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Submitting essays

Word limit

The word limit for the practice and coursework essays is 5,000 words. This word limit includes all text except the bibliography; it means that the main text, all data in tables or figures, captions, titles and subtitles, the table of contents, the footnotes or endnotes, and all prefatory material at the start is counted. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Maps, illustrations and other pictorial images count as 0 words. Graphs, if they are the only representation of the data being presented, are to be counted as 150 words. However, if graphs are used as an illustration of statistical data that is also presented elsewhere within the essay (as a table for instance), then the graphs count as 0 words.

Exceeding the word count

Students are required to submit a signed statement confirming the word count of their assessed essays. The MPhil Administrator will verify the declared word count against the electronic copy if requested to do so by the examiners. As a general rule, any content that the examiners must read in order to assess students’ work should be included in the main body of the essay and not in footnotes or in appendices. Although there is no minimum word length set for essays, students are advised that submissions substantially shorter than the maximum length allowed (a 20% shortfall is an indicative amount) might be at risk of failing to fulfil the standard of content and argument required.

An essay that is proven to exceed the stated word limit will not be accepted, but will be handed back to the student for further editing. Any delay in submission caused by the need to reduce the length of an essay will be subject to the standard penalty scale for late submissions.

Late submission

Deadlines for submitting assessed essays must be strictly adhered to and are not negotiable – they are equivalent to examination dates. Both the hard copies and the electronic copy need to be received for the work to be considered as ‘submitted’. If you fail to submit your essays to the Centre of African Studies MPhil Office by the specified date and time on the advertised deadline, it is the same as failing to sit a scheduled examination. Students are advised to notify the MPhil Office immediately if they fall seriously ill or if they experience serious disruption to their studies. All requests to extend submission deadlines should be made to the MPhil Office as early as possible.

Students should also ensure that they allow enough time to print and present their work before the deadline. Problems with computers or printing facilities will not be accepted as reasons for late submission. You are therefore strongly advised to plan to complete your work a couple of days in advance of the deadline in order to avoid such problems, and to back up your work regularly.

Applying for deferred submission

The due dates for assessed essays are fixed deadlines equivalent to examination dates. Should you wish to apply for an extension, you must do so in writing to the MPhil administrator, stating your reason. Students with an SpLD diagnosis and supporting SSD will automatically be considered for extended deadlines, and should consult the MPhil administrator for further details.

Other reasons for requesting an extension would normally be either medical, in which case a statement from a College nurse or a GP must be provided, or personal, in which case a supporting letter from your College tutor and/or counsellor is needed. As explained above, assessed work submitted late without an authorised extension will be penalised. Deferral will normally only be granted for the actual amount of time lost through ill health or other difficulties. Please note that due to the necessity of extensions being approved by both the Graduation Education Committee and POLIS Degree Committee you must apply early in order to secure an authorised submission deferral date, and you should consult the MPhil administrator for dates of these committees, which are usually held a maximum of three times a term.

Procedures for submitting pratice and assessed essays

  • Submit two hard copies of each essay by the advertised deadline, stapled or soft bound, along with an electronic version, to enable the word count to be independently verified. The electronic version should be in MS word format (not pdf) and sent via email to
  • Essays must be typed on A4 paper, double-spaced, in a typeface of 11 or 12 point font. The pages should be numbered.
  • A cover sheet can be downloaded below, which you must complete and sign and submit loose-leaf with your essay.
  • Your name should not be written on the essay, but do record your USN number as a header.
  • For the practice essay, type the essay title approved by your dissertation supervisor on the first page of your essay, in addition to including it on the coversheet. For the coursework essays, type the prescribed (in the case of the core course) and the approved (in the case of the option course) essay question on the first page of your essay, in addition to providing it on the cover sheet. Do not adopt a different a different essay title as this causes confusion to the examiners and is also not permitted by the POLIS Degree Committee.
  • The essay must include a bibliography of all (and only) works cited.

Download a practice essay coversheet

Download a core course essay coversheet

Download an option course essay coversheet