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Think of yourself as a member of a jury, listening to a lawyer who is presenting an opening argument. You'll want to know very soon whether the lawyer believes the accused to be guilty or not guilty, and how the lawyer plans to convince you. Readers of academic essays are like jury members: before they have read too far, they want to know what the essay argues as well as how the writer plans to make the argument. After reading your thesis statement, the reader should think, "This essay is going to try to convince me of something. I'm not convinced yet, but I'm interested to see how I might be."

An effective thesis cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." A thesis is not a topic; nor is it a fact; nor is it an opinion. "Reasons for the fall of communism" is a topic. "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe" is a fact known by educated people. "The fall of communism is the best thing that ever happened in Europe" is an opinion. (Superlatives like "the best" almost always lead to trouble. It's impossible to weigh every "thing" that ever happened in Europe. And what about the fall of Hitler? Couldn't that be "the best thing"?)

A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should "telegraph" how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay.

Steps in Constructing a Thesis

First, analyze your primary sources.  Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication. Does the author contradict himself or herself? Is a point made and later reversed? What are the deeper implications of the author's argument? Figuring out the why to one or more of these questions, or to related questions, will put you on the path to developing a working thesis. (Without the why, you probably have only come up with an observation—that there are, for instance, many different metaphors in such-and-such a poem—which is not a thesis.)

Once you have a working thesis, write it down.  There is nothing as frustrating as hitting on a great idea for a thesis, then forgetting it when you lose concentration. And by writing down your thesis you will be forced to think of it clearly, logically, and concisely. You probably will not be able to write out a final-draft version of your thesis the first time you try, but you'll get yourself on the right track by writing down what you have.

Keep your thesis prominent in your introduction.  A good, standard place for your thesis statement is at the end of an introductory paragraph, especially in shorter (5-15 page) essays. Readers are used to finding theses there, so they automatically pay more attention when they read the last sentence of your introduction. Although this is not required in all academic essays, it is a good rule of thumb.

Anticipate the counterarguments.  Once you have a working thesis, you should think about what might be said against it. This will help you to refine your thesis, and it will also make you think of the arguments that you'll need to refute later on in your essay. (Every argument has a counterargument. If yours doesn't, then it's not an argument—it may be a fact, or an opinion, but it is not an argument.)

This statement is on its way to being a thesis. However, it is too easy to imagine possible counterarguments. For example, a political observer might believe that Dukakis lost because he suffered from a "soft-on-crime" image. If you complicate your thesis by anticipating the counterargument, you'll strengthen your argument, as shown in the sentence below.

Some Caveats and Some Examples

A thesis is never a question.  Readers of academic essays expect to have questions discussed, explored, or even answered. A question ("Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?") is not an argument, and without an argument, a thesis is dead in the water.

A thesis is never a list.  "For political, economic, social and cultural reasons, communism collapsed in Eastern Europe" does a good job of "telegraphing" the reader what to expect in the essay—a section about political reasons, a section about economic reasons, a section about social reasons, and a section about cultural reasons. However, political, economic, social and cultural reasons are pretty much the only possible reasons why communism could collapse. This sentence lacks tension and doesn't advance an argument. Everyone knows that politics, economics, and culture are important.

A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational.  An ineffective thesis would be, "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because communism is evil." This is hard to argue (evil from whose perspective? what does evil mean?) and it is likely to mark you as moralistic and judgmental rather than rational and thorough. It also may spark a defensive reaction from readers sympathetic to communism. If readers strongly disagree with you right off the bat, they may stop reading.

An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim.  "While cultural forces contributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of economies played the key role in driving its decline" is an effective thesis sentence that "telegraphs," so that the reader expects the essay to have a section about cultural forces and another about the disintegration of economies. This thesis makes a definite, arguable claim: that the disintegration of economies played a more important role than cultural forces in defeating communism in Eastern Europe. The reader would react to this statement by thinking, "Perhaps what the author says is true, but I am not convinced. I want to read further to see how the author argues this claim."

A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible.  Avoid overused, general terms and abstractions. For example, "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of the ruling elite's inability to address the economic concerns of the people" is more powerful than "Communism collapsed due to societal discontent."

Copyright 1999, Maxine Rodburg and The Tutors of the Writing Center at Harvard University

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10 tips for writing a PhD thesis

Ingrid curl shares simple rules for keeping your work clear and jargon-free.

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Writing up a PhD can often take place in a frenzy of activity in the last few months of your degree study, after years of hard work. But there are some steps that you can take to increase your chances of success.

If you stick to these simple rules, your writing will be clear and jargon-free. Above all, take to heart Orwell’s advice: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”

Ingrid Curl is associate editor of  Times Higher Education , and a former PhD student.

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Writing Strong Research Questions | Criteria & Examples

Published on October 26, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on January 30, 2023.

A research question pinpoints exactly what you want to find out in your work. A good research question is essential to guide your research paper , dissertation , or thesis .

All research questions should be:

Writing Strong Research Questions

Table of contents

How to write a research question, what makes a strong research question, using sub-questions to strengthen your main research question, research questions quiz, frequently asked questions about research questions.

You can follow these steps to develop a strong research question:

The way you frame your question depends on what your research aims to achieve. The table below shows some examples of how you might formulate questions for different purposes.

Using your research problem to develop your research question

Note that while most research questions can be answered with various types of research , the way you frame your question should help determine your choices.

Research questions anchor your whole project, so it’s important to spend some time refining them. The criteria below can help you evaluate the strength of your research question.

Focused and researchable

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Chances are that your main research question likely can’t be answered all at once. That’s why sub-questions are important: they allow you to answer your main question in a step-by-step manner.

Good sub-questions should be:

Here are a few examples of descriptive and framing questions:

Keep in mind that sub-questions are by no means mandatory. They should only be asked if you need the findings to answer your main question. If your main question is simple enough to stand on its own, it’s okay to skip the sub-question part. As a rule of thumb, the more complex your subject, the more sub-questions you’ll need.

Try to limit yourself to 4 or 5 sub-questions, maximum. If you feel you need more than this, it may be indication that your main research question is not sufficiently specific. In this case, it’s is better to revisit your problem statement and try to tighten your main question up.

The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper . A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement .

A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis —a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.

As you cannot possibly read every source related to your topic, it’s important to evaluate sources to assess their relevance. Use preliminary evaluation to determine whether a source is worth examining in more depth.

This involves:

A research hypothesis is your proposed answer to your research question. The research hypothesis usually includes an explanation (“ x affects y because …”).

A statistical hypothesis, on the other hand, is a mathematical statement about a population parameter. Statistical hypotheses always come in pairs: the null and alternative hypotheses . In a well-designed study , the statistical hypotheses correspond logically to the research hypothesis.

Writing Strong Research Questions

Formulating a main research question can be a difficult task. Overall, your question should contribute to solving the problem that you have defined in your problem statement .

However, it should also fulfill criteria in three main areas:

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Management Writing Solutions

Oct 12, 2015

The Characteristics of a Good PhD Dissertation or Thesis

For a researcher pursing his PhD, his thesis is perhaps one of the most important things of his life, the cornerstone of his career. It presents, in most cases, the writer’s research in the written word. The thesis is compiled when certain research has been completed.

The Components of a Proper PhD thesis

Like its other academic writing siblings when one is writing a PhD, it is necessary for him to follow certain norms as far as the structure and format of the dissertation and thesis is concerned. However it is dependent on the specific academic institution and the topic of research. Awareness of the following components of a good thesis ensures that your work is up to the mark and goes a long way in determining its success and recognition.

• The Preliminary Info

The preliminary information required for a dissertation thesis includes the information such as information a title that is suitable, a proper abstract, a table of contents along with listing all the figures, tables as well as an acknowledgement.

• The Main or Primary Body

The primary part or main body of a dissertation thesis is inclusive of a well written general introduction, the objectives and aims of the writing, the hypothesis, how that hypothesis is justified and what is termed as the literature reviews which denotes a host of concepts such as the conceptual or theoretical framework as well as the research methodology including the interpretation and analysis of data, conclusions and target populations, procedures of sampling and even data collection methods. The body also usually consists of analysis of data and its interpretation. Even results and conclusion are also sometimes to be found here. However it must be kept in mind that the structure is something variable and as noted before depend on the specific area of research. The Distinguishing Marks of a Proper PhD Thesis There are some distinguishing features of a thesis; the one’s that separate the wheat from the chaff. All PhD Dissertations worth their salt should have a proper definition of the problem that is being attempted to be resolved by the thesis and how the problem really is, specifically define objectives, have the findings put down in the written word and finally have a conclusion. A proper PhD is characterized by the following: • The records of facts are done in a clear and objective manner making it accessible even to strangers of the nomenclature of the field. • The information is presented in a brief and concise manner. • The thesis should be complete, written well and should be free from grammatical error. • The information conveyed should be easy to understand and read. • A thesis’s structure should have clarity and should suit the topic of study at hand. • It should bear out the style of an academic writing.

Finding PhD Thesis Sources There are basically two sources of data that a researcher has access to. The primary sources denote the data gathered by the researcher from the field itself. The secondary sources consist of Magazines, Books, Journals, encyclopedias and the Internet.

Another Possibility Dissertation writing help is another possibility that might interest you. It is easy convenient and lets you get great grades too provided you approach the correct person or academic writing service provider.

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what makes a good phd thesis

This page will explain what a PhD thesis is and offer advice on how to write a good thesis, from outlining the typical structure to guiding you through the referencing. A summary of this page is as follows:

What Is a Thesis?

A thesis is the main output of a PhD as it explains your workflow in reaching the conclusions you have come to in undertaking the research project. As a result, much of the content of your thesis will be based around your chapters of original work.

For your thesis to be successful, it needs to adequately defend your argument and provide a unique or increased insight into your field that was not previously available. As such, you can’t rely on other ideas or results to produce your thesis; it needs to be an original piece of text that belongs to you and you alone.

What Should a Thesis Include?

Although each thesis will be unique, they will all follow the same general format. To demonstrate this, we’ve put together an example structure of a PhD thesis and explained what you should include in each section below.


This is a personal section which you may or may not choose to include. The vast majority of students include it, giving both gratitude and recognition to their supervisor, university, sponsor/funder and anyone else who has supported them along the way.

1. Introduction

Provide a brief overview of your reason for carrying out your research project and what you hope to achieve by undertaking it. Following this, explain the structure of your thesis to give the reader context for what he or she is about to read.

2. Literature Review

Set the context of your research by explaining the foundation of what is currently known within your field of research, what recent developments have occurred, and where the gaps in knowledge are. You should conclude the literature review by outlining the overarching aims and objectives of the research project.

3. Main Body

This section focuses on explaining all aspects of your original research and so will form the bulk of your thesis. Typically, this section will contain four chapters covering the below:

Depending on your project, each of your chapters may independently contain the structure listed above or in some projects, each chapter could be focussed entirely on one aspect (e.g. a standalone results chapter). Ideally, each of these chapters should be formatted such that they could be translated into papers for submission to peer-reviewed journals. Therefore, following your PhD, you should be able to submit papers for peer-review by reusing content you have already produced.

4. Conclusion

The conclusion will be a summary of your key findings with emphasis placed on the new contributions you have made to your field.

When producing your conclusion, it’s imperative that you relate it back to your original research aims, objectives and hypotheses. Make sure you have answered your original question.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

How Many Words Is a PhD Thesis?

A common question we receive from students is – “how long should my thesis be?“.

Every university has different guidelines on this matter, therefore, consult with your university to get an understanding of their full requirements. Generally speaking, most supervisors will suggest somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 words . This usually corresponds to somewhere between 250 – 350 pages .

We must stress that this is flexible, and it is important not to focus solely on the length of your thesis, but rather the quality.

How Do I Format My Thesis?

Although the exact formatting requirements will vary depending on the university, the typical formatting policies adopted by most universities are:

What Happens When I Finish My Thesis?

After you have submitted your thesis, you will attend a viva . A viva is an interview-style examination during which you are required to defend your thesis and answer questions on it. The aim of the viva is to convince your examiners that your work is of the level required for a doctoral degree. It is one of the last steps in the PhD process and arguably one of the most daunting!

For more information on the viva process and for tips on how to confidently pass it, please refer to our in-depth PhD Viva Guide .

How Do I Publish My Thesis?

Unfortunately, you can’t publish your thesis in its entirety in a journal. However, universities can make it available for others to read through their library system.

If you want to submit your work in a journal, you will need to develop it into one or more peer-reviewed papers. This will largely involve reformatting, condensing and tailoring it to meet the standards of the journal you are targeting.

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How to choose a dissertation topic for your doctoral degree.

Your doctoral degree program culminates in a dissertation if you’re working toward an academic doctorate, or a doctoral study if you’re going for a professional doctorate degree. Both approaches are designed to bring new information to light through real-world research that addresses an actual problem in your field of interest.

Regardless of whether you’re earning your doctorate at an online university or in a more traditional academic setting, one of the first—and most important—steps in the dissertation process is selecting a topic. “You can’t do anything else until you figure out the basic focus,” says Dr. Susann V. Getsch who chose online learning and earned her PhD in Psychology from Walden University.

How to Choose a Dissertation Topic For Your Doctoral Degree

Within the context of PhD programs, there are a number of different approaches when selecting your dissertation topic. To offer you some direct insight, we asked four alumni of Walden’s online graduate degree programs to share their experiences and provide helpful tips you can follow during this process.

Dr. Susann V. Getsch, Walden University Alumna

1. Develop a topic that will hold your interest . Determine what resources you have available—time, money, people—and choose a topic that isn’t too resource-intensive. You’ll be spending at least a year on a dissertation (or any large research project), so it has to be compelling enough to keep your attention.

2. Read everything you can on the subject . Go outside of your required class readings and you might just run across something that helps you develop the framework for your research.

3. Find a theoretical basis to support your topic . Do some research to find theories that fit your study perfectly.  

4. Look for a niche in which you can make a difference . Be sure you’re really offering something new to the field. You can’t change the world with one dissertation, so focus on the crux of what you want to explore and add something new to the field.

5. Let yourself shift gears . Frequently, the topic you start with deviates from your original plan as it evolves.

6. Fine-tune your topic based on input from others . Take every opportunity to seek constructive feedback and incorporate advice from experts.

Dr. Vicky D. Woodruff, PhD in Health Services Dr. Kristal D. Ayres, Doctor of Education (EdD)

1. Study your passion . Start with a subject you’re passionate about and then look into the existing research conducted to help determine the next logical step.

2. Find available data . Use a previously conducted study to capture comparative data and develop good working relationships with the people who are in charge of that data. You may also need a written legal agreement—so sort through those details first.

3. Build a good committee . Interview your committee members first to ensure they understand and are passionate about your goals. After all, it would be impossible to do the work alone. With the support of your committee, you’ll have a great team on your side.

4. Only ask questions that can be answered . Use your rich, powerful data to your full advantage, and stick within its confines. Also, determine early on if there are any biases in the data. Your goal is to create an airtight study.

5. Think about your work as part of an international dialogue . What else is published on your topic? Understand your data in a broader context and be actively engaged.

Dr. Shane Fairbairn, PhD in Education

1. Take advantage of the resources available . Use the resources offered by your university to help with your decision making. This might include your research center or applicable seminars.

2. Tap into your peers . Meet with each of your cohorts and ask them to weigh in on your topic and plans for research.

3. Consult your mentor . A good and experienced mentor can be your best resource for providing straightforward advice and direction for moving forward.

Writing a dissertation is a rewarding experience. The research you conduct and present will not only greatly expand your specialized knowledge, but it could help others in your discipline and the greater community for years to come.

Pursue Your Doctoral Degree Online at Walden University

If you want to boost your career and position yourself to make more meaningful contributions to your field, one of the best choices you can make is to earn your PhD or doctorate. Walden, an accredited university, offers more than 20 online doctoral degree programs with more than 140 specializations for you to choose from. That means you can better maintain a work-life balance while you enhance your credentials and further your skills. With online learning, you can take classes at whatever time of day works best for you as you return to school and get your doctoral degree.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering high-quality online degree programs at the bachelor’s , master’s , and doctoral level , as well as online certificate programs . Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org .

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All doctoral students strive for the day—after years of often all-consuming study—that their thesis is ready to submit. For both doctoral students and supervisors there is often trepidation about whether the thesis will meet the criteria to merit the award of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). As anxieties increase, doctoral students often ask what makes a good PhD, something we explored in a recent ‘Research Made Simple’ article, 1 but perhaps the more important question is ‘what makes a PhD student successful?’ In this article we outline the core criteria on which PhD theses are judged and offer suggestions for achieving success.

How are PhDs assessed

Traditionally, a PhD involves 3 to 4 years of full-time study (or a longer part-time programme), which is assessed by the student submitting the work they have undertaken as a thesis or—less commonly—a portfolio of published papers and an associated narrative (sometimes referred to as ‘PhD by publication’). In addition, the student must undertake an oral defence of their work through a discussion (the ‘viva’) with examiners, who are deemed to be experts in the field of study or with related methodological expertise. 2

Sets out the problem and context of the research, including theoretical perspectives.

Outlines existing approaches that have addressed the problem or related issues before, typically by undertaking a thorough critical analysis of literature and identifying a gap in the evidence.

Justifies and critically evaluates the research methodologies and methods chosen to address the problem.

Presents the finding of the research and how they add to existing knowledge.

Makes recommendations as to how the findings can advance the discipline and improve practice, and/or suggest further research directions.

What criteria are used to assess a PhD thesis?

The core criteria for PhD success—ubiquitous to all disciplines and universities—are that the student;

Has made an original and significant contribution to knowledge of the topic under investigation;

Draws on a well-argued and cohesive conceptual/theoretical framework;

Demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate and justify the research methodology and methods adopted;

Can convey information (written and verbally) succinctly;

Produces a thesis is of sufficient rigour that the work is evaluated as publishable in relevant discipline-specific journal(s).

Table 1 highlights some of the key ingredients of PhD success, in terms of the study, thesis and viva.

Key principles to PhD study success

Justifying methods

The justification of methodological choices is usually presented in a distinct chapter that typically has two components: first, a ‘big picture’ description of the theoretical perspective and methodological justification (sometimes called the research approach), followed by an account of procedure (methods) of how the research was undertaken.

Critical writing

An essential criterion expected from examiners is that students demonstrate criticality in the way they present and defend information. This can be a challenge, and many PhD students perceive that there is little guidance about how to develop effective arguments and few opportunities to develop critical writing skills. 2 3 Similar to developing knowledge and understanding of research methods, students need the knowledge and skills for effective oral communication of ideas and writing. 3

The student must be able to write succinctly and critically to produce a robust and coherent thesis. 2 4 A thesis should open with a clear outline of the problem, informing the reader what the thesis about and why the topic is important. It should detail what contexts and perspectives are relevant and offer an outline to the layout of the thesis. In all chapters, students should consider the following:

Use of ‘signposts’ to tell the reader where they are going to go, summarising afterwards and providing appropriate links throughout.

Meaningful headings: the content of chapters and sections need to reflect the heading.

Avoidance of vague terms or superfluous words, keeping sentences clear and focussed.

Paragraphs that are distinct enough to explore and evaluate a clear issue but linked well enough to enhance the flow of the thesis. A general rule of thumb is that a paragraph should be about half a page: any less and there is limited criticality, any longer and there is a tendency to ramble, lose focus and cause the reader to become disengaged.

A PhD is not about how much the student can write: it is about how well they articulate and critically analyse information.

Critical writing at Doctoral level is essential to establish the quality of the research and the credibility of the researcher. A good thesis creates a portrait of an authoritative and competent researcher, and critical writing is crucial for building the examiners’ confidence in the research undertaken.

Publishable standard of the work

Publishing in refereed journals and conferences is the traditional way in which the research community disseminates findings and builds knowledge, although there is increasing recognition of the role of social media platforms as a means of rapidly sharing knowledge. Refereed journals use recognised standards (such as the CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) guidelines for trials) 5 and rigorous review processes to assess the quality of a research paper, which must be met for successful publication. It is therefore unsurprising that many examiners view a thesis more favourably if a student provides evidence of having published elements of their work. 6

Summary of key considerations

Unlike undergraduate assessment, there is a paucity of research exploring the assessment of PhDs. However, a study that explored the process and judgements of experienced examiners, 6 provided a valuable summary of the characteristics of a poor and excellent thesis ( table 2 ).

Characteristics of a poor and excellent thesis 6

This article has outlined some of the steps that a PhD student should consider in order to produce a high-quality thesis and ensure a successful viva. We have considered how it is important that decision-making is transparent in the thesis, and defendable in the oral defence/viva. A PhD thesis should show evidence of originality and theoretical/conceptual cohesiveness, communicated via the student’s critical writing ability. The thesis and defence provide students with the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise in the field, offers them a methodological stage and gives the platform to share their critical perceptions, experiences and expertise.

Twitter @barrett1972, @ARodriguez339, @josmith175

Competing interests None declared.

Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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The PhD Proofreaders

What makes a good PhD supervisor? Top tips for managing the student-supervisor relationship.

Jan 8, 2020

what makes a good supervisor

When I started my PhD, the entire cohort of incoming students had an induction session in the university’s great hall. There were around 500 of us, from every department and every imaginable discipline. 

The induction itself was tedious, but there was one comment in particular that stood out immediately and stuck with me throughout my entire PhD journey. When a professor was asked in a Q&A what advice he would give incoming PhD students, he said to remember that, after your mother, your supervisor will be the most important person in your life.

Interested in group workshops, cohort-courses and a free PhD learning & support community? 

what makes a good phd thesis

The team behind The PhD Proofreaders have launched The PhD People, a free learning and community platform for PhD students. Connect, share and learn with other students, and boost your skills with cohort-based workshops and courses.

Now I’m at the other end of the PhD and I’ve graduated, I’ve got some advice of my own to add to his. You see, the professor overlooked something really important, and that is that, by the time we were sitting in the induction, we had already chosen our supervisors (or had them assigned, as in my case).  

Why should that matter? Primarily because whether or not your supervisor becomes the most important person in your life depends how good that supervisor actually is, how well they are executing their duties, and how well you are managing the student-supervisor relationship. 

In this guide, I want to dig in a little more into what makes a good supervisor, before discussing what they should and shouldn’t be doing, why you need to please them (and how you can go about doing so), and how to make the 

How to choose a PhD supervisor 

The most important piece of advice for someone about to embark on a PhD and looking for a potential supervisor is to actually make an effort to talk to them about your research proposal.

Now, for many, your potential supervisor may be someone you already know, such as a lecturer, Master’s dissertation supervisor or tutor. Or, it may be someone from your department who you don’t know so well, but whose work fits your research interests. 

In either case, chances are you’ve interacted with them in a teacher-student kind of relationship, where they lecture and you take notes. Well, when thinking about your PhD and their role as a potential supervisor, it’s time to put on a different hat and approach them as a peer. Email them or call them and schedule a phone call or face-to-face meeting to talk about your proposal and solicit their advice. Be explicit about wanting them to supervise you and tell them why. They won’t bite. In all likelihood, they’ll be flattered. 

Now, the same applies even if it’s someone you don’t know or have never interacted with (perhaps if it’s someone from a different university or country). Approach them, explain what you intend to do and tell them exactly why you think they should supervise you.  

As you ask these questions, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what to look for in a potential supervisor. For one, their research interests need to align with yours. The closer they align the better. But, more than that, you need to consider whether they have published in your field (and whether they’re continuing to do so).

Often, though, the more high-profile academics will already be supervising a number of students. Try, if you can, to get an idea of how many PhD students they are currently supervising. This will give you a good idea of whether they’ll have the time required to nurture your project over the years it will take you to complete it, or whether they’ll be stretched too thin. Also, look at how many students they have supervised in the past and how many of them completed successfully. This will give you a good insight into their experience and competence.  

Remember back to that advice I got on my first day: the person you’re choosing to supervise your study will become the most important person in your life, so you need to consider the personal dimension too. Do you actually get on with them? You’ll be spending a lot of time together, and some of it will be when you’re at your most vulnerable (such as when you’re stressed, under incredible pressure or breaking down as the PhD blues get the better of you). Do you think this person is someone with whom you can have a good, friendly relationship? Can you talk openly to them? Will they be there for you when you need them and, more importantly, will you be able to ask them to be?

Once you’ve considered all this, don’t be afraid to approach them at a conference, swing by their office, drop them an email or phone them and run your project by them. The worst they can do is say no, and if they do they’ll likely give you great feedback and advice that you can take to another potential supervisor. But they may just turn around and say yes, and if you’ve done your homework properly, you’ll have a great foundation from which to start your PhD-journey. They’ll also likely work with you to craft your draft proposal into something that is more likely to be accepted. 

what makes a good phd thesis

Your PhD Thesis. On one page.

Use our free PhD Structure Template to quickly visualise every element of your thesis.

What is the role of a supervisor?

Think of your supervisor like a lawyer. They are there to advise you on the best course of action as you navigate your PhD journey, but ultimately, the decisions you make are yours and you’re accountable for the form and direction your PhD takes.

In other words: they advise, you decide. 

I appreciate that is vague, though. What do they advise on?

Primarily, their job is:

8. To a certain extent, they often provide emotional and pastoral support

How many of these jobs they actually do will vary from supervisor to supervisor. You have to remember that academics, particularly those that are well known in their field, are often extremely busy and in many cases overworked and underpaid. They may simply not have the time to do all the things they are supposed to. Or, it may be the case that they simply don’t need to because you already have a good handle on things. 

What does a supervisor not do?

Your supervisor is not there to design your research for you, or to plan, structure or write your thesis. Remember, they advise and you decide. It’s you that’s coming up with the ideas, the plans, the outlines and the chapters. It’s their job to feedback on them. Not the other way around.

Unlike at undergraduate or masters level, their job isn’t to teach you in the traditional sense, and you aren’t a student in the traditional sense either. The onus is on you to do the work and take the lead on your project. That means that if something isn’t clear, or you need help with, say, a chapter outline, it is up to you to solicit that advice from your supervisor or elsewhere. They won’t hold your hand and guide you unless you ask them to.

Having said that, their job isn’t to nanny you. At PhD level it is expected that you can work independently and can self-motivate. It is not your supervisor’s job to chase you for chapter drafts or to motivate you to work. If you don’t do the work when you’re supposed to then it’s your problem, not theirs.

It’s also not their job to proofread or edit your work. In fact, if you’re handing in drafts that contain substantial fluency or language issues (say, if you’re a non-native English speaker), it’s likely to annoy them, particularly if you’re doing so at the later stages of the PhD, because they’ll have to spend as much time focusing on how you’re writing as they do on what you’re writing.

More troubling would be if you explicitly ask them to correct or edit the language. They won’t do this and will take a dim view of being asked. Instead, hire a proofreader or ask a friend with good writing skills to take a read through and correct any obvious language errors (check the rules laid out by your university to see what a proofreader can and cannot do though. As with everything in your PhD, the onus is on you to do things properly).

What you need to do to please your supervisor

The lines between what your supervisor will and will not do for you are blurred, and come down in large part to how much they like you. That means you should pay attention to pleasing them, or at least not actively irritating them.

There are a few simple things you can do that will make their life easier and, with that, boost their opinion of you and their willingness to go beyond their prescribed role.

First, and by this stage you shouldn’t need to be told this, meet deadlines, submit work to them when you said you would, and turn up to your supervision meetings on time. If you meet the deadlines you’ve set, they’re more likely to return work quicker and spend more time reading it prior to doing so.

Wrapping up

Managed well, you too can ensure that your supervisor is the most important person in your life. And you want them to be. Those who succeed in their PhDs and in their early academic careers are those who had effective supervision and approached their supervisor as a mentor.

Things don’t always go according to plan, though, and sometimes even with the best will in the world, supervisors under-perform, create problems or, in more extreme cases, sabotage PhD projects. This can be for a variety of reasons, but it leaves students in a difficult position; in the student-supervisor relationship, the student is relatively powerless, particularly if the supervisor is well known and highly esteemed. If this is the case, when things don’t go well, raising concerns with relevant channels may prove ineffective, and may even create more problems. In these extreme cases, you’ll have to draw on levels of diplomacy and patience you may never have known you had.  

Hello, Doctor…

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Be able to call yourself Doctor sooner with our five-star rated How to Write A PhD email-course. Learn everything your supervisor should have taught you about planning and completing a PhD.

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Share this:

Kaleb Tadewos

I am very grateful for your interesting and valuable advice here. Thank you very much!

Dr. Max Lempriere

Thanks for the kind words.

Enid Hanze

Though my PhD journey is still in an infancy stage, i can’t thank you enough for the wisdom, motivation and upliftment shared….thank you, i earnestly appreciate it.

You’re very kind. It’s my aim to help others and make their lives easier than mine was when I was doing my PhD. To hear that it’s working fills me with a lot of joy.


I am grateful for this e-mail. I really appreciate and I have learnt a lot about how to build a fruitful relationship with my supervisor.

Thank you again for your notable contribution to our PhD journey.

You’re very welcome. Thanks for reading.

Alfred Bunton-Cole

I’m looking to doing a PhD research and believe your service and material would be very useful. It am in the process of applying for a place at SOAS and hope to be offered the opportunity. I anticipation of this I’m currently investigating and making notes to all the support I’ll need. The challenge for me is I’ll be 69 years old in November and into my 70s in three years time, and would need all the support and encouragement available.

So wish me luck.

Thanks for the comment. What you bring with you is experience and expertise. That will serve you well as you go through the PhD journey. Good luck!

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what makes a good phd thesis

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Wrestling an elephant into a cupboard: how to write a PhD literature review in nine easy steps

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Written by Ben Taylor

The PhD thesis is the most important part of a doctoral research degree: the culmination of three or four years of full-time work towards producing an original contribution to your academic field.

Your PhD dissertation can therefore seem like quite a daunting possibility, with a hefty word count, the pressure of writing something new and, of course, the prospect of defending it at a viva once you’ve finished.

This page will give you an introduction to what you need to know about the doctoral thesis, with advice on structure, feedback, submission and more.

On this page

Beginning your phd thesis.

The first stage of your PhD thesis will usually be the literature review . We’ve already written a detailed guide to what the PhD literature review involves , but here’s what you need to know about this stage of your PhD:

After finishing your literature review, you’ll move onto the bulk of your PhD dissertation. Of course, you’ll eventually return to the lit review to make sure it’s up-to-date and contains any additional material you may have come across during the course of your research.

PhD thesis research

What sets your PhD thesis apart from previous university work you’ve done is the fact that it should represent an original contribution to academic knowledge . The form that this original contribution takes will largely depend on your discipline.

Depending on the nature of your research, you may ‘write up’ your findings as you go, or leave it until the dedicated ‘writing-up’ period, usually in the third year of your PhD. Whatever your approach, it’s vital to keep detailed notes of your sources and methods – it’ll make your life a lot easier when it comes to using references in your dissertation further down the line.

PhD thesis vs dissertation

It’s common to use the terms ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ interchangeably, but strictly speaking there is a difference in meaning between them:

Put simply, you submit a dissertation, but it’s the thesis it attempts to prove that will form the basis of your PhD.

What this also means is that the writing up of your dissertation generally follows the formulation of your thesis (it’s fairly difficult to write up a PhD before you know what you want to say!).

However, it’s normal for universities and academics to use either (or both) terms when describing PhD research – indeed, we use both ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ across our website.

Can I use my Masters research in my PhD thesis?

If you’re studying an MPhil, it’s normal to ‘ upgrade ’ it into a PhD. You may be able to expand on a previous MA or MSc dissertation – or use part of it in one of your PhD thesis chapters. However, you should discuss this with your supervisor and be careful to avoid self-plagiarisation. Similarly, be aware that a PhD is supposed to be a completely original contribution to your field and shouldn’t draw too heavily on work that you’ve already done.

PhD thesis structure

Having completed your initial literature review and conducted your original research, you’ll move onto the next phase of your doctoral dissertation, beginning to sketch out a plan that your thesis will follow.

The exact structure and make-up of your thesis will vary between fields, but this is the general template that many dissertations follow:

How long should a PhD thesis be?

PhD thesis lengths vary from subject to subject, but all are far longer than those for undergraduate or Masters degrees. Your university will usually set an upper limit – typically between 70,000 and 100,000 words, with most dissertations coming in at around 80,000 words.

Generally speaking, STEM-based theses will be a little shorter than those in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Different universities (and departments) will have different policies regarding what counts towards this word count, so make sure you’re aware what is expected of you. Check with your supervisor whether references, the bibliography or appendices are included in the word count for your dissertation.

How many chapters should a PhD thesis have?

There’s no hard and fast rule for the numbers of chapters in a PhD thesis, but most will have four or five chapters (in addition to the introduction and conclusion). This is the sort of thing you’ll discuss with your supervisor when planning out your research – you should agree on a suitable number of topics to tackle in your dissertation during your supervisory meetings.

Writing up your PhD thesis

Once you’ve conducted your research and settled upon your thesis, there’s only one thing left to do: get it down on paper. Appropriately enough, this final part of a PhD is often referred to as the ‘ writing up period ’.

This is when you produce the final dissertation, which will be submitted as the basis for your viva voce exam. The nature of this task can vary from PhD to PhD.

In some cases you may already have a large amount of chapter drafts and other material. ‘Writing up’ therefore becomes a process of re-drafting and assembling this work into a final dissertation. This approach is common in Arts and Humanities subjects where PhD students tend to work through stages of a project, writing as they go.

Alternatively, you may have spent most of your PhD collecting and analysing data. If so, you’ll now ‘write up’ your findings and conclusions in order to produce your final dissertation. This approach is more common in STEM subjects, where experiment design and data collection are much more resource intensive.

Whatever process you adopt, you’ll now produce a persuasive and coherent statement of your argument, ready to submit for examination.

PhD thesis feedback

Your supervisor will usually give you feedback on each chapter draft, and then feedback on the overall completed dissertation draft before you submit it for examination. When the thesis is a work-in-progress, their comments will be a chance for them to make sure your research is going in the right direction and for you to ask their advice on anything you’re concerned about. This feedback will normally be given in the form of a supervisory meeting.

Although your PhD supervisor will be happy to give you advice on your work, you shouldn’t expect them to be an editor – it’s not their responsibility to correct grammatical or spelling mistakes, and you should make sure any drafts you submit to them are as error-free as possible. Similarly, they won’t be willing to edit your work down to fit a particular word count.

Finishing your PhD thesis

When you’ve finished the final draft of your doctoral thesis and it’s been approved by your supervisor, you’ll submit it for examination. This is when it’s sent to the examiners who will conduct your viva.

Submitting your thesis involves printing enough copies for your examiners and the university’s repository. Don’t leave this until the last minute – printing multiple copies of a 300-page document is a substantial undertaking and you should always allow enough time to account for any possible glitches or issues with the printing process.

Your viva will usually take place within three months of submitting your thesis. You can find out more in our dedicated guide to the PhD viva . After your viva, your examiners will give you a report that confirms whether or not you need to make any changes to your thesis, with several different potential outcomes:

Most PhD students will need to fix some corrections with their thesis (hopefully not major ones). It’s very rare for a dissertation to be failed.

Once you’ve made any necessary changes to your thesis, you’ll submit it one last time (usually electronically).

If you have plans to publish all or part of your work, you may want to request an embargo so that it won’t be visible to the public for a certain time. 12 months is a fairly standard time period for this, although you may want to ask for a longer embargo if you know that you want to turn your thesis into a book or monograph.

Doing a PhD

For more information on what it’s like to do a PhD, read our guides to research proposals , academic conferences and the viva .

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Your Career

10 ingredients for a successful supervisor/PhD student relationship

A professor shares his recipe for building a thriving relationship with his PhD researchers – and why it’s not like it used to be

Elsevier editorial illustration brain

Dr. José M. Torralba has supervised 28 PhD theses and 90 diploma theses as Professor of Materials Science Engineering at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Here, he suggests ways to build a healthy professor/PhD student relationship — and with that, a healthy research group.

A good relationship is the basis for a good performance in science and a way to promote collaboration and the success of all the members in a research group. At the core of all the labs relationships is the professor/student relationship. If this works properly, it can be the seed for the whole lab relationship.

Yet, as higher education has transformed over the decades, so have traditional relationships in academia – some more effectively than others.

Dr.  José M. Torralba, PhD, in his lab at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, where he is Professor of  Materials Science and Engineering.

Decades ago, this relationship was based on the authority of the master over the disciple. The professor/student relationship was a sort of dictatorship where the student had to follow any small desire or suggestion of the professor. The professor was a superhuman that possessed all the knowledge and wisdom, and the student was obliged do what the professor said without any doubt or discussion.

This does not happen today, at least not in most of the advanced research centers. Previously, the authority of the professor was based on their supposed possession of all the knowledge and the nearly absolute dependence of the student on the decisions of the professor. Now, we live in a society where access to knowledge is almost unlimited, and the professor's preponderance over the student is based fundamentally on experience more than access to knowledge.

Also, whereas the student’s success used to require obedience and unwavering loyalty to the professor, the modern student has no need for such dependence. This has been lost in an open world, in the entire global village. Today, students have a contract and labor rights, so their survival does not depend on the whim or arbitrariness of a professor.

Apart of this, when a professor/student relationship begins, there is a need to combine two wills, each with their circumstances, to achieve a single objective. This objective is usually linked to a research project and usually leads to a doctoral thesis. Years ago, this was usually just a manuscript.

But today, the thesis is not enough; we must add on to it. From this professor-student relationship, other fruits grow, such as articles in journals, conference papers, patents, and collaborations with other research groups, some of them abroad.  PhD students in my research group have gone on to work at research centers in the Netherlands, Italy, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the United States as well as in other parts of Spain.

Fortunately, there are modern tools and platforms that can connect researchers and help them track the progress and impact of their work.

Tools you can use for research and collaboration

Normally in this relationship, the seed of the idea for a research topic comes from the professor. The professor introduces the idea to the student and provides all the necessary means for growth: laboratories, libraries, consumable material, trips (if necessary). It is the student who takes the shovel to nurture the seed with soil, water it and monitor its growth. The professor must also watch that everything goes well so the tree can grow. If problems arise, such as a plague, hail or drought, the professor must provide solutions and the means to reach them advised or helped by the student, of course, who cares directly for the tree and probably knows it better than the professor. But the main responsibility to find solutions belongs to the professor.

When time has passed and the fruits appear, they will be the fruits of both of them. Both are responsible for the final product, and both will benefit (or experience harm) from what has been achieved.

 Prof. José M. Torralba, PhD (fourth from right), with members of his research group at a graduation ceremony at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in 2017. From left to right: PhD students Elena Bernardo, Roberto García and Nerea García; Associate Prof. Mónica Campos; and postdoc Paula Alvaredo. To Prof Torralba’s right are Prof. Elena Gordo, PhD, and Associate Prof. Elisa Ruiz-Navas, PhD  — who were PhD students in his research group — and PhD student Rocío Muñoz.

For this relationship to function well, there must be rules, which will ensure this co-responsibility becomes an eternal and enduring positive relationship over the time. When a student believes that their thesis is good or bad because of the professor, or vice versa, it is because the norms for the professor/student coexistence have not been followed.

These are the ingredients for the recipe for a healthy and fruitful relationship:

1. A relationship between equals. The professor, from the first day, should establish a personal relationship of mutual respect, equal to equal. The student will respect the professor (who is usually is wiser and older) but starting from the reality that it is a relationship between equals. Mutual respect must be the basis for the relationship.

2. Inspiration and creation of ideas. The professor should be a source of inspiration and creation of ideas. But also, the student will endeavor to learn the state of art that allows him or her to propose alternative ways in the creative process. The student must generate, from the beginning, ideas that enrich the work.

It is normal for ideas to come from the professor. Usually, when the first contact is established, the professor has a running research line established, often with funding allocated to the project. But the idea must be taken by the student as their own, and the student must strive to expand the possibilities of the work thorough their own input.

3. Means. The professor must provide the student with all the necessary means to carry out their work, including a decent salary. At the same time, the student will make every effort to make the work evolve to achieve the objectives set by the professor, and to take advantage of everything that has been put in their hands.

In former times, where a research activity often progressed thanks to the goodwill of the participants, who had to overcome what seemed like an obstacle course where even the tools to be used were not provided, is a nonsense today. Any research endeavor should ensure the basic resources in order to be developed with enough guarantees for success. The times where PhD work is done under the principle of generosity have passed. There must be enough funding to allow the research to progress, and the focus of the student should be the development of their creative work.

4. Progress of the work. The professor must monitor the progress of the student's work at all times. The student must help the professor find solutions to the seemingly unresolvable problems that will surely come up along the way.

The times where the professor does not “give audience” to the student, waiting on their “throne hall” for the “vassal,” are long gone. In today’s research environment, if a professor does not have time to supervise PhD students properly, the supervising activity must be redefined. Also, the student must put all effort and energy in trying to solve the problems by themselves before discussing it with the professor.

5. Cooperation. The professor will become the first ally (partner, associate) of the student in the performance of the work. And the student must go to the professor whenever there is any problem or contingency related to the work along the way. The basis for the cooperation is communication. It is quite normal that students try not to disturb the professor, even though most of the time, the professor could solve the problem faster than any other person. Both professor and student must consider the work relationship as teamwork.

6. Encouragement. The professor should always encourage the student (in the best positive attitude), especially in those moments when things do not go as expected.

There are many disasters that can occur during PhD work. I have heard (even by myself!) phases like: “I am going to leave the thesis.” “This is my last day – I can’t stand this!” In these moments, the supervisor must be the first person to encourage the student to keep going, to maintain high spirits and help revive the interest and enthusiasm to continue with the work. A supervisor must be the student’s a coach, not only in the academic sense. When things go wrong, the student often thinks their problems bother the professor; that’s not true in most cases, and the professor is the first and the best advisor for the student.

7. Discrepancies management. The student will discuss with the professor any possible discrepancy of criteria that may arise in the development of the work. The student will comply with the decisions of the professor, decisions that will be the result of a prior discussion.

When discrepancies appear, the best way to reach an agreement is discussion, discussion and discussion, and then reaching an agreement. Sometimes, discrepancies appear because someone fails: the professor in the guidance or the student in the execution. In those cases, before starting the discussion the first step should be communication, trying to explain what’s happened.

Failure to comply with this rule will generate a great mutual distrust that can end with a mutual hostile attitude that can, in turn, make the project fail.

8. Knowledge transfer. The student must be aware that having accepted the supervision of the professor, he becomes an essential link in the propagation of the knowledge previously accumulated by the professor. The professor will try to put all their effort in giving international relevance to the work of the student, which is also is the professor's work.

In the today’s society, knowledge transfer is more important than ever, so both professor and student must assume that one of the main objectives in their research work is to promote, as much as possible, the transfer of the generated knowledge to the society. This can be done through scientific papers, patents, spin-offs – and scientific divulgation today is a must. This task, easier now thanks to social networks. Even when using social media for self-interest purposes, scientists that have high impact in social networks are cited more in academic metrics, according to a 2016 study in PLOS One.

In this effort to disseminate the knowledge, the student plays an important role as the main link between the professor and future students.

9. Professional projection. The professor should be aware that no matter how much he or she gives to the student, that student is putting into the hands of the professor several years of their life, in their moment of more physical and intellectual splendor. The professor will seek the greatest professional projection he or she can provide to the student.

The better the future of the student, the better the future of both of them. One well promoted student is the best way for the professor to assure future scientific networks, future collaboration and future projects. Today’s students must be future partners. To promote your students is actually a way to promote yourself.

10. Relationship forever. The professor, from the moment he or she accepts the student, must be their mentor forever. And the student must expect and ask for advice and help from the professor for the development of their later professional career.

If both are intelligent people (which is supposed), they will try to maintain, forever, this mentor/mentored relationship. With time, the student could even play the mentor role with their former professor. Both of them will grow personally and professionally, and this will allow them to help each other. If the relationship is an equal relationship from the beginning, with the passing of the years, it will be much even more egalitarian, if it is possible. This kind of relationship could promote connections as strong father/mother and son or daughter. And this could be one of the best ways to enrich the personal lives of both.

If professor and student both comply with these simple rules, it will be difficult for them not to complete the work successfully and build a relationship that endures well beyond the duration of that first project.


I would like to thank Assistant Prof. Sophia Tsipas for her help in revising this text. She wasn´t my PhD student, but she could have been.

Prof. Torralba’s research group uses a variety of platforms to find out about the latest related research, manage their research and connect with researchers around the world. The most used are Elsevier’s ScienceDirect and Scopus as well as Web of Science and Google Scholar . To manage citations, they use Elsevier’s Mendeley in addition to EndNote and Zotero .

They also track the impact of their research in non-traditional ways. One tool to do that is Elsevier’s Plum Analytics , which provides insights into how people are interacting with research online – for example, on social media and in the news. Elsevier has integrated Plum Analytics into ScienceDirect, Scopus and other research platforms.

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José M. Torralba, PhD

José M. Torralba, PhD

Prof. Dr. José M. Torralba is Director-General of Universities and Research for Madrid Regional Government, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid .and Invited Scientist at IMDEA Materials Institute . Since joining the university faculty in 1999, he has held a variety of roles, including Head of the Materials Science and Engineering Department, Vice-rector for Academics Infrastructures, Vice-rector for Research and Innovation and Deputy Director of Institute IMDEA Materials.

His main field of interest is powder metallurgy and sintering, and he is a Fellow of the American Powder Metallurgy Institute and European Powder Metallurgy Association. He has published more than 500 scientific papers (250 in the Journal Citation Report with more than 5,000 citations).

Prof. Torralba is Editor-in-Chief of Powder Metallurgy and Regional Editor for the Journal of Materials Processing Technology , published by Elsevier.

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Tips for writing a PhD thesis research methodology

PhD thesis research methodology

What is a PhD thesis research methodology?

In an academic piece of work, whether a PhD thesis or a journal paper, the research methodology section involves all the steps carried out to conduct the research work. This involves a series of procedures done by the researcher, with the aim of fulfilling the research objectives. Different disciplines use different approaches to carry out the methodology section, but there is a large overlap. A good methodology clearly explains all of the steps you have done, to finally obtain the results required. Each step must be explained in enough detail to allow other researchers to replicate your work, but make slightly different adjustments, e.g., in some parameters, in order to investigate the same experiment, but with focusing on some different parameters.

Where does the research methodology fit in a thesis?

The research methodology come after the literature review, and is based on the research problems and objectives formulated during the review of the literature. This section is then followed directly by the results and discussion section, where the results obtained from the methodology are achieved.

What questions should the methodology address?

The methodology should answer the following questions:

What is the procedure used to collect the data or datasets using in the methodology?

What are the methods that you have used, and what are the steps taken for each?

What are the reasons that you chose these particular methods over other methods?

How did these methods help to tackle the research problems and objectives?

Remember to write as you conduct the methodology

One important tip is to write as you are performing the methodology steps. This way,  you would have a draft of notes on each step you take, while it is still fresh in your mind. But if you start to write after you have finished the methodology, then there is a chance that you would forget to write some important ideas from the beginning of the methodology section.

Remember to justify all the steps taken in the methodology

Another tip is to justify each individual step you take, no matter how small. Chances are the your readers would wonder why you chose to take that step, or reviewers would ask this for a justification. So to save yourself the trouble, make sure to provide a detailed validation about why you chose each step. It is also helpful to cite sources when providing a justification for a certain step. This would strengthen your argument and your readers would agree with your validation if you cite work and convince them that it was a good idea to take that certain step.

Keep the right order and map out methods to outcomes

Be sure to keep the order of the methods undertaken in sync with the order of the findings for each method. This way readers would easily map each method to its findings, and would find coherency in first reading the method and then reading about the results/outcome for that particular method. Changing the order of the methods and the results would result in confused readers who have a hard time mapping out the methods to their correct outcomes.

Research framework, design and methodology structure

The beginning intro section of the methodology starts by recapping the research gaps or problems identified in the preceding section – the literature review. Next comes the overall high level research design or framework you have constructed. Then you zoom in to each step and explain how it was carried out. If your methods have been carried out before, then cite the work and mention that they have been adopted by the corresponding research works. However, if your methods have not been used before, you need to mention this, and also provide a strong justification for using them in your work.

Qualitative vs quantitative methodology

If your methodology involves qualitative analysis rather than quantitative to a certain research problem, then you need to provide an in-depth and detailed description for the methods utilized. This is because the primary instrument for data collection has a great effect on the results obtained in the work.

Editing and proofreading

Once you are done with this particular section, be sure to hire a skilled, professional academic editor and proofreader to check the writing thoroughly for any grammatical mistakes. Since this section explains the steps you have carried out, it should be as explicit and clear as possible, so that readers can easily have the methods in their head as they are reading along.

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10 Genuine Suggestions to Design a PhD Title

A PhD title is a short sentence that defines the aim and objectives of your PhD thesis or research. 

The PhD title is one of the most important things to your PhD much like the thesis, viva and research paper. Indeed, as per my opinion, all these are equally important to clear the degree but the ‘ PhD title ’ is something very decisive. 

Students take it lightly usually, but trust me I had faced a big problem due to only the PhD title. And then I know how important it is!

Your PhD research journey starts by stating a PhD title, although, before picking the PhD title you should have to read so many things to decide what to do with it. 

When you see a thesis or a PhD report, on the top of it and on the front page what you see? On the bold and larger font? The ‘PhD title’. 

So far on this blog, we have discussed related to the PhD thesis, PhD viva voce and research paper writing. You can read each article by clicking the link. 

 In the present article, we are going to learn about another important element of the PhD dissertation the “PhD title”, what a PhD title is and some super cool idea to design your PhD title. 

Related article: What is a PhD?

What is a PhD title? 

The PhD title is a few liners or a sentence that defines the study purpose, area of research and technique used in your PhD thesis or project. 

Your dissertation title or PhD title tell the reader about what a thesis is!, at a first glance. The poorly designed title may mislead readers, creates confusion and readers may lose interest. 

A PhD title is the heart of your entire PhD thesis. So there are several do’s and don’t to make a PhD title. 

Your PhD title must be self explanatory 

Your title should include a clear objectives of your thesis 

The title must be precise and descriptive. 

The title must be short and consistent 

Each word used in the title should reflect the work done in the thesis that is the main goal of it. Sometimes it happens that the title covers a small portion of your work but your research is actually more than that or vive verse. In both cases your title totally fails to define your work. 

What you have included in your title exactly the same amount of work will be there in your thesis because the evaluator wants exactly that.

See this example, “Cytological and microarray based aberrations analysis in eunuchs of Asia.” 

This is one title of a science thesis, A reader, evaluator or the examination preliminary look for the techniques that are cytogenetics and microarray must be used by the PhD student . Next, the research only includes a class of people including in the eunuch’s community and finally, they are geological from Asia only. 

All these should be there in your thesis in your abstract, introduction, material methods and results. 


The title should not be too long. 

The title should not mislead the readers 

Abbreviations should not be included in the titles

The title must not be teasing or abusive 

The title must be professional 

Briefly, the title must be of two lines (two lines looks good on a thesis) and most importantly can’t mislead readers. Furthermore, you have to understand that it’s a PhD title, not a blog article or youtube video, so it should be strictly professional.

“Studying third gender people using any of the three genetic techniques.”  

What do you think? Is it a good title? 

No, not at all. Nothing is specified in it, not a study population, not a technique or method or not even objectives, it is just a fancy, non-professional thumbnail. 

Take a look at another boring PhD title, 

“Studying third gender with genetic techniques.” again not specific and too short. It isn’t saying anything. 

Yet another horrible PhD title, “Genetic analysis and evaluation of the eunuchs of Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh by using the techniques like cytogenetics based on cell culture and microarray based on hybridization.” 

The core values of your thesis, principle and detailness should be reflected in your title but comprehensively, terms like genetic, name of the countries, cell culture and hybridization are not needed here. 

Though there is no thumb rule to tailor a title, you should follow the “do’s” what i had mentioned in the above section.

I want to mention one more thing that is, spelling mistakes & grammar errors are avoided, and the punctuation and capitalization should be used correctly. 

So broadly we can say that you aren’t so experienced enough to design a title for yourself. Therefore university allotted us a PhD supervisor or guide or advisor whatever you can call. 

In some universities, a title clearance committee is also allotted to closely monitor every title before starting the PhD work. 

Now let us talk about 10 of the genuine suggestions that may help you to design your PhD or dissertation title. 

Related article: Designing a PhD Project from Scrap to Craft .

10 genuine suggestions to design a PhD title:

Again, it makes the evaluator ready to understand that the result of this study is restricted to only a particular region. 

It’s a wise decision because in case if required, you can argue with the examiner that the study is restricted to a particular region due to so and so reasons (whatever it may).

The third thing is to mention your ‘subject’. A subject may be a person, a group of people, a region, a geological indication, an entire population, an organism or anything on which you are performing your research. 

Next, include the methodology or theory you will use during your PhD. The important point during designing the title is the methodology you are using. Indicate a method, instrument, theory or hypothesis. 

Methods to methods and instruments to instruments the results vary. For instance, in the genetic testing chromosomal analysis and DNA testing, both are included. So it doesn’t make a sense to use a broader term “genetic testing”. 

specify things! either you want to use DNA testing or chromosomal testing.

Exclude broad subject, landmark or region or study subject, otherwise, it may create problems for you during the evaluation process. 

Use capitalization when and if needed. Now this is an in general rule. You should have to use capitalization when required. 

Do not use short forms or abbreviations in the title, however, you can use global short forms like the DNA, RNA or IBM. 

Don’t copy the elements of the title from others. 

Plagiarism, knowingly or unknowingly is a common mistake during PhD, and during the initial period of PhD it is acceptable because you don’t know how to use other resources correctly. 

But the biggest problem arises when you copy someone else’s title, partially or fully, isn’t acceptable. Take a look at the example below, 

“Evaluation of COMT gene expression by RT-PCR from the iceberg population.” 

“Evaluation of COMT gene expression by RT-PCR from the population of california.”

Though the intention of both the researchers is similar, the study is different! But the title is partially copied and that is not acceptable. 

Although you are designing your study in accordance with some other research, you should have to construct a title differently like this,  

“Real-time quantification of the COMT gene in mentally retarded patients from California”. Now, this sounds good. You can acknowledge the original researcher but don’t copy the title. 

Why I am explaining every point so precisely is to make you understand the importance of how a PhD title can ruin your PhD. 

Let me tell you my personal story. A single word mistake in my title wasted the entire year. 

“Cytological and microarray based aberrations analysis in eunuchs of Asia.” This is my PhD thesis title. By mistake the word “aberrations” was removed from my final synopsis and the faulty title was submitted to university. 

During the final thesis submission, the title on my thesis and the title which the university had, didn’t match. And I got involved in big trouble!

I had written an apology cum appealing letter to the university, a committee of title reviewers re-reviewed my title and had given me their decision after 8 month. 

I had worked two more months to write my thesis again, and then I had submitted my thesis next year. 

However, after a few months the university apologized that it was not my fault but, i had paid a huge amount for that one mistake. A whole year! And so much tension. 

Got my point! 

Your PhD title matter’s a lot. In fact, some suvervisor literally register their PhD student’s title for not to use partially or fully. 

Now let us check out some of the coolest PhD titles. Note that these titles are used here only for information purposes not intended for research evaluation. 

“The depository system in India: An In depth study”

“Effect of Economic Factors on Primary Education: A Study from the USA.”

“Pollination Biology, Ultrastructure, Cytochemistry and Biochemistry during pollen-pistil Interaction of some poaceous plants.” 

“A detailed study of Emerging Trends in Customer Relationship Management.” 

“Ecology and Microbiology of Drinking Water sources in northern India.” 

“Metagenomic studies of Pond water from the state of New Jersy.” 

You can try out several titles by yourself and suggest your guide. Try this, 

Study/evaluation/quantification/measuring/mapping of _____________by _____________ from the ___________________. 

Fill our subject, method or technique and the territory you wish to study in the blanks, respectively. 

Mapping of soybean plant species through Random Amplification of polymorphic DNA from New zealand . 

Or you can try this 

A comparative studies of ___________________________ from the ____________ region. 

For example, A comparative study of the social behaviors of tribe culture from the Amazon jungle . 

The impact of _____________ and ____________________ on _______ economy/ history/education/politics etc. 

For example, The impact of dollar and gold price on Nepal economy. 


I hope that you have learned to design the PhD title and its importance for your research. This is just an effort from my side. 

PhD itself is the entire subject to learn because after all in the end you are becoming a doctor/ expert on your topic. So everything will be taken into account while giving a PhD degree. 

Nonetheless, along with your title, you should have to work on your thesis, research paper, lab work and viva preparation as soon as possible, in order to get a PhD degree early. 

Trust me, once you will be trapped in the clouds of problems, you get frustrated and leave PhD midway. 

So don’t do that!

Dr. Tushar Chauhan is a Scientist, Blogger and Scientific-writer. He has completed PhD in Genetics. Dr. Chauhan is a PhD coach and tutor.

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What is a PhD Thesis?

Anyone who decides to pursue a Ph.D. will be required to put a thesis together in order to be awarded a degree. Understanding this key component of a Ph.D. program is essential to decide whether this degree is in your future. Time, dedication and research are all required while composing a thesis.

Ph.D. Research

Harvard University Professor H.T. Kung details that students need to choose an area to research before getting into the process of examining a specific subject. The research topic must be very specialized for Ph.D. candidates, and students can expect to spend a lot of time building up general knowledge about the subject before moving to the in-depth research.

Becoming a serious researcher is not an easy transition for every Ph.D. candidate. However, successfully completing a Ph.D. program is dependent on a student's ability to learn how to conduct thorough, valid research. Professional publications are typically available to students through their university. A fee may be charged to every student attending a university to allow students to access subscriptions to research databases that are relevant to their major area of study.

It is important to remember to put some focus on newer technology when researching a subject. Research that only relates to the technologies that were available a decade ago will not provide valuable insights into the subject area. A Ph.D. thesis must provide new information or a different way of looking at a subject. Ph.D. candidates are expected to become experts in their area of study.

Formulating a Thesis Proposal

Students need to formulate a thesis proposal to present to professors for approval. This proposal must outline the question that the student intends to answer by conducting research. The University of Glasgow reminds Ph.D. candidates that their thesis is expected to contribute to the body of knowledge about a particular subject instead of simply reiterating information that is already known.

It is not necessary for students to talk about something that has never been discussed by academics in the past, but it is important for Ph.D. candidates to take a fresh approach to a subject. Deciding on a thesis requires a student to choose something that can be appropriately researched. However, students need to choose a specific topic instead of a broad subject matter.

Thesis Length

Many potential Ph.D. students are overwhelmed by the idea of writing a lengthy paper for their thesis. While a thesis does need to be long enough to thoroughly explore the topic at hand, the exact length of a Ph.D. thesis varies according to the school and program. For example, the University College of London School of Computer Science suggests a thesis length of 150 pages. Other schools may require as little as 50 pages, but students must be able to provide value to the reader in these 50 pages.

Writing a Ph.D. thesis is a difficult process, but the rewards of earning a Ph.D. are many. Students who graduate with this degree can become professors, researchers and top professionals in their chosen field.


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  1. Developing A Thesis

    A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should "telegraph" how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay. Steps in Constructing a Thesis First, analyze your primary sources. Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication.

  2. 10 tips for writing a PhD thesis

    Plan the structure of your thesis carefully with your supervisor. Create rough drafts as you go so that you can refine them as you become more focused on the write-up. Much of writing comprises rewriting so be prepared to rework each chapter many times. Even Ernest Hemingway said: "The first draft of everything is shit."

  3. How to Write a Thesis Statement

    A good thesis statement is a claim that requires further evidence or analysis to back it up. Coherent: Everything mentioned in your thesis statement must be supported and explained in the rest of your paper. Placement of the thesis statement The thesis statement generally appears at the end of your essay introduction or research paper introduction.

  4. Writing Strong Research Questions

    You can follow these steps to develop a strong research question: Choose your topic Do some preliminary reading about the current state of the field Narrow your focus to a specific niche Identify the research problem that you will address The way you frame your question depends on what your research aims to achieve.

  5. What makes a good PhD thesis? 7 clever aspects to perfect!

    What makes a good PhD thesis? 7 clever aspects to perfect! Andy Stapleton 102K subscribers 763 17K views 1 year ago In this video, I'm gonna discuss what makes a good PhD thesis! all of the...

  6. PDF How to write a good PhD thesis and survive the viva

    thesis with own contributions is expanded to two to three chapters. There is much freedom: a PhD thesis can have di erent parts, for example for theoretical and experimental work, or di erent parts for di erent methods. Consistent and coherent narrative. Ideally, PhD work leads to publications before the thesis is written.

  7. PDF How to Write a Good (no, Great) PhD Dissertation

    ^Oversell your thesis or its claims - be honest and you will be respected ^Use hyperbole (e.g., "highly reliable", "extremely efficient") ^Try to confuse the reader with big words - plain, simple English is best ^Try to sound like your thesis covers your entire field (unless it does, of course!) 14 Carnegie Mellon The Thesis ...

  8. What are the foundations of a good PhD?

    Characteristics of a good study: originality and theoretical underpinning. A PhD should make an original contribution to knowledge. Originality can be achieved through the study design, the nature or outcomes of the knowledge synthesis, or the implications for research and/or practice. 3 Disciplinary variation, however, influences the ...

  9. The Characteristics of a Good PhD Dissertation or Thesis

    The Characteristics of a Good PhD Dissertation or Thesis | by Management Writing Solutions | Medium Write Sign up Sign In 500 Apologies, but something went wrong on our end. Refresh the...

  10. What Makes A Good PhD Supervisor?

    A good PhD supervisor has a track record of supervising PhD students through to completion, has a strong publication record, is active in their research field, has sufficient time to provide adequate supervision, is genuinely interested in your project, can provide mentorship and has a supportive personality. Introduction

  11. How To Structure A PhD Thesis

    Highlight gaps, problems or shortcomings in existing research to show the original contribution that your thesis makes. Identify important studies, theories, methods or theoretical frameworks that can be applied in your research. There are nine steps involved in conducting a literature review: Pick a broad topic.

  12. What Is a PhD Thesis?

    The fundamental purpose of a thesis is to explain the conclusion that has been reached as a result of undertaking the research project. The typical PhD thesis structure will contain four chapters of original work sandwiched between a literature review chapter and a concluding chapter.

  13. How to Choose a Dissertation Topic For Your Doctoral Degree

    1. Develop a topic that will hold your interest. Determine what resources you have available—time, money, people—and choose a topic that isn't too resource-intensive. You'll be spending at least a year on a dissertation (or any large research project), so it has to be compelling enough to keep your attention. 2.

  14. Producing a successful PhD thesis

    A good thesis creates a portrait of an authoritative and competent researcher, and critical writing is crucial for building the examiners' confidence in the research undertaken. Publishable standard of the work

  15. What makes a good PhD supervisor? Top tips for managing the student

    At PhD level it is expected that you can work independently and can self-motivate. It is not your supervisor's job to chase you for chapter drafts or to motivate you to work. If you don't do the work when you're supposed to then it's your problem, not theirs. It's also not their job to proofread or edit your work.

  16. The PhD Thesis

    The PhD thesis is the most important part of a doctoral research degree: the culmination of three or four years of full-time work towards producing an original contribution to your academic field.

  17. 10 ingredients for a successful supervisor/PhD student relationship

    The student will respect the professor (who is usually is wiser and older) but starting from the reality that it is a relationship between equals. Mutual respect must be the basis for the relationship. 2. Inspiration and creation of ideas. The professor should be a source of inspiration and creation of ideas.

  18. Tips for writing a PhD thesis research methodology

    What is a PhD thesis research methodology? In an academic piece of work, whether a PhD thesis or a journal paper, the research methodology section involves all the steps carried out to conduct the research work. This involves a series of procedures done by the researcher, with the aim of fulfilling the research objectives.

  19. 10 Genuine Suggestions to Design a PhD Title

    The PhD title is a few liners or a sentence that defines the study purpose, area of research and technique used in your PhD thesis or project. Your dissertation title or PhD title tell the reader about what a thesis is!, at a first glance. The poorly designed title may mislead readers, creates confusion and readers may lose interest. A PhD ...

  20. What is a PhD Thesis?

    Anyone who decides to pursue a Ph.D. will be required to put a thesis together in order to be awarded a degree. Understanding this key component of a Ph.D. program is essential to decide whether this degree is in your future. Time, dedication and research are all required while composing a thesis.