Writing at Master's Level

These notes were originally prepared for fellow-tutors as a first contribution to a debate, and never intended for wider circulation, but feedback from their first accidental appearance justifies their (minimally revised) re-appearance, and requests from a number of universities to adapt and re-print them. So you may have seen them somewhere else already!

Recognising work at Master's level is one of those "I can't describe it, but I know it when I see it" situations. Unfortunately, that is not very much use to programme participants who want some idea of what to expect and what to work to.

These pragmatic and potentially prejudiced notes may eventually lead to increased consistency in marking from the tutors' side, and a clearer idea of expectations from the participants' side - but so far all they do is to articulate some of the ways in which I go about recognising Master's level work.

1  It is literate

2  It addresses the module Outcomes

3  It has evidence

4  It is critical

4.1  It explores implicit values

4.2  It contextualises

5  It pursues an argument

6  It doesn't try to say everything about nothing

7 It is sensitive to me!

8  It is you

See Baking an Essay on how to go about writing it, and Assignment Presentation on how to present it. And the Structure of a Dissertation for the big one!

Update August 2014: The Scottish Higher Education Enhancement Committee and the Quality Assurance Agency have published a “Mastersness Toolkit” online  which outlines the seven attributes characteristic of study at taught Master's level; Abstraction, Autonomy, Depth, Complexity, Professionalism, Research and Enquiry, and Unpredictability


To reference this page copy and paste the text below:

Atherton J S (2013) Doceo; [On-line: UK] retrieved from

Original material by James Atherton: last up-dated overall 10 February 2013

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