Advanced Higher Dissertation

Advanced Higher Dissertation
At Advanced Higher, the dissertation is worth 30% of your final mark. This is
your opportunity to independently study works of literature of your own
choosing—so please ensure they are pieces you really enjoy. Your dissertation
should be a comparative analysis of a particular aspect of literature across the
work of one or more than one writer. You may focus on how a selected theme is
dealt with or how a particular technique is used.
What the SQA is looking for:
Component 4—project–dissertation
This dissertation will give candidates an
opportunity to demonstrate the following skills,
knowledge and understanding:
 independent planning, research and
presentation of their knowledge and
understanding of an aspect or aspects of
 The text(s) chosen must not be the same
as those used in the Literary Study
question paper.
 This dissertation will be between 2,500
and 3,000 words long and will have 30
marks (30% of the total mark).
Selecting your topic:
When deciding on the topic and the texts you’d like to investigate, it’s important to
keep the following in mind:
The dissertation is comparative in nature. This means you will need to
select texts which are comparable for some reason.
Your focus needs to be broad enough to give you plenty to write about
but tight enough to allow you to explore your texts in depth and detail.
If you wish to make a comparison of the works of one author this is fine.
If you wish to write about prose or drama, you should discuss two or
three texts. If you wish to write about poetry, you would be expected to
explore a selection of the poet’s work (at least ten poems depending on
You need to be clear about the aspect of the works you intend to
Some Sample topics:
1 A comparative study of the contribution of setting, incident and dialogue to characterisation and the
development of theme in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia
2 A detailed study of the uses Beckett makes of humour in Waiting for Godot, Endgame and Krapp’s Last
3 A detailed comparative study of the dramatic means by which feminist worlds are effectively realised
and explored in Top Girls by Caryl Churchill and My Mother Said I Never Should by Charlotte Keatley.
4 An examination of the dramatic means by which Brian Friel explores issues of identity — individual,
social and national — in Translations, Making History and Dancing at Lughnasa.
5 David Greig’s One Way Street and Liz Lochhead’s Quelques Fleurs: a detailed comparative study of the
ways in which these two plays make effective use of dramatic monologue.
6 A comparative study of the characterisation and role of women in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Hedda
Gabler and The Master Builder.
7 A comparative study of the dramatic means used in The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil by John
McGrath, in Wormwood by Catherine Czerkawska and in Brothers of Thunder by Anne Marie Di Mambro to
address issues of contemporary relevance to Scotland (and beyond).
8 Redefining the tragic hero: a detailed comparative study of the characterisation and role of the male
protagonist in two of Miller’s plays: Death of a Salesman and The Crucible.
9 A comparative study of the effectiveness of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the
Stars as dramatic portrayals of the resilience and heroism of ordinary people in the context of political and
social upheaval.
10 “Pinter’s plays are typically characterized by implications of threat and strong feeling produced through
colloquial language, apparent triviality, and long pauses.” (The Online OED, 2006) Drawing evidence from
detailed analyses of The Birthday Party, The Caretaker and The Homecoming, I intend to consider the
validity of this statement and to come to my own conclusions about the principal dramatic features and
effectiveness of Pinter’s plays. English Advanced Higher 6
11 I intend to analyse and evaluate the principal dramatic techniques Peter Shaffer uses to explore such
themes as idolatry, conflicts between passionate and rational impulses, and the quest for immortality in
The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Equus, and Amadeus.
12 A study of the characterisation of Beatrice and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, Katherina and Bianca
in The Taming of the Shrew and Portia and Jessica in The Merchant of Venice in order to consider the
extent to which the outcomes of Shakespearian comedy may be influenced just as much by the softer
sensitivities of female characters as by their obvious strengths.
13 A comparative study of the characterisation and role of the central female characters in Shaw’s Major
Barbara, Pygmalion and Saint Joan.
14 “While constantly entertaining and delightful and full of wit, Wilde’s plays are carefully crafted to
expose darker and deeper themes and to leave audiences with an uncomfortable awareness of more
serious issues.” I intend to test the validity of this statement through a comparative analysis of
Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest.
15 A critical analysis of the techniques used to dramatise the forces and passions which destroy the central
characters in two of Tennessee Williams’s plays: A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
16 A critical study of a range of W H Auden’s poems in order to examine similarities and differences — of
theme and of technique — between his love poems and those with a political message.
17 With detailed reference to a range of his poems, I intend to examine the poetic means used by John
Betjeman to explore aspects of life in 20th century England.
18 A comparative study of the representation of women in Chaucer’s General Prologue to the Canterbury
Tales and in two or three selected Tales.
19 An assessment of the contribution of structural features to the meaning and impact of a range of
poems by Edwin Morgan.
20 “Wordsworth I love, his books are like the fields Not filled with flowers, but works of human kind”
(John Clare) A comparative study of the themes and techniques of a range of poems by William
Wordsworth and John Clare.
21 Scars Upon My Heart (edited and introduced by Catherine W. Reilly) A detailed comparative analysis of
the poetic expression of women’s voices during the First World War, drawing evidence from a substantial
range of poems from the above anthology.
22 “Do I dare
Disturb the universe?”
A detailed comparative study of T S Eliot’s poetic treatment of action and inaction in The Wasteland, The
Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and Rhapsody on a Windy Night.
23 “Voices from things growing in a Churchyard” A critical study of the principal means by which, in a
range of poems, Hardy explores issues of death and remembrance.
24 “His poems combine passion and energy with impressive technical skill. He is in control; there is no
fumbling.” (Ruth Fainlight)
A critical analysis of the technical skill of a range of poems from Ted Hughes’s Crow (1970).
25 A detailed analysis of a range of Norman MacCaig’s poems in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of
some of the principal poetic means — tone, form, structure, word choice, imagery, symbolism — by which
he explores the relationship between man and the natural world.
26 An examination of George Mackay Brown’s treatment of the tension between land and sea in a range
of his poems (or in a range of his short stories).
27 A study of the literary techniques used to show the effect of time on the individual in a range of
Shakespeare’s sonnets. Evidence will be drawn from detailed analysis of at least eight sonnets.
28 I intend to make a detailed examination of the interplay of metaphor and narrative and to consider the
effectiveness of that interplay in a range of poems from Douglas Dunn’s Elegies (1985).
29 “No one could be that forsaken — and certainly not Wyatt. He is acting a part.” By closely examining a
range of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poems, concentrating on the techniques he employs to create a distinctive
poetic voice, I intend to argue that there is more reality and vitality to Wyatt’s rejection poems than one
would expect from someone who is simply “acting a part” of the rejected lover.
30 “The Man who dreamed of Faeryland” Through close reference to a range of his early poems, I will
attempt to show how Yeats makes effective use of Celtic Mythology as a means of exploring personal
experiences and beliefs.
Prose Fiction:
31 One of the main concerns of George Eliot’s novels, in my opinion, is to highlight the restrictions imposed by social
conventions and moral attitudes on various aspects of personal freedom. My Specialist Study will focus on Eliot’s
presentation of the effects of such restrictions on her central characters in Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda.
32 Marriage, Money, Love and the Single Woman: a comparative assessment of two Jane Austen heroines: Elizabeth
Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and Emma Woodhouse in Emma.
33 A detailed comparative study of the importance of setting — physical, cultural and historical — in Neil Gunn’s
Morning Tide, Highland River and The Silver Darlings.
34 A critical analysis of the uses Evelyn Waugh makes of satire in Decline and Fall, Black Mischief and Scoop.
35 A comparative study of the narrative techniques employed in the portrayal of central female characters in Jane
Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Wuthering Heights.
36 A detailed exploration of conflict and duality in terms of both individuals and wider society as conveyed through
characterisation and setting in William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties.
37 The Use of the Doppelganger in 19th Century Scottish Literature: a comparative analysis of characterisation,
structure and theme in The Private Memoirs of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg and The Strange Case of Dr Jekell and
Mr Hyde by R L Stevenson.
38 A critical analysis of John Galt’s portrayal of 19th Century Scottish rural life in The Annals of the Parish and The
39 A comparative study of the principal literary means employed in The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott, Heat and
Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and A Passage to India by E M Forster in order to explore the influence of British Rule in
40 A comparative analysis of Joseph Conrad’s narrative style and characterisation in Heart of Darkness and The Secret
41 A comparative analysis of the literary techniques employed by Edgar Allan Poe in a range of his short stories to
explore the powers of the conscience.
42 Focusing particularly on dialogue and narrative voice, I intend to make a comparative study of the literary
techniques employed by Raymond Chandler in The Big Sleep, William McIlvanney in Laidlaw and Ian Rankin in
Resurrection Men to create protagonists who are cynical and alienated from the societies in which they operate as
43 A detailed comparative study of Frédéric Beigbeder’s Windows on the World and Ian McEwan’s Saturday as
explorations of moral ambiguity and the search for meaning in randomness and coincidence.
44 A critical appraisal of Angela Carter’s use of traditional myths and fairy tales to explore female sexuality in her novel
The Magic Toyshop and in four of her short stories — The Bloody Chamber, The Snow Child, The Lady of the House of
Love and The Company of Wolves.
45 A study of Margaret Atwood’s representation of the challenges to women’s sense of self and women’s responses to
these challenges in The Edible Woman, Lady Oracle and The Handmaid’s Tale.
46 A comparative critical analysis of Virginia Woolf’s use of the presence of the sea and water in the exploration of key
ideas in her novels To the Lighthouse and The Waves.
47 An analytical and evaluative study of the literary techniques D H Lawrence employs in Lady Chatterley’s Lover and
Women in Love to create powerful female characters who challenge the social conventions of their times.
48 A comparative study of the literary techniques used to convey the experience of the central black female characters
as they encounter oppression in the American South in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Beloved
by Toni Morrison and The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
49 An examination of the relationship between author and reader as explored through the uses of structure and
symbolism in Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler and Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones.
50 Laying bare the anxieties of the 19th Century: a detailed comparative study of the ways in which Bram Stoker’s
Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein explore societal attitudes towards sex, religion and science.
Preparing to Write:
All of you have worked hard over the course of your years in English and have
developed strong Close Reading and Textual Analysis skills. All of this work,
whether close reading of non-fiction texts or the work you did to prepare for the
Critical Reading Paper, have given you vital skills needed to work independently
on your texts.
The most important thing you can do to prepare is to read and reread your
selected works. As you read think about possible topics about which you could
write a comparative essay. It would make sense to make a note of particularly
important parts of the text, useful quotations and relevant examples. This will
save you frantically searching through the texts when you come to write. When
you find important links between your texts, make a note of them too.
Narrative structure
• Is the text written in the first or third person?
• What effect is created by this: immediacy/closeness to one character/awareness of all
characters’ thoughts?
• Is the setting (time and place) particularly important?
• Does it highlight a particular point in history or in the future, or does it make a point
about a particular place (an atmosphere which stultifies or energises its population)?
• What is your first impression of the main character?
• How has the writer created that impression: by concentrating on the character’s thoughts
or actions/ interaction with others/comments from other characters?
• Does your impression of the character change? Give reasons.
• What are the important relationships in the text and how and why do they change?
• What themes (ideas) are explored?
• How does the writer want you to think about these ideas?
• How does s/he attempt to persuade you to his/her way of thinking?
• Is there anything unusual in the way the text is organised – letters, diary, flashbacks?
• What are the effects of the structure?
• Does the writer use language in any unusual way – dialect/colloquialisms/stream of
consciousness? Why?
• Is there a lot of figurative language: metaphor, simile, etc.? What effects are created?
• Are there any particularly apt words or phrases that illustrate or summarise a point that
is relevant to your topic?
• What is the subject matter of the poem?
• How does the title illustrate the subject matter?
• Who is speaking in the poem?
• Does the poet adopt a persona?
• Who is being addressed?
• What themes (ideas) are explored?
• How does the writer want you to think about these ideas?
• How does s/he attempt to persuade you to his/her way of thinking?
• Is the poem serious/ironic/humorous?
• How is this tone created?
• Has the poet used a particular form?
• How important is it in conveying meaning?
• What techniques has the poet used?
• How effective are they?
• Are there any particularly apt words or phrases that illustrate or summarise a point that
is relevant to your topic?
• What is revealed by stage directions? Are these very detailed or very short?
• Do they help to create the atmosphere in the opening scene?
• What is your first impression of the main character?
• How has the playwright created that impression – by concentrating on the character’s
thoughts or actions/ interaction with others/comments from other characters?
• Does your impression of the character change? Give reasons.
• What are the important relationships in the play and how and why do they change?
• What themes (ideas) are explored?
• How does the playwright want you to think about these ideas?
• How does s/he attempt to persuade you to his/her way of thinking?
• How realistic is the dialogue?
• Does the playwright give power/authority to some of the characters’ lines? How is this
• What lines are particularly memorable? Why?
• Is there anything unusual in the way in which the play is structured?
• Is the number of acts and scenes what you would expect?
• Where is the climax of the play?
• Is the denouement satisfactory?
Reading Literary Criticism
You should also read around your texts; relevant criticism will really add
weight and depth to your argument. If you’re not sure where to begin, ask your
supervising teacher or do some online searches. Google Scholar is a useful tool
to help you find relevant journals and books.
You are eligible to register to use University of Edinburgh’s library. Please see
the librarian in Malala for assistance on how to register for this!
Literary Criticism
What is it?
Literary criticism is when experts in the field of literature write critically and
analytically about particular texts. Sometimes it focuses on one text, or the
work of one writer. It can also link texts thematically or contextually. In writing
your dissertation, you are effectively becoming a literary critic!
What can it add to your dissertation?
Revealing an awareness of what other people have said about your chosen texts
shows your marker that you have researched your topic in depth. It can also
add weight to your arguments – particularly if it backs up your points. It’s also
ok to disagree with the experts – this shows you’re thinking critically.
How should you use it?
Literary criticism should not be overused in your dissertation. When you use it,
you should try to position yourself within particular arguments. Adopt a “They
say… I say…” approach: give relevant critics’ views and then state your opinion
on them. It’s about engaging in an academic dialogue. Don’t feel you have to
accept what they say; make your own thoughts clear. Indeed, your own
thoughts are more valuable than anything.
In “The Critics and James Kelman” (2002), Mary McGlynn acknowledges the realist aspect of
Kelman’s fictions and their specific dealings with the working classes of Glasgow. However, she is adamant
that pigeonholing him as part of this tradition is complex and inaccurate due to “the consciously literary
quality” of his writing, a quality she argues lifts him above straightforward realism:
Drawing, then, on Kelman’s negotiation of working-class literature and his stylistic expertise, what
we see emerging here is the wedding of antihierarchical prose to regional identity, simultaneous
to the divorce of realism and authority. The regional, working-class speech in Kelman’s novels,
realistic and disordered, confronts the neat conventions of realism as a style.
McGlynn credits Kelman with a “reshaping” of the realist genre that aligns him with aspects of the
postmodern. She argues that his fictions resist categorisation and can be best understood when this is not
attempted. McGlynn makes a very valid point, but it is difficult to read Kelman’s narratives without a keen
awareness of their location in Scotland.
Preparing an Outline:
Now that you have made notes on your texts you must organise your ideas into an outline
Your plan should indicate a definite shape to your dissertation: if you are studying three
texts then they should receive equal analysis.
Do not be diverted from your original focus by historical or biographical detail: your texts
are your most important references.
Show clearly, in note form,
 which points you intend to make and in what order;
 how you will support these points, with reference to particular techniques and
concepts used by the author(s);
 which details of the text you will use to support your arguments (with page
Submit your outline plan to your tutor.
A Good Opening Paragraph:
The three novels, Sunset Song, Cloud Howe and Grey Granite together form the trilogy A
Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. The aspects of Gibbon’s work that make it so special
include his use of dialect, his imagery and his use of symbolism. These techniques combine to
highlight the themes that run through the three novels: change and sexuality. The three novels
are compelling: I felt I could relate strongly to the heroine, Chris Guthrie.
A good opening paragraph: the writer’s intention is made clear; the reader’s interest is caught by
the enthusiasm of the writer; the tone of the dissertation is set and a writing style is established.
Comparing your texts:
What you need to develop this year is your ability to compare works of
literature. In the past, you’ve analysed one text and now we are asking you to
compare two or more. This does not mean you structure an essay around one
text and then move on to the other—essentially producing two separate essays.
You will need to compare elements of each text throughout your response.
How to Embed Comparison
You should structure your dissertation around the central comparison you are
making. Each point should deal with all or both texts, not just one. You should
consider each point as a building block in your overall comparison.
An example:
Morgan’s poem looks to the past in acknowledgement of what once was, but
does not dwell on it. Rather, he embraces the future. Muir’s on the other hand, shies
away from this. He does challenge Scotland’s heritage, but only aspects of it. In particular
he is critical of the Reformers and Covenanters, whom he blames for the creation of an
inauthentic Scottish identity. Beginning at line 8, he writes:
But Knox and Melville clapped their preaching palms
And bundled all the harvesters away,
Hoodicrow Peden in the blighted corn
Hacked with his rusty beak the starving haulms
Out of that desolation we were born. (lines 8-12)
The use of “we” by Muir contrasts with Morgan’s “they.” Even in his implied audience,
Morgan is more hospitable. “They” suggests a wider audience while “we” assumes a
Scottish one. Muir’s view of Scotland in 1941 is as something of a wasteland. His use of
violent and foreboding imagery to describe the impact of the Reformers and
Covenanters is damning. He is also critical of capitalism, describing his industrialised
present in line 27 as: “smoke and dearth and money everywhere, / mean heirlooms of
each fainter generation.” This is a far cry from his image of the communal and
harmonious existence of Scots in times past. His view of the future is bleak, calling each
generation “fainter” than the last. This is an interesting concept and encourages
reflection on ways in which they may be fainter. Is he suggesting that their links to the
past are fainter? That they are gradually losing the values and qualities he sees as
comprising Scottish identity? Surely this is inevitable. Identity is such a fluid concept that
it cannot be viewed in such simple terms. Muir’s only challenge to what he sees as the
evils of the present is to look further back and to idealise another moment in history.
Morgan is critical of this:
Muir’s primitivism… seems to me to be more insulting than comforting to man’s
restless spirit and aspiring brain… (He) was in search of a simplicity which the
future was unlikely to reveal unless by a return to the past, and even the
simplicity of the past is more myth than reality… Muir retracts from the
wonderful challenge which the apparent menace of the scientific and political
future has thrown down to us
In Morgan’s own poetry, he embraces the future and its challenges, acknowledging the
past not as a golden age, but as instrumental in building this future. Morgan writes of
Scotland’s past in “Open the Doors!” with fondness, but does not dwell on it. Line 18
Come down the Mile, into the heart of the city, past the kirk
of St Giles and the closes and wynds of the noted ghosts of
history who drank their claret and fell down the steep
tenements stairs into the arms of link-boys but who wrote
and talked the starry Enlightenment of their days –
And before them the auld makars who tickled a Scottish king’s
ear with melody and ribaldry and frank advice (lines 19-25)
He praises the location of the parliament building “down there, in the midst of things”
suggesting that rooted in this history, Scotland can now move forward into an unknown,
but hopeful future. Muir seems unable to “let go,” finding comfort from what he calls
the “spiritual defeat” of the present in a perceived golden age of the past.
The Mechanics: Advice from the SQA
You should:
• write, type or word-process the dissertation on one side of A4 paper only
• use italics or underlining to indicate titles of texts
• set in from the margin all quotations of more than one line so that they are
clearly distinguishable from the text of the dissertation
• use footnotes and page references where appropriate to identify quotations
from and references to primary sources
• use footnotes and page references at all times to identify and acknowledge
quotations from, references to and information/ideas gleaned from secondary
• provide an accurate bibliography
• give footnote and bibliography references in the following form:
D.Gifford and D. McMillan, A History of Scottish Women’s Writing, EUP, 1997.
Advice on the presentation of your dissertation:
Title page
Your title page should include:
• your centre name
• your centre number
• your name
• your candidate number
• your title/topic/texts.
Your dissertation should observe the following conventions:
• each page should be numbered, including the title page and the bibliography
• each page should be single-sided
• each page should be typed in single line spacing
• the font used should be Times New Roman
• the font size should be 12 point
• your text should be left-justified
• titles of texts - novels, plays, poems, critical or reference works - should be in
italics, without quotation marks
• quotations, unless only a few words long (when quotation marks should be
used), should be preceded and followed by a double line space.
Citing references in the body of your dissertation
• Footnotes should be kept to a minimum and numbered sequentially from the
beginning to the end of your dissertation.
• The first reference to a text cited or quoted from should be given in full as
Bennett, Joan, Four Metaphysical Poets, (London, 1953), p23.
The normal convention for subsequent references is: Bennett, p47.
• It is acceptable to abbreviate lengthy titles in footnotes or textual references.
For example: All's Well That Ends Well can become AWTEW.
• Simple references, such as line numbers or page references of quotations from
a book or a play or a poem already cited in full, can usually be incorporated in
the text, normally in parentheses after quotations.
• Internet sources should be referred to thus:
Crowley, J, New York Times (1985), Review of Lanark. Available:
Listing sources in your bibliography
• You should take a fresh page for your bibliography.
• Make separate lists of primary texts (those chosen for study) and secondary
sources (critical or reference works, periodicals, Web documents).
• List sources in alphabetical order, according to the author's surname.
The dissertation you produce must be between 2500 to 3000 words in length,
including quotations but excluding footnotes and bibliography. You should note
that, in order to achieve consistency in this area, any dissertation that falls
outwith these limits of length will not be accepted. You must indicate on the
dissertation flyleaf the actual number of words used.
While you should of course consult secondary sources, you must be careful not
to rely on them excessively and you must never copy them without
acknowledgement. Always remember that to plagiarise is to cheat—and this
could lead to your disqualification from any award. Markers are instructed to
report all instances where plagiarism is suspected for further investigation (so
be warned!).
Candidate Guidance Materials from the SQA
Related documents