Preparing a thesis

Guidance on writing your thesis and the support available.


Covid-19: Thesis submission information

The aims of a doctoral thesis are to make an original contribution to knowledge and demonstrate that its author has gained the necessary knowledge of the discipline as well as technical ability to become an independent researcher.

With this in mind, the emphasis should always be on quality and not quantity. The limitations brought by the Covid 19 global pandemic have exacerbated the need to focus on these elements. UKRI has recently issued guidance advising students to adjust their projects to complete a doctoral-level qualification within the funded period.

Similarly, the University of Sheffield has issued guidance to students indicating that it is acceptable to amend projects to suit current circumstances, even though they may be rather different to what was initially planned. The pandemic has changed ways of working throughout the globe, and adjustments to PGR projects are just a part of it. Students will be given the option to provide information to examiners on the impact Covid has had their projects.

Covid impact form (Word, 16KB)

Examiners, in turn, will be reminded of the University guidance that "judgement of the thesis should be based on what may reasonably be expected of a diligent and capable candidate after completion of the prescribed period of research and with due regard to the University’s criteria for the award of the degree".

English language requirements

Theses should normally be written in English. In exceptional circumstances, a student may request permission from their Faculty to present a thesis that is written in another language where there is a clear academic justification for doing so, eg. where the language is directly linked to the research project, or where there is a clear benefit to the impact and dissemination of the research.

Likewise, the oral examination should normally be conducted in English, except in cases where there are pedagogic reasons for it to be held in another language, or where there is a formal agreement in place that requires the viva to be conducted in another language. Permission should be sought from the appropriate faculty for a viva to be conducted in a language other than English.

Guidance on writing the thesis

The main source of advice and guidance for students beginning to write their thesis is the supervisor. Students should discuss the proposed structure of the thesis with their supervisor at an early stage in their research programme, together with the schedule for its production, and the role of the supervisor in checking drafts. Supervisors should be prepared to advise on such matters as undertaking a literature review, referencing and formatting the thesis, and on what should or should not be included in the thesis, including any supplementary material, eg. CDs or DVDs or any non-standard material.

Additional support is also available via the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC), which offers academic writing and thesis writing courses. In addition, the University offers a Thesis Mentoring programme (Staff/PGR login required) to help students to better manage the process of writing their thesis.

Students may also find it helpful to consult theses from the same subject discipline that are available in institutional repositories such as White Rose Etheses Online or via the British Library’s EThOS service.

Students who intend to include in their thesis any material owned by another person should consider the copyright implications at an early stage and should not leave this until the final stages of completing the thesis. The correct use of third-party copyright material and the avoidance of unfair means are taken very seriously by the University. Attendance at a copyright training session offered by the Library is strongly recommended.

Use of copyright material

Students should take care to ensure that the identification of any third party individuals within their thesis (eg. participants in the research), is only done with the informed consent of those individuals, and in recognition of any potential risks that this may present to them. This is especially important in view of the fact that an electronic copy of the thesis will normally be made publicly available via the White Rose Etheses Online repository.

Acceptable support in writing the thesis

It is acceptable for a student to receive the following support in writing the thesis from the supervisory team (that is additional to the advice and/or information outlined above), if the supervisory team has considered that this support is necessary:

  • Where the meaning of the text is not clear the student should be asked to re-write the text in question in order to clarify the meaning.
  • English language: If the meaning of the text is unclear, the supervisory team can provide support in correcting grammar and sentence construction in order to ensure that the meaning of the text is clear. If a student requires significant support with written English above what is considered to be correcting grammar and sentence construction, the supervisory team will, at the earliest opportunity, request that the student obtains remedial tuition support from the University’s English Language Teaching Centre.
  • The supervisory team cannot rewrite text that changes the meaning of the text (ghostwriting/ghost authorship in a thesis is unacceptable).
  • The supervisory team can provide guidance on the structure, content and expression of writing.
  • The supervisory team can proofread the text.
  • Anyone else who may be employed or engaged to proofread the text is only permitted to change spelling and grammar and must not be able to change the content of the thesis.

The Confirmation Review and the oral examination are the key progression milestones for testing whether a thesis is a student's own work.

Requests for an extension to a student’s time limit in order for the student to improve their standard of written English in the thesis will not be approved. Students who require additional language support should be signposted to appropriate sources of help at an early stage in their degree to avoid such a situation occurring.

Word count

The University does not have any regulatory requirements governing the length of theses, but the following Faculties have established guidelines:

  • Arts and Humanities: 40,000 words (MPhil); 75,000 words (PhD)
  • Medicine, Dentistry and Health: 40,000 words (MPhil); 75,000 words (PhD, MD)
  • Science: 40,000 words (MPhil); 80,000 words (PhD)
  • Social Sciences: 40,000 words (MPhil); 75,000-100,000 words (PhD)

The above word counts exclude footnotes, bibliography and appendices. Where there are no guidelines, students should consult the supervisor as to the length of thesis appropriate to the particular topic of research.

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