ARTICLE 106: Research Methods for Ph. D and Master’s Degree Studies: The Layout of the Thesis or Dissertation: Essential Information in References: Part 2 of 2 Parts

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

I discuss the following aspects of essential information in references in this article:

  1. Using abbreviations, spacing and capitalisation.
  2. Alphabetical and chronological order.
  3. Anonymous publication.
  4. Pseudonymous publication.
  5. Association or university as the author.
  6. Conference papers and proceedings of conferences.
  7. Other sources of information.

Using abbreviations, spacing and capitalisation. You should avoid abbreviating periodical names because confusion may result with little saving of space. There are some differences in the meaning and use of abbreviations by different universities. Check the policies and procedures in use by the university where you are enrolled or would like to enrol for post-graduate studies and use them consistently and accurately.

The general rule for punctuation is to follow the abbreviated form with a full stop if the final letter is not the same as the final letter of the full form. However, an increasing tendency is to omit punctuation in such abbreviations. What is important is that you use the rule that you decide on consistently.

It is a good idea to use single-spaced entries for references, with double spacing between entries, because it is more readable. Names of authors stand out more clearly if references are entered using what is called a hanging indent. That is, indent the second and subsequent lines of each entry about 0.5 cm as illustrated below. However, check what the university where you study prefers.


Drieke, S. 2009. The shortage of science teachers. In L.L. Lalu (ed.) The Scarce and Critical Skills Needs Dilemma, Longman, Toronto.

In a list of references, title case is used for book titles and titles are italicised or underlined where an italic font is unavailable. Title case means capitalising all key words. You can also write book titles as they are typed on the book cover. If title case is used you also use it and if not, then you also do not. No italics or underlining is used for unpublished works. If a reference comprises more than one volume, the entry must state the total number of volumes comprising the reference.


Seepe, A. 2011. The Devolvement of Education in South African Universities (5 vols). University of Cape Town Press, Cape Town.

In the case of journal articles, the titles of journals are italicised and in title case. Titles of journal articles are in sentence case. That is, capitalise only first words, proper nouns and first words after a colon:


Shalem, P.T. 2008. The link between student identity and self-esteem among adults. South African Journal of Quality Assurance, 30 (5), 45-49.

Alphabetical and chronological order. To locate references quickly in an alphabetically ordered list of references, author’s names always appear with initials following the name. However, in all other cases such as names of editors and translators, initials precede the name. The determination of a strict alphabetical order can sometimes still be a problem. Mc and Mac are listed under M as though the prefix were spelled Mac; and surnames starting with St are treated as though they were given in full (i.e. Saint). The simple way to treat names such as de Jong, D’Orsogna, Le Thomas is to order them alphabetically starting with the first letter of the prefix. If in doubt, a telephone book or electoral roll may be a helpful guide, or simply let your computer software arrange the names alphabetically for you.

In the case of compounded surnames such as P.L. Lofty-Eaton, the name becomes Lofty-Eaton, P.L. and is placed in alphabetical order beginning with the initial letter of the first part of the surname. Initials help alphabetical ordering where names are identical, for example:

Singh, M.

Singh, P.

Stanton, A.

Stanton, E.

Stanton, K.

Where several references by the same author are listed, entries are ordered chronologically from oldest to most recent. If the same author wrote more than one book in the same year, the year can be followed by the letters of the alphabet starting with ‘a’. Often entries need to be ordered alphabetically within a chronological sequence, but in such cases, any works by a single author precede those works in which she or he is the senior co-author:

Majeke, P.S. 2005a. A Reflection on Transformation. Juta, Johannesburg.

Majeke, P.S. 2005b. Student Power, Action and Problems. Juta, Cape Town.

Majeke, P.S. and McFarlane, A.T. 2006. Contemporary Female Debates on Education. University Press, Oxford.

Majeke, P.S., Gibben, T. and Naidoo, R.W. 2004. Syndicate-based Peer Group Learning. Wadsworth, Belmont Canada.

Where you refer in the text to works by multiple authors, it is common practice to distinguish works by more than three authors from works by one, two or three authors. To avoid overburdening the text with names, you note in the in-text reference the first author only and, for the others, use the Latin abbreviation et al. (meaning ‘and others’). Thus, an in-text reference to a work by more than three authors might appear in one of the following forms:


Holtman et al. (2011) disagree with …

Other authors (e.g. Holtman et al.) disagree with …

It is not necessary to italicise the et al. because it is sufficiently common in English usage.

Anonymous publication. Works of anonymous authors are alphabetised under their titles:


Theories and models in distance education. 2011. The Performance Bulletin, 22 (7), 5 – 9.

A reference to this work in the text must use the title (or the first few words of the title in the case of longer titles) in place of the usual name:


Students must apply strict self-discipline if they are to achieve success in distance education (Theories and models in distance education. 2011).

If the author of an anonymous work is known, the name can be placed in square brackets and entered in the reference under the name:


[Sfard, O.] 2007. A Descriptive Reading of Academic Depth. African Trumpet, 11 (3), 13 – 15.

Pseudonymous publication. Pseudonymous works are listed under the pseudonym with the author’s name, where known, following in brackets:


Highflyer [G.J. Alexander] 2017. Touching the Ninth Cloud. Penquin, Johannesburg.

Again, square brackets are used. Citing this work in the text uses the pseudonym, not the author’s name, which is information that has been added. Thus, it can be used as follows:


Highflyer (2017) strikingly describes …

Association or university as the author. Where an association or university is the author, the name of the association or university appears in the author position. The abbreviation for the university may be placed in brackets where such information more readily identifies the university. If the association or university is both the author and publisher, it is best to repeat the information in author and publisher positions:

Example 1:

Association of Private Providers. 2019. Building Communities of Trust. (2nd ed.). Association of Private Providers. Johannesburg, South Africa.

Note that the country is added where other countries might have similarly named associations or universities. To cite such work in the text of the thesis or dissertation you need to follow the usual pattern with the association or university replacing the author.

Example 2:     

UNISA. 2019. Community Engagement in Social support Drives. UNISA. Pretoria.

UNISA is known well enough so that the full name need not be used and the city also need not be specified because “everybody” knows where UNISA is.

If there is no author given. Where there is no stated author, the title is placed in the author position:


The Impact of Learning Communities on Student Success. 2011. Naledi, Johannesburg.

Conference papers and proceedings of conferences. Papers presented at conferences have authors and a year followed by the title of the conference paper, name of the conference, conference venue and dates:


Solomons, E. 2020. Vandalism at South African Universities. Paper presented to a Conference on Skills Development, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, May 23 – 25.

Where proceedings of a conference are published, referencing follows the practice of an article in an edited work, with the association and venue for the conference included in the reference:


Steyn, M. 2018. The Impact of Changing Funding Source on Higher Education. In J.P. Red and W. Blue (eds.), Funding Lifelong Learning. UCT Press, Cape Town, Proceedings of the UCT 23rd International Congress on Lifelong Learning. Cape Town, April 23-27.

To reference conference papers as well as unpublished papers, theses, and newspaper articles the form of referencing in the text follows the typical pattern:


According to Steyn (2018) it is becoming …

Other sources of information. There are several other sources of information that you probably will use. If in doubt, always follow the ‘standard format’. The following are such references:

  • A thesis is not considered published material. Therefore, titles are not italicised or underlined and are in sentence case. Some universities, however, might have different policies in this respect.
  • Magazines and newspapers are arranged and printed much the same as periodicals. Therefore, they are treated similarly to periodicals except that it is normal to put the abbreviation p, or pp. in front of the page numbers as appropriate to avoid confusion with volume or issue numbers.
  • The basic format for films, videotapes, CDs or any other electronic source is similar to any other source except that one can add film, videotape, CD, etc. in square brackets after the title.


You should avoid abbreviating periodical names.

Single-spaced entries for references with double spacing between entries are preferred by many universities.

All key words can be capitalised, or titles can be typed as they are in the original sources.

Author’s names are used to list references in alphabetical order.

Works of anonymous authors are alphabetised under their titles.

Pseudonymous works are listed under the pseudonym with the author’s name, where known, following in brackets.

Where an association or university is the author, the name of the association or university appears in the author position.

Where there is no author given, the title is placed in the author position.

Papers presented at conferences have authors and a year followed by the title of the conference paper, name of the conference, conference venue and dates.

If you use a source that does not fit any of the given types, you should stay as close to the standard format as possible.


You must read the referencing policy of the university where you study, because:

  1. Some academics regard using Latin abbreviations as outdated.
  2. Mixed referencing approaches are sometimes allowed.
  3. Universities sometimes develop their own referencing systems.
  4. Referencing online sources introduced a new challenge to consistent referencing.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 6: The Layout and Structure of a Table of Contents for a Ph. D. Research Proposal

Written by Dr J.P. Nel


The table of contents is your first opportunity to impress upon the Postgraduate Committee and your study leader the importance and value of your planned research.

Especially experienced professors often claim that they can already see if your study proposal is viable or not by just looking at the table of contents.

Just to avoid confusion – you can have two tables of content in your research proposal. The first would be the table of contents for the proposal itself and the second can be the proposed table of contents for your research report.

In this post, I will share with you hints on what you should write under each heading of your table of content to gain the approval of the Postgraduate Committee and your study leader.

The table of contents

To begin with, here is an example of a table of contents for a research proposal.

Table of Contents

                                                                                                Page no

1     Introduction                                                                          1

1.1  Introduction to the problem                                                 1

1.2  The Primary Focus of the Study                                           2

1.3  The Importance of the Problem                                            2

1.4  Definition of the Problem                                                       3

1.5  Definition of Concepts                                                           3

1.6  The Motivation for the Study                                                 5

1.7  Current Knowledge of the Problem                                      5

1.8  Potential Benefits of the Research                                       6

2     Research Design                                                                 7

2.1  The Research Approach                                                       7

2.2  Research Methodology                                                         8

2.3  Data-collection Strategy                                                         9

2.4  Ethical Issues for Consideration                                           10

2.5  Proposed Chapter-outline and Deadline Dates                  11

3     References                                                                            12

4     Definitions                                                                             13

5     Quick Reference Manual                                                    14      

You will notice that the research proposal consists of three main sections, namely the introduction, the body and supplementary information.

In the introduction, you should discuss the context and purpose of your planned research.

In the body, you should discuss how you will approach and conduct the research.

Supplementary information should lend authenticity and validity to your proposal.

1     Introduction                                                                         

1.1  Introduction to the problem

See if you can here already impress upon the Postgraduate Committee the importance of the study by discussing your ideas in the context of your planned target group or target area.

You should link your introduction to the environmental factors that you regard as wonting and show how your research can solve problems in that context.

Do not criticize if you do not have facts to substantiate your claims.

1.2  The Primary Focus of the Study

Keep in mind that your research proposal, like your eventual research report, should follow the so-called golden thread that runs through your study.

To achieve this, let the environment and context that you discussed in the introduction to the problem develop into your focus for the study.

After all, you should focus on the research problem if you are to solve it.

1.3  The Importance of the Problem

Link the importance of the problem with the previous issue, that is the focus of your study. Discuss why the problem is important and who will benefit if the problem is solved.

Do not claim over-emotional problems. Always reason in an objective and professional manner.

It is especially when you choose a critical paradigm, for example, critical theory, critical race theory, or feminism that researches sometimes can ignore the facts to prove a point about which they feel strongly.

1.4  Definition of the Problem

Please do not now define a problem that has no relevance to what you discussed so far. Your problem statement, problem question or hypothesis should follow from what you already wrote.

The research approach that you will follow will largely decide if you will define a research problem, research question or hypothesis.

You will probably formulate a hypothesis if you intend to use quantitative research.

You will probably formulate a research problem or research question if you intend to use a qualitative approach.

You can have more than one research problem or question, but don’t list too many. I would suggest not more than three.

1.5  Definition of Concepts

The definition of concepts is a challenge even in the policies and procedures for Ph.D. and master’s degree studies of universities and other research organisations.

That is why you will need to explain what you mean by key terms and concepts.

Once you have explained what you mean by such terms and concepts, you must apply the meanings consistently.

1.6  The Motivation for the Study

The motivation for the study links up with the importance of the study. The importance of the study is mostly also the motivation for the study.

You should not use something like “It is important because my dad wants me to study for a Ph.D.” as a motivation for the study.

Your motivation for the study should reflect the needs of the community, a sponsor, the academic fraternity, even perhaps the entire world.

The potential value of your study should invite acceptance, validity and sincerity.

1.7  Current Knowledge of the Problem

It would be risky to choose a research topic about which you know nothing.

You will probably need to do some prior studying and you should provide evidence of such prior knowledge and, perhaps, experience.

You can also mention the profiles of the individuals or organisations who will be involved in your research if it is relevant.

Just keep in mind that they cannot do your research for you.

1.8  Potential Benefits of the Research

Your research must have theoretical value, practical value and scientific value.

Theoretical value would be the new knowledge that will result from your research.

Practical value would be what can be applied in the industry.

Scientific value can be to the benefit of a field of science.

Theoretical, practical and scientific value can form the basis for future research.

2     Research Design                                                                

2.1  The Research Approach

You should mention if you will do quantitative or qualitative research.

Briefly explain why you chose the approach that you did.

You can also discuss the paradigmatic approach that you will follow here, or you can discuss it under a separate heading, also here.

2.2  Research Methodology

Make sure that the research methodology that you will use is reconcilable with the research approach that you chose.

2.3  Data-collection Strategy

Data collection strategies are often regarded as research methods.

I don’t think this is a serious problem because data collection strategies are, indeed, often also research methods.

Then again, not all data collection strategies go with all research methods or even research approaches.

This, however, is also not a serious problem.

You will learn that what you intended to do cannot be done once you get to the point where you need to do the research and collect the data.

2.4  Ethical Issues for Consideration

We will discuss ethical issues in much more detail in a future post because ethics in Ph.D. are a mouthful. It includes issues such as being honest, protecting the identity of people involved in your research, not committing plagiarism, trust, deception, legality, professionalism and many more.

2.5  Proposed Chapter-outline and Deadline Dates

The proposed chapter outline can be a provisional table of contents for your research report.

You will also need to provide deadline dates for your research.

We will discuss the chapter-outline and deadline dates separately in future posts.

3     References

You can have a separate heading for literature study in which you list the references that you already consulted and a list of references for your research proposal.

Don’t list references that you did not use. If you list references that you did not use yet in your literature study, you will need to point this out.

4     Definitions and a Quick Reference Manual

You might have separate headings for references and a quick reference manual.

Not all study leaders will allow this, though.

Definitions and the quick reference manual are mostly there to help you maintain consistency in your writing.

Summary and close

In summary:

  1. If your research proposal does not show that your research topic is important and that you can do the research, the Postgraduate Committee will probably not approve your application.
  2. Keep your research proposal sufficiently simple for you to understand everything that you write.
  3. Make sure that you know what the university will require you to cover in your research proposal.
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