ARTICLE 108: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Reviewing the Thesis or Dissertation Part 2 of 3 Parts

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Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Do you think it will be easy to disprove or improve upon existing knowledge and theories?

And if your ideas are good or perhaps even brilliant, is it necessary to pay attention to trivial matters such as spelling and grammar?

Is it necessary to have your thesis or dissertation language edited if English is your first language?

I discuss reviewing the relevance of your research arguments and language usage in this article.

Relevance of ideas in the literature

A thesis or dissertation cannot apply to every possible field of study. Furthermore, research should be placed within the context of the general body of scientific knowledge, and you will need to show where your report fits into the picture. This is especially important in research on doctoral level because of the requirement to develop new knowledge or the widening of existing knowledge.

You cannot even start doing research without having an idea that you would like to investigate. Some students find this first step rather challenging. However, creative students mostly do not see this as a challenge. Almost any event or even physical object can trigger an idea for a research project. The difficulty or ease of a research project largely depends on how accessible information on the topic is. You can complete a research project quickly and with little effort if information is easy to find. However, it is mostly the difficult projects, where information is sparse or hard to gain access to, that mostly pose problems to be resolved through research. These are often also the topic in which research is needed the most.

You should indicate what the purpose of your study is early in your thesis or dissertation. On doctoral level you should do this in your research proposal already. Once your purpose with the research is clear, you also need to link what you have in mind with existing knowledge and research previously done. If relevant, you should also point out what, in your opinion, is wrong or flawed in current knowledge and philosophy. Such flaws can often serve as a motivation why the research that you wish to do is important and relevant.

You may feel the need to challenge previous research and its findings, in the event of which you should carefully review the studies that have led to the acceptance of those ideas. You may also now already point out why you disagree with previous research and then embark on your investigation to prove a hypothesis or problem statement or solve a problem question.

You might have discovered that previous researchers disagree about a certain topic, event, procedure, phenomenon, philosophy, value system, etc. Previous researchers might also contradict one another in their findings and resulting points of view.

It might be your intention to study a particular topic further in the hope of finding evidence that would support one of the opposing points of view, or even evidence that would show that a completely different point of view is correct. You should already focus your initial literature study on the collection of data that would support your hypothesis, problem statement or problem question. It might be necessary to briefly state the research supporting one view, then summarise the research opposing it or supporting a different view, and finally suggest the reasons for the disagreement.

Your summary of existing literature should contain sufficient information to serve as a foundation of your further study, and to serve as a valid and accurate account of the point of view that you disagree with. Although it should not be so long that it creates the impression that you are supporting the stance, it should also not be so limited that you misrepresent the findings of previous researchers.

You should also mention literature that you consulted, that is sufficiently balanced to show that you have a good understanding of the previous work, without denying you an opportunity to improve on what you consider as flawed, insufficient or false knowledge. The sources that you consulted should be included in the bibliography at the end of your thesis or dissertation, and the review of the literature should include only sources that you used and that have relevance to your research.

Researchers often wonder what comes first – theory or ideas. Some feel that ideas should be based on theory while others feel that theory originates from ideas. Both arguments probably hold some truth. Especially research on Ph. D. level should be founded on existing theory and result in new theory, thereby creating a spiral of growth in the knowledge at our disposal in a particular discipline.        

Reviewing language usage

You should have your thesis or dissertation language edited. Most students will be able to check their own work, especially because the study leader in such an instance should focus on the content and not on language proficiency, unless the thesis or dissertation is one on languages.

Proofread your thesis or dissertation and have it language-edited at least once before submitting it for final assessment. Every word needs to be checked carefully. Spelling checks on computer do not identify all spelling errors. For example, if you misspelled “with” as “wit” the computer will not pick up the error because “wit” is also an English word. Also, errors in the spelling of names will not be indicated. Make a special check of the correct syllabic division of words at the end of lines if words have been split between lines. And of course, you must check for grammar and syntax errors.

You may use the services of a professional language editor. Even so, it is a good idea to also ask a friend, colleague or family member to go through the thesis or dissertation.

You should check the spelling of unusual words in an authoritative dictionary. For questions of punctuation, capitalisation, hyphenation and abbreviation, reference should be made to a recognised text of English language usage. Word processing software makes light work of much of the careful checking necessary in the draft thesis or dissertation.

A spelling checker will detect most (but not all) spelling and typing errors while the find and replace facility helps to achieve consistency as, for example, in replacing all z spelling by s (U.S. versus U.K. English) or ensuring that words like programme (or program) are spelled consistently throughout the thesis or dissertation.


It is almost always necessary to articulate academic research to the context of scientific knowledge.

You need to know what you are hoping to achieve with your research before you can start conducting research.

Once you know the purpose of your research, your next challenge is to collect and analyse relevant data.

You should use current knowledge as the foundation upon which to build your research.

You might regard it necessary to critically analyse current knowledge and theories.

You must acknowledge the literature and other data sources that you consulted.

You should have your thesis or dissertation language edited.

And you should check for:

  1. Spelling and typing errors.
  2. Syllabic division of words at the end of lines if words have been divided between lines.
  3. Grammar and syntax errors.
  4. Punctuation, capitalisation, hyphenation and abbreviation.
  5. Consistency.


It is often necessary to analyse existing knowledge and theories critically to develop new knowledge.

However, guard against underestimating the quality of the research done by academics in the past.

And your embarrassment will be further compounded if your thesis or dissertation is full of language errors.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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