Preparation of theses

Students are advised to familiarise themselves with the following sections before commencing work on the preparation of their thesis. They are also advised to consult their supervisor regarding any subject-specific aspects of the thesis, for example the inclusion of photographs or diagrams or the presentation of supplementary information such as CDs or DVDs. Permission to submit non-standard material should be gained by the student's supervisor from Faculty prior to the thesis being submitted to Research Services.

A doctoral candidate must satisfy the examiners that the thesis forms an addition to knowledge, shows evidence of systematic study and of the ability to relate the results of such study to the general body of knowledge in the subject, and is worthy of publication either in full or in an abridged form.  The format of the thesis must also demonstrate that it is a coherent body of work. 

Language of the thesis

The thesis should normally be written in English. Exceptionally, and with the permission of the Faculty, a student may present a thesis that is written in another language where this is of demonstrable significance to the impact and dissemination of the research.

Writing the thesis

The main source of advice and information for students beginning to write their thesis is the supervisor. It is important that students discuss the 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.  The supervisor will also advise on such matters as undertaking a literature review, referencing and formatting the thesis, and generally on what should or should not be included in the thesis.

A number of University courses are available that might prove helpful to students, e.g. academic writing courses run by the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC). There are also units in the DDP on thesis production.

Many students have found it helpful to meet with people who have recently submitted their thesis and can therefore pass on their experience first-hand. Academic departments may be able to facilitate this. It is normally also possible to consult recently submitted theses that are available in institutional repositories such as White Rose Etheses Online or via the British Library’s EThOS service.

Preparation for including in the thesis material owned by another person should be considered at an early stage of the research and should not wait 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 and attendance at a copyright training session offered by the Library is strongly encouraged (see 'Use of copyright material').

Students should take care to ensure that the identification of any third party individuals within their thesis (e.g. 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.

Early familiarity with the software packages a student will use to produce the thesis will prove helpful. The University's Managed computing network hosts a whole range of software that may be of help to research students, over and above the Microsoft Office suite.

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:

  1. Where the meaning of text is not clear the student should be asked to re-write the text in question in order to clarify the meaning;
  2. English language: If the meaning of text is unclear, the supervisory team can provide support in correcting grammar and sentence construction in order to ensure that the meaning of 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, require the student to obtain remedial tuition support from the University’s English Language Teaching Centre);
  3. The supervisory team cannot re-write text that changes the meaning of the text (ghost writing/ghost authorship in a thesis is unacceptable);
  4. The supervisory team can provide guidance on the structure, content and expression of writing;
  5. The supervisory team can proof-read the text.
  6. Anyone else who may be employed or engaged to proof read 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 viva are the key progression milestones for testing whether a thesis is a student's own work.

A request for an extension of time limit, beyond the time limit for the research degree programme, should not be made if the request is only to allow the student more time to improve the standard of written English in the thesis.

Word limits

No University regulation exists governing the length of theses, although a number of Faculties and departments have established guidelines. Where these are not available, the student should consult the supervisor as to the length of thesis appropriate to his/her particular topic of research. It should, however, be noted that brevity achieved without sacrifice of clarity is a virtue much appreciated by examiners. The following Faculties have guidelines on thesis length:

  • Arts & Humanities - 40,000 words (MPhil) 75,000 words (PhD)
  • Medicine, Dentistry & 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 limits exclude footnotes, bibliography and appendices.


Accurate and consistent referencing is an essential part of your thesis. In the first instance, students are advised to consult with their supervisor regarding acceptable methods of referencing in their discipline (i.e. the presentation of footnotes, bibliography, appendices, etc).  Online referencing tutorials are also available.

Online referencing tutorials

Please contact the librarian for your subject for further help.

List of subject specialist librarians