Independent Study

Independent Study is basically the same as a final year departmental dissertation.

FCH students can take either a departmental dissertation or FCH Independent Study. Most FCH students take departmental dissertations, but you may find the potentially greater flexibility offered by Independent Study more suitable. If you need advice on which to take, ask an FCH subject co-ordinator or the FCH staff.

The Independent Study can be about a specific area of one of your subjects, or look at something that 'overarches' them. For example, if you are studying Psychology and Spanish:

A) subject-specific Independent Study:

  • (Psychology) How do we recognise faces?
  • (Psychology) What can be learnt from children's art?
  • (Spanish) The Numancia legend in literature and art
  • (Spanish) The culture of Flamenco

B) overarching Independent Study:

  • The psychology of Fascism
  • Why do people hold so strongly to Nationalism?

Your Independent Study is supervised by an academic member of staff who has expertise in the subject area on which you work.

If your study goes across subject areas, you may want a supervisor in both.

The FCH subject co-ordinator in the relevant subject area can help you find and liaise with an appropriate supervisor if you do not already have someone in mind.

You should try to arrange your supervisor during the spring term of your second year.

Within Flexible Combined Honours, you can take a maximum of 60 credits overall of Independent Study and departmental dissertations during your degree.

You cannot do more than 45 credits overall of departmental dissertation and Independent Study in the same academic year.

Most departmental dissertations are 30 credits.

Some departments (e.g. Biosciences and Geography) have 45-credit dissertations.

The maximum number of credits allowed for FCH Independent Study in one academic year is 30.

30 credits is the usual amount of dissertation / Independent Study studied and the recommended. The 15-credit Independent Study can be taken, but is not recommended as usually the allowed word length is too short to be able to adequately reflect the amount of research undertaken.

The Independent Study module exists in variants of 15 and 30 credits. See module descriptions for details:




xxx3888B Independent Study Dissertation 15
xxx3888E Independent Study Dissertation 30

The module can be taken in either term one or two, or over both.

Because of the research nature, academic insight and associated required study skills, Independent Study is usually taken in the final year. But it can be taken in the second year if appropriate.

It is very unusual to take both an Independent Study and a departmental dissertation in the same year - it is a lot of self-based study, which can be a lonely business! Also, you cannot take more than 45 credits overall of Independent Study and dissertation in the same year.

The length of what you submit for your independent study depends on the nature of what you are working on.

For example, the submission could take the form of a 'traditional', straightforward written dissertation or it could be a combination of practical and written components.

You will talk through the form of the submission with your supervisor, and they must approve the final form.

If the work takes the form of a written dissertation, the allowed number of words, excluding bibliography and references, is:

  • 15 credits = up to 6,000 words
  • 30 credits = up to 12,000 words

If the work is a combination of a written and other component (e.g. a rationale or critique that accompanies a film, web pages, graphic design etc), the total amount of submitted material should be 'equivalent in effort' to the number of words specified above for 15 or 30 credits, as appropriate to how many credits for which you are taking the independent study. Such equivalencies can admittedly be slightly subjective to calculate, but provided your supervisor is happy with what is proposed, then that is fine.

You will research, learn and write largely following your own initiative, under the direction of the academic supervisor(s).

You will see the supervisor(s) formally at arranged times each term to discuss progress etc.

Your supervisor may set preparatory pieces of work, e.g. producing a bibliography, presenting a draft plan.

Supervisors can read through and give feedback on a draft version. This can either be as each section is completed in first draft or once the whole thing has been drafted – arrange with your supervisor(s) whichever is felt to be best.

The work can be a traditional text-based dissertation presented in paper or electronic form, or a combination of a practical element and written critique.

The nature of the Independent Study will determine the most appropriate media for presentation – consult with your supervisor(s).

There are no rules for the details of page layout, referencing styles, binding etc. Consult with your supervisor(s) to agree on what is appropriate. Often this will follow the usual requirements and guidelines for dissertations in the department(s) of the suprevisor(s), but it does not have to as far as Independent Study is concerned.

The final form of the work is submitted through BART by 4 pm of the second Tuesday of the summer term in which the Independent Study is being taken.

The submission may be online or printed. Liaise with your supervisor about this.

Any work submitted after the deadline will be subject to penalties:

  • From immediately after the deadline until up to 14 days after it, the maximum mark for the whole module is 40%
  • More than 14 days beyond a submission date the mark for the whole module is zero.

Return of work

If you submitted printed versions, these can be requested from the subject departmental office after the summer FCH Examination Board has met. They may be returned to you, but some departments retain such work for a year after submission.

Supervisors can be approached for verbal feedback after the FCH Examination Board has met.

The exact requirements of what is submitted as the final work will be agreed with the supervisor(s), if need be in liaison with the FCH office, but include:

  • One elctronic copy, submitted via eBART.
  • Submission via Turnitin is not required.
  • No paper copy is required, unless specified by your supervisor.

If the Word file or other computer files are too large to email, please bring them to the FCH office on a memory stick so that we can copy them.


The work can be a traditional text-based dissertation presented in paper or electronic form, or a combination of a practical element and written critique.

There are no rules for the details of page layout, referencing styles, binding etc.

It may be easiest if the format follows the usual requirements and guidelines for dissertations in the department(s) of the suprevisor(s), but this is entirely up to your supervisor and you.

If you need presentation guidelines:

  1. Binding: The choice of binding is up to the student.
  2. Size: It is expected that the paper will be A4. Other sizes can be used, if appropriate to the nature of the Independent Study and approved by the supervisor.
  3. No restrictions are placed on the size of any drawings, maps or similar material, which should be either bound in with the study or placed in a wallet fixed to the back cover.
  4. Margins: It is expected that margins will be: 40 mm on the left-hand side; 20mm on the right hand side; and appropriate top and bottom margins. Other sizes can be used, if approved by the supervisor.
  5. Running headers and footers can be used in the top and bottom margins for such things as page numbers and chapter titles.
  6. Text and photographs etc can be printed on one or both sides of the paper.
  7. Text: Normally one-and-a-half line spacing should be used for the main text and single line spacing for indented quotations or footnotes. Other spacing can be used, if approved by the supervisor.
  8. Numbering of pages: All pages, including appendices and those solely with drawings, maps or photographs etc, should be numbered. Pages can be numbered consecutively in one sequence starting with the title page as page 1 or with Roman numerals (i, ii, iii .) for the preliminary material and Arabic (1, 2, 3 .) for the main body of the work.
  9. Sequence: Material should be arranged in the following sequence:
  • Title page, with declaration, as follows:
    • [the full title of the Independent Study]
    • submitted by [student name]
    • [student number]
    • to the University of Exeter towards the Flexible Combined Honours Degree
    • [month and year]
    • Declaration:
    • I certify that all material in this study which is not my own work has been identified
    • [Signature]
  • List of contents
  • List of accompanying material (if any)
  • Text (divided into chapters, sections etc)
  • Appendices (if any)
  • Glossary (if any)
  • Bibliography

Required by the end of the fourth week of the autumn term - submitted to the FCH office.

Use this form to tell the FCH office about your Independent Study: