ARTICLE 109: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Reviewing the Thesis or Dissertation Part 3 of 3 Parts

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

As a last snippet of information on writing and reviewing a thesis or dissertation, I briefly discuss the following salient issue in this article:

  1. The title page for thesis or dissertation.
  2. Proofreading the manuscript.
  3. Adding appendices to a thesis or dissertation.
  4. Using a review checklist.
  5. Presentation of the thesis or dissertation.

The title page

The title should convey clearly and succinctly the topic being researched. Avoid obscure and unnecessarily lengthy titles. Some universities recommend that titles should not exceed 15 words. Start off with a working title and revisit and reformulate as you read for greater focus.


Proofreading is primarily about searching for errors, both grammatical and typographical, before submitting your manuscript to a study leader. You need to take note of the technical and editorial requirements for a thesis or dissertation as prescribed by the university.

Do not underestimate the importance of proofreading. It does not matter how good your langue proficiency is, you should still have your thesis or dissertation language-edited. Language editors can also make mistakes and miss errors, therefore you should still personally read the final draft of your thesis with utmost care, correcting all typing errors before you present the completed thesis to your study leader.

It helps to determine in advance what to look for when proofreading your manuscript. This process of individualisation can be done by preparing a checklist of criteria against which you can test your work.

Experienced researchers will know what common errors and flaws to look out for and they can often search for these by computer, thereby rendering the proofreading process more efficient and effective than if they were to blindly read the entire manuscript. Even so, it is always a good idea to read everything as many times as you possibly can. It also helps to ask somebody else to critically read the manuscript because we tend to miss our own mistakes. You should find out what your typical problem areas are and look for each type of error individually. There is no single right way in which to do proofreading, so the following are just guidelines:

  1. Find out what errors you typically make. This is something that comes with experience and writing even just one thesis or dissertation will already give you a good idea of the kind of errors that you tend to make repeatedly. Your study leader can point out such bad habits and help you understand why you make the errors so that you can learn to be on the lookout for them and to avoid them.
  2. Learn how to fix your common errors. Use a structured proofreading process. Some students prefer to read the assignment or thesis from the back to the front, others read chapters or sections in a specific sequence, others read word-by word (which is very time-consuming, but effective). Review your study leader’s comments about your writing and/or have your thesis or dissertation reviewed by a language editor. Learn what facilities your computer and software offer you with which you can correct errors more quickly.
  3. Take a break. Allow yourself time between writing and proofreading. It is not healthy to sit behind your desk all day, especially if you work on computer. Besides, taking a short break every hour or so will help you get some distance from, and allow you time to think about what you have written. Any researcher can testify that taking a break and sleeping on a challenge can do wonders to findings solutions to challenges, and seeing what you have written more clearly in your mind.
  4. Leave yourself enough time to review what you have written. Working against time seldom, if ever, works when writing and proofreading. Deep thinking is necessary, and it requires thinking about what you have written and the message that you wish to convey. Reading what you have written critically will help you to see a multitude of possible errors, such as cognitive dissonance, spelling errors, typing errors, subjectivity and many more. Always read through your writing slowly and think about what you have written. If you read at normal speed, you will not give your eyes and mind sufficient time to spot errors.
  5. Read aloud when you are alone. Reading aloud encourages you to read word by word. This is rather strenuous and almost impossible for most people who need to read hundreds of pages. However, it is effective when you find a sentence, paragraph or argument difficult to understand. Besides, any statement that you find difficult to understand will most certainly also confuse and frustrate those who read it but did not write it. It might even be an indication of plagiarism. Therefore, such sentences, paragraphs or arguments should be reformulated, motivated, explained or omitted.
  6. Role-play and “predict”. Especially procedures can be tested by simulating them. You should also try to foresee how your study leader will react to what you have written. It would be irresponsible to submit work that you know is not good enough, especially if you know that the chances are good that the study leader will not be satisfied with it. You should also think how other readers will respond to your work. If you doubt that they will understand, agree with or like your arguments, you will need to change them or motivate them as well as you possibly can.
  7. Ask others for feedback. Asking a friend, your wife or husband, a colleague or a language editor to read your manuscript will let you get another perspective on your writing. A different reader will be able to help you catch mistakes that you might have overlooked, although people close to you might not always be completely honest and objective in their feedback.


Make use of appendices to provide the reader with evidence that substantiates arguments made in the thesis or dissertation but is too long to include in the body. Appendices can also explain long processes and provide additional and complete information on aspects that appear in the main text that are too long to include in a specific chapter or section. Appendices should be numbered.

A review checklist

It is unlikely that your study leader or any of the external assessors will use a checklist to assess your thesis or dissertation. They are mostly experienced academics and deficiencies in your work are likely to attract their attention. Even so, you can use a checklist to spot most of the deficiencies that they might find.

Presentation of the thesis or dissertation

Dissemination is the process by which you communicate your thesis or dissertation, its findings and recommendations, to other potentially interested parties. You might need to present your findings to the following possible interested parties before and after you have submitted your thesis or dissertation for graduation purposes:

  1. within your organisation,
  2. to meetings where people from similar organisations and fields of interest gather,
  3. to your union branch,
  4. to professional associations,
  5. to a local adult education group, and
  6. at national or international conferences.

There are also various formats in which you might present your work, for example as a lecture (or series of lectures), at a seminar, at a workshop, etc. Whichever format you adopt, you will need to give some thought (and practice) to how you present, particularly if you have not done this kind of thing before.

Really confident and eloquent speakers can just sit or stand and talk for however much time is needed or available; or, at least, they seem to be able to do so. Most of us, however, need supports of some kind or another.

The days of ‘chalk and talk’ seem now long gone, and even overhead transparencies are already old fashioned. The more dynamic speakers can still work wonders with a flipchart and pens, scribbling down ideas and issues as they arise. PowerPoint presentation is currently in fashion, but you should be careful not to overdo it or to use it incorrectly, for example by writing everything on slides and then reading off from them. Whatever form of presentation you adopt, planning and practice will be necessary.  


The title of your thesis must be clear, short, and relevant to the topic of your research.

You should personally proofread the manuscript for your thesis or dissertation.

Check for grammar and typographical errors.

Make sure that you meet the technical and editorial requirements of the university.

You should have your manuscript language-edited.

You can use dedicated computer software and a checklist to proofread your manuscript.

The following guidelines can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your proofreading:

  1. Find out what errors you typically make.
  2. Learn how to fix your common errors.
  3. Take a break.
  4. Leave yourself enough time to review what you have written.
  5. Read aloud when you are alone.
  6. Role-play and “predict”.
  7. Ask others for feedback.

Check that you use appendices to substantiate arguments, explain long processes and to provide additional information.

You should disseminate your thesis or dissertation to other potential and real interested parties.


This is the last of the 109 videos and articles on research methodology that I made and posted.

I will now prepare a ten to twenty question test on each video.

Those of you who watched the videos on the Mentornet online platform ( can do the tests at no additional cost. You can repeat the tests as many times as you wish and, once you have successfully completed all 109 tests, you will automatically be issued with a Mentornet Proficiency Certificate in Research Methodology.

Study leaders and lecturers who are in the know will know that you not only worked through the entire research process on master’s and doctoral level, but also that you understand the concepts and processes.

You can also gain access to the videos for free on YOUTUBE. However, here we post only one video per week.

Also, you will, unfortunately, not be able to do the tests if you did not watch the videos on the Mentornet online platform.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

Continue Reading

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

Lifestyle, study. Beautiful girl with a book

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.

Continue Reading

ARTICLE 107: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Reviewing the Thesis or Dissertation Part 1 of 3 Parts


Hello I am Hannes Nel

I discuss the review of the thesis or dissertation separately to ensure that the review process receives the attention that it deserves and is not swamped by other, technical aspects of academic research.

However, keep in mind that the review process is part of writing the thesis or dissertation.

Review is a task that you will continue throughout the duration of writing your thesis or dissertation. It begins with checking if the topic of your choice still makes sense and if the thesis or dissertation satisfies the research problem, question or hypothesis. You also need to check carefully that the proposed study has not previously been undertaken. You would probably have done this already when you prepared your research proposal but might have discovered similar or overlapping theses or dissertations while collecting data for your research. This is especially important in the case of doctoral studies, where you are supposed to contribute to the currently available knowledge in a particular field.

Once you are satisfied that there is a need for your research, you still need to check that the literature study that you did satisfactorily serves as a solid theoretical foundation for your investigation. You could not have researched a topic without gaining a good measure of knowledge and understanding of the discipline. If necessary, this might be your last opportunity to improve the theoretical foundation of your research. 

The purpose of a review

There are many different review methods used with different purposes in mind. We already discussed the initial literature review which you should do when preparing or perhaps even before you prepare your research proposal. In this instance your purpose was to demonstrate to your readers that you have sufficient knowledge of the topic to do the research. You also needed to do the initial literature review to enrich your own knowledge and understanding of the topic of your research. It is true that you should have a good knowledge and, perhaps, experience in the field of your research. However, we can and should always learn. Besides, research on especially doctoral level is done to create new knowledge or at least to add to the currently available knowledge. This means that you will embark on an investigation of a topic that was not previously studied, at least not in terms of the purpose of your research. Even so, you will need current knowledge as your starting point.

Now that you are finalising your research, you will do the review to identify any gaps in your thesis or dissertation. Gaps can be simple typing, spelling or grammar errors; not acknowledging all references; incomplete information, arguments, conclusions or recommendations; flaws in the structure of the document or in the usage of research methodology; cognitive flaws; a problem statement, research question or hypothesis that has not been satisfactorily answered.

One useful way of thinking about the purpose of the review is to consider whether your aim is primarily aggregative or interpretive. Aggregative syntheses focus on summarising data, and they may often be organised around evaluating the effectiveness of various interventions or programmes. Interpretive syntheses are concerned with the development of concepts and the specification of theories that integrate those concepts. It involves generating concepts that have maximum explanatory value. The distinction between an aggregative and an interpretive synthesis is largely a heuristic one; the difference is one of emphasis. The sum of aggregative synthesis and interpretive synthesis is often generalisation.

A review should be based on a review question or questions, that is what you hope to achieve with the review. It works well to prepare criteria that you will use to review the thesis or dissertation. The criteria should, of course, help you to satisfy your review question. Your review question will probably be something like: “Has the purpose of the research been achieved?” Review criteria can be developed in the form of binary questions under specific headings. Here is an example of such criteria and questions:

Review question: Has the purpose of the research been achieved?

Criterion 1: Has the thesis or dissertation been professionally and logically structured?

  1. Is the study contextualised?
  2. Has the research methodology been discussed?
  3. Has a theoretical foundation been established?
  4. Etc.

Criterion 2: Has a suitable research method been used?

  1. Is the chosen research method suitable for the type of research?
  2. Has a data-collection strategy been given?
  3. Are the data collection tools suitable for the collection of valid data?
  4. Etc.

Criterion 3: Did you come to logical conclusions and did you make valuable recommendations?

  1. Has the status quo been analysed in sufficient depth?
  2. Have valid and valuable conclusions be drawn?
  3. Have viable recommendations been made?
  4. Etc.

The relevance of sources

Sources consulted must be relevant to the problem statement. We usually make use of primary, secondary and tertiary sources when doing research. Primary sources of information include the notes and reports prepared by the researcher who conducted an experiment in the case of quantitative research or investigated a phenomenon or event in the case of qualitative research. These are popularly called first-hand accounts and are captured in articles in professional journals, monographs, doctoral or master’s theses, assignments, interview reports and questionnaires,  original works (letters, diaries, eyewitness accounts, poems, novels, autobiographies) and other reports (proceedings of parliament, court testimony, reports of government departments and agencies, annual reports, minutes, etc.).

Secondary sources of information originate from primary sources. They are often simple relays, summaries, deconstructions or perhaps even reconstructions of information gathered from primary sources. Examples of secondary sources include translations, summaries, research reviews, abstracts, articles on the findings of a research project, discussions of research findings or procedures, etc.

Textbooks are the most used tertiary sources of information. Although they can be written from primary sources of information, most researchers need to fall back on secondary sources because of time, access and other constraints and because the original source material may be lost. Tertiary sources of information are, unfortunately, often old, but can still be useful in providing an overview or broad summary of a field and to obtain foundational information, such as definitions, principles, guidelines, historical developments, etc. They may even be acceptable as references because some textbooks become acknowledged as authorities. However, there is no substitute for consulting primary sources if these are available, and postgraduate work in most subject areas demands it.

Always keep in mind that, eventually, you need to go beyond the sources that you consulted. Especially in doctoral studies, you need to create new knowledge. This means that you will use existing knowledge to provide the readers of your thesis or dissertation with background information that should enable them to understand your arguments, conclusions and recommendations better, to confirm that the purpose of your research is valid. To achieve this, you will need to introduce the concepts and terminology that you will use. You also need to find a measure of support for your problem statement, question or hypothesis in the opinions and arguments of other experts who studied the subject before you.


The review process should be part of writing a thesis or dissertation.

You should continually be on the lookout for mistakes, flaws and opportunities to improve the quality of your work.

The purpose of a review should include to check if:

  1. you consulted primary, secondary and tertiary sources of data where applicable,
    • you satisfied the purpose of your research,
    • the topic of your research is still relevant and new,
    • there is a need for your research, and
    • all the gaps in your thesis or dissertation have been covered.

In the case of doctoral studies, you should also check if you achieved generalisation.

The review process should be based on criteria formulated as review questions.


Although you should personally review your thesis or dissertation, it would be a good idea to ask somebody else to also look at your work.

We are often ‘blind’ to our own mistakes.

Outsiders, for example family, friends, or colleagues are often more objective because they are not as emotionally involved in your ‘creation’ as you are.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

Continue Reading