied by a project report. It should be in the range 3000-6000 words. While many issues (below) are to be considered in this report, the central focus should be on documenting the intellectual work that was central to taking this production from conception to conclusion and a critical analysis of the issues involved. The report should include detail of the original conception of the project and any subsequent changes in direction, the developmental process, the methods employed, the research undertaken into previous and related published coverage of the topic, selection of sources, the nature of the problems encountered and the solutions devised to meet them, and a rationale for the suitability of the chosen medium.

The report should include coverage of these points:

  • objectives: why did you pick this topic? what has been done in this field already (literature review)? what was it you were expecting to find out or convey that is new or different?
  • format: why did you pick this medium and format? what is the intended publication and audience?
  • method: how did you go about your research? what new material or information did you gather? what did you find out?
  • process: what decisions did you make in relation to the production process? why did you make those decisions? what did you decide in relation to the concept, planning, budget, acquisition of material, selection and editing of material (images, sounds, quotes, interviews, archive etc), scripting, final production or assembly? what obstacles did you encounter? what was easier or more difficult than you thought?
  • production assessment: did this format suit your topic? did it work as radio (or whatever)? Did you achieve something new or different? what problems arose? how did you solve them? did you achieve your objectives? did you learn anything new? would you do anything different next time? can you attach a full script?
  • conclusion:what can you say in relation to the overall scope, originality and style of your project? how is your work positioned in contemporary culture and critical discourse?

The report MUST give a full account of all sources (books, articles, internet, your own interviews, etc), in such a way that quotations in the article or programme can easily be matched to the sources.

As regards quotations from your interviews, you must give sufficient details (including viable phone numbers) so that your supervisor can authenticate these sources. If you wish any sources to remain anonymous in the submitted work, this anonymity must be approved by your supervisor before submission and must be explained and justified editorially in the report. You must before submitting your project/thesis provide your supervisor directly with the contact details of any anonymous sources, which shall remain confidential and shall not lodged in the library with a project/thesis.

The length of the project itself will depend on the format chosen and must be agreed by your supervisor.

A photographic project will normally be a minimum of 30 exhibition quality images.

A radio documentary will normally be 40-45 minutes.

Print journalism projects should be major pieces of journalistic work. This could be, for example, a five-part investigative or feature series, a proposal for the design and content of a new magazine, journal or newspaper or a series of online pieces. Where the scope and depth of inquiry justifies it, a supervisor may approve a single investigative story.

A journalistic project must specify the newspaper(s), magazine(s), radio or TV, online outlet for which the student believes it to be most suitable. Whether written or recorded or a mixture of both, it should demonstrate an ability to apply journalistic techniques: investigative reporting, incisive interviewing, editorial judgment, newspaper/magazine design.

For creative writing projects, including screenplays, radio or TV dramas, short story collections or novellas, the length depends on the overall aims and structural requirements of the work as agreed with your supervisor.

Where the project is submitted by a group, separate project reports are required from each student. Each report must document in detail the role played by each individual. The work done by each individual must be equivalent to that done by a student who submits an academic thesis or other individual project.

Format for all written theses / project reports

  • A4 size paper
  • 2cm margin at the top of the page, 1cm margin on the right hand side and 2cm margin on the left to facilitate binding
  • numbered pages
  • copyright clearance for photographs, music, etc, if wider publication is likely
  • photographs and related pictorial matter reproduced with sufficient clarity
  • signed declaration.


Within an academic context, plagiarism is considered one of the worst possible offences - it constitutes intellectual theft. Dublin City University defines plagiarism as the deliberate act of taking and using another person’s work as your own. It includes absent references where these ought to be present, reproducing without due acknowledgement the work (even with small changes) of another from any source including books, journals, articles, TV programmes, the Internet, lecture notes. It also includes self-plagiarism, i.e. submitting own work for more than one assessment. Also included is collusion when a group of people collaborate or collude to present an assessment or a substantial part thereof as the work of one person, when the examiner required individual research and outcome.

Plagiarism includes presenting extracts (edited or not) from another source but only referencing (giving a source for) the last sentence. The best rule of thumb (and your best protection) is that when you're not sure if a source needs to be acknowledged with a reference, then you should acknowledge it. You can never have too many references. If you are still not clear what plagiarism is, ask your lecturers, and watch this DCU Library tutorial at

Other dishonest practices which are very serious offences include faking or falsification of data, cheating, or the uttering of false statements about your work.

It is also a serious offence to present work for one module which has been prepared or presented for another module.

Students should be aware that they may be required to attend for an oral examination on the content of any assignments they have submitted.

Copying can be detected through search engines and the use of online submission services such as Turnitin, as well as by lecturers applying their own knowledge and judgment. Regrettably, examples are discovered every year. There is always a penalty and it can be very serious.

Checklist for assessment of theses and projects

for all theses/projects:

  • is it of the right length?
  • how is it presented?
  • is it sufficiently conscientious work?
  • is it well structured? is there a good sense of proportion?
  • is there originality and flair in what has been written?
  • is there any repetition or padding in evidence in the work?
  • has it been properly proof read/edited? are there any mistakes of spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.?

for academic theses:

  • is there a properly identified research focus?
  • is there a coherent and logical argument presented?
  • has the right type of literature been identified and critically discussed?
  • are the research methods well chosen? have they been appropriately used?
  • how well is the data formulated, analysed, interpreted?
  • how good is the overall quality of the writing?

for projects:

  • has the initial conception been developed to a successful conclusion ?
  • does it meet the normal standards of the target publication or audience?
  • if a creative writing project, how well are narrative, theme, characterisation, dialogue handled?

How projects/theses are marked

For guidance on what marks mean when allocated for student work in the School of Communications, and for references to how to bring any extenuating circumstances to the university’s attention when these arise please see the Grading Section of the School of Communications School Handbook . If completing an Extenuating Circumstances form please make sure at the same time to inform both your supervisor and the chairperson of your programme directly that you are doing so. In the event of illness or other extenuating circumstances it is always best to raise these as soon as possible.


Many students have difficulties in meeting deadlines in relation to theses and projects, mainly due to inadequate preparation, leaving all or most of the substantial work to be done after taught courses and examinations have been completed. Almost without exception, the most successful theses/projects are those on which the student has been working continuously over the course of the academic year. Pressure of work is in no circumstances acceptable as a reason for delay in submitting the thesis/project. A student who believes that he or she may not be able to submit a thesis/project on time may seek an extension. However, extensions for submission of the thesis/project are accepted in a very limited number of circumstances, e.g. illness or family bereavement. Students must be able to verify the circumstances which have made the extension necessary, e.g. with independent professional assessment such as a doctor's certificate. Explanations for any delay must be submitted before the project deadline to the school secretary, who will time and date stamp it and pass it to the chair of the programme board.

Submission procedures

Completed theses and projects should be submitted to the school secretary in Room C142 by noon on the deadline day. Three copies of all material submitted are required.

The materials submitted should include, in respect of printed components, two loose-bound (spiral- bound or ring-bound, for example), and one hard-bound copies. The hard-bound cover must be in DCU blue with gold lettering. All three copies must be delivered together, and an electronic copy of your thesis must be e-mailed to your supervisor.

Where a project includes a CD or DVD, (audio and video, for example), copies of the CD or DVD should be placed in a pocket within the three copies of the project report. Other media projects of any kind should be clearly marked and in a format to be agreed in writing with the supervisor and thesis co- ordinator in advance of submission.
Thesis binding services:
Duffy Bookbinders
Thesis Centre


The mark for your thesis / project will be communicated formally by the university as with all of your other results. The thesis/project cannot be discussed with examiners between the time of submission and the receipt of results. If you wish to receive comment on your thesis, you can contact your supervisor or thesis co-ordinator for your degree at that stage to receive an evaluation of your work.


Students must not seek to have their thesis/project work published without the permission of Dublin City University. This will normally be given by a supervisor, but usually only after the relevant Examination Board has met and approved a mark for that thesis/project. DCU is not responsible in law for any publication by a student or former student. The student or former student is solely liable for such matters as defamation or breach of privacy,