References Consulted for the Production of the Videos on Research Methodology for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies

Prepared by Dr. Hannes Nel


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Anderson, J. and Poole, M. 2001. Assignment & Thesis Writing. South African Edition. Juta. Pretoria.

Babbie, E., 2011. Introduction to Social Research. International Edition. Cengage Learning. Wadsworth, Australia.

Babbie, E. and Mouton, J. 2004. Fourth edition. The practice of Social Research. Oxford University Press. New York.

Bak, N. 2013. Completing your thesis. A practical guide. Van Schaik Publishers, Pretoria.

Berg, B.L. and Lune, H. 2014. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. Pearson. Harlow.

Berlin, I. 1999. The Roots of Romanticism. Princeton University Press. Princeton and Oxford.

Blaikie, N. and Priest, J. 2017. Social Research. Paradigms in Action. Clay Ltd, St. Ives PLC.

Blaxter, L., Hughes, C. and Tight, M. 2010. How to Research.Fourth Edition. Mc Graw Hill, Open University Press. New York.

Bryman, A., Bell, E., Hirschsohn, P., dos Santos, A., du Toit, J., Masenge, A., van Aard, I., Wagner, C. 2017. Research Methodology. Oxford University Press. Cape Town.

Clarke, E. 2005. Situational Analysis. Grounded Theory after the Postmodern Turn. Sage Publications Inc. London.

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. 2010. Research Methods in Education. Routledge. London and New York.

Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S. 2000. Handbook of Qualitative Research. Second edition. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks. London, New Delhi.

Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S. 2018. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. Fifth edition. Sage Publications, Inc. Los Angeles.

De Vos, A.S, Strydom, H., Fouché, C.B. and Delport, C.S.L. 2006. Research at Grass roots. Third Edition. Van Schaik Publishers. Pretoria.

Du Plooy-Cilliers, F., Davis, C. and Bezuidenhout, R. 2014. Research Matters. Juta and Company Ltd. Somerset-West.

Killam, L. 2013. Research Terminology Simplified. Paradigms, Axiology, Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology. E-Book.

Maxwell, J.A. 2013. Qualitative Research Design. An Interactive Approach. Sage. Los Angeles.

McMillan, J.H., and Schumacher, S. 2001. Research in Education. R.R. Donneley & Sons, Inc. Harrisonburg.

Muijs, D. 2011. Doing Quantitative Research in Education with SPSS. Second edition. Sage Publications Inc. California.

Silverman, D. (editor). 2016. Qualitative Research. Fourth edition. Sage Publications, Inc. Los Angeles.

TerréBlanche, M. & Durrheim, K. 1999. Research in Practice. Applied Methods for the Social Science.University of Cape Town Press. Cape Town.

Yin, R.K., 2016. Qualitative Research. The Guilford Press. New York.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 104: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree studies: The Layout of the Thesis or Dissertation: Referencing Sources

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Is it acceptable to include books that you read in the references or bibliography of your thesis or dissertation even if you did not use any of the information in the books?

Is it acceptable to include books that you did not read in the references or bibliography of your thesis or dissertation?

How much of a book should you read before you can include it in your list of references or bibliography?

How much of a book should you read before you must include it in your list of references or bibliography?

Hello, I am Hannes Nel, and I discuss the following aspects of referencing sources in this article:

  1. The reference system.
  2. Works cited.
  3. Bibliography.
  4. Sources consulted.
  5. References.

The reference system. The term reference system is used to embrace the conventions or rules for specifying details such as author, date, publisher, and so on, of sources of information to which reference may be made in a thesis or dissertation. There are several different referencing systems of which the Harvard, APA (American Psychological Association) and Vancouver systems are some of the best-known examples. In part a derivative of these, the Author-date system is also widely accepted across most, if not all, disciplines.

Works cited. Works cited comprises a list of all sources that are referred to either in the text or the footnotes of a thesis or dissertation. The Works cited (also sometimes called Sources cited) is the most common form of bibliography, although the heading Bibliography or References or List of references is often substituted for Works cited. Works cited is an alphabetical list of the sources you used in the body of your project. It should be the last pages in your report, but mostly come directly after the body of the report before any annexures or appendixes. Some universities, however, prefer works cited to come after annexures or appendixes.

Bibliography. Strictly speaking, a bibliography is a list of published works, although by common usage both published and unpublished material are listed in a bibliography. A selected bibliography contains those sources cited, together with the more relevant works that have been consulted. A brief annotated bibliography is a list of references, at least some of which are followed by a note on the content and usefulness of the references.

Sources consulted. Sources consulted are a broader kind of bibliography and consists of a comprehensive listing of works consulted, including those that are not quoted from, or to which reference has not been made.

References. The term References is the most commonly used of these terms across different disciplines. Whichever term is used, however, the heading is placed, in the case of theses or dissertations, at the top of a page using a similar format to chapter headings. The references are usually placed immediately after the last chapter of a thesis or dissertation, but some writers prefer to place the references after appendices or annexures.

References differ from a Bibliography. In the list of References you list only items that you have actually cited in your research paper. In a Bibliography you list all the material you have consulted in preparing your assignment or thesis whether or not you have actually cited the sources.

Every book, article, thesis, document or manuscript and electronic source that has been consulted and cited should be included in the list of references. The references should follow a logical arrangement in alphabetical order of author’s names. Current practice in most disciplines favours one comprehensive listing – not a division into primary sources and secondary sources, or books, journals, newspapers, documents and official papers, and manuscripts, although such a separation is sometimes required if a large number of sources have been consulted. Listing internet sources separately makes sense because their format is different from books, etc.

There are no absolute rules on referencing, and conventions for referencing electronic sources are not yet firmly established.

The method adopted is influenced by the method of citation in the body of the thesis or dissertation, the system of footnoting employed, the practice of a particular field of study, and the requirements of your study leader, department or university. Should you find that the format recommended in the Author-date system in my next video is not acceptable in all respects, you should change from the system presented here to the one prescribed by your study leader or university.

Setting out and punctuation in references follow a different format from a footnote. For example, in a footnote the author’s name is given in the natural order of initials or first names followed by the surname, but in a list of references the surname precedes the initials or first names. The reason for differences in format lies in the purpose of each system. The purpose of a footnote is to give the specific location of the source of a statement (fact, idea, concept) made in the text, including the number of the actual page on which the statement appears in the original source. Such a practice assists the reader to verify the information.

The purpose of a bibliographical entry in a list of references, on the other hand, is to identify the whole work rather than a specific part of it. It would be cumbersome to repeat the general reference on each occasion that a source is cited in a footnote, yet the full details of the source need to be included somewhere in the thesis or dissertation for readers to consult as required. Such detail is especially important with revised editions (in which the case number of the edition also should be given), or where a work has been republished by another publisher. The major aim of a referencing system should always be to achieve clarity and consistency and, above all, accuracy in referencing.


A reference system is the conventions or rules for specifying the details of data sources.

Works cited is an alphabetical list of the data sources that you used in your thesis or dissertation.

A bibliography is a list of published data sources that you consulted for your research.

Sources consulted is a list of published and unpublished data sources that you consulted, including the ones that you did not use in your thesis or dissertation.

A bibliography is a list of all the data sources that you used in your thesis or dissertation.

Through common usage the difference between works cited, bibliography, sources consulted and references have become unclear.


Remember to give credit to the sources from which you found the material you used directly in your project. You must do this whenever you use a complete piece of someone else’s material or a recognisable part of that material. In this respect you need to take notes carefully so that quotes are accurate, and to observe the conventions of quotations and footnotes in the printed text.

You should acknowledge all data sources that you used in your thesis or dissertation.

This can include artefacts, interviews, models and many more.

However, you should not list data sources that you did not use even if you consulted them.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 103: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: The Layout of the Thesis or Dissertation: Quotations

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Do you think your study leader or lecturer will accept it if you develop your own way of writing quotations?

And rather than to explain concepts, procedures, philosophies and so on, you illustrate your arguments by submitting artefacts?

And you describe the context of your research by means of works of art?

Well, it is my experience that many professors are open minded and flexible enough to give you credit for your innovative ideas.

Perhaps one should not go too far with this kind of maverick attitude, though.

I discuss the requirements for quotations in this article.

Quotations must observe the grammatical structure of the sentence of which they are part. This means that verbs must agree in person, number and tense, and pronouns must observe the grammatical structure of the whole. Some universities require that quotations be written on a line lower than the paragraph in which it is used, indented from both sides and written in Italics. Others have different requirements, which can best be explained by means of examples.

Example 1. It would probably be artificial and lead to confusion if data collection and the analysis of data are discussed separately. As Glaser and Strauss (2006: 73) put it:

“The continual intermeshing of data collection and analysis bears directly on how the data collection is brought to close. A researcher can always try to collect more data by checking hypotheses or for generating new properties, categories and hypotheses.”      

In the instance of this research, however, additional information on certain aspects were needed to “complete the puzzle”, and to confirm statements that are often perceptions rather than facts, hence there is greater ‘coverage’ than warranted.

Example 2. It would probably be artificial and lead to confusion if data collection and the analysis of data are discussed separately. As Glaser and Strauss (2006: 73) put it:

The continual intermeshing of data collection and analysis bears directly on how the data collection is brought to close. A researcher can always try to collect more data by checking hypotheses or for generating new properties, categories and hypotheses.

In the instance of this research, however, additional information on certain aspects were needed to “complete the puzzle”, and to confirm statements that are often perceptions rather than facts, hence there is greater ‘coverage’ than warranted.

Example 3. It would probably be artificial and lead to confusion if data collection and the analysis of data are discussed separately. As Glaser and Strauss (2006: 73) put it:

“The continual intermeshing of data collection and analysis bears directly on how the data collection is brought to close. A researcher can always try to collect more data by checking hypotheses or for generating new properties, categories and hypotheses.”

In the instance of this research, however, additional information on certain aspects were needed to “complete the puzzle”, and to confirm statements that are often perceptions rather than facts, hence there is greater ‘coverage’ than warranted.

Your own discussion and the quotation of something that a different author wrote can also be integrated into one paragraph.

Example 4. It would probably be artificial and lead to confusion if data collection and the analysis of data are discussed separately. As Glaser and Strauss (2006: 73) put it: “The continual intermeshing of data collection and analysis bears directly on how the data collection is brought to close. A researcher can always try to collect more data by checking hypotheses or for generating new properties, categories and hypotheses.”

In the instance of this research, however, additional information on certain aspects were needed to “complete the puzzle”, and to confirm statements that are often perceptions rather than facts, hence there is greater ‘coverage’ than warranted.

Quotations can be written in a smaller size and different type of font from your own writing.

Example 5. It would probably be artificial and lead to confusion if data collection and the analysis of data are discussed separately. As Glaser and Strauss (2006: 73) put it:

“The continual intermeshing of data collection and analysis bears directly on how the data collection is brought to close. A researcher can always try to collect more data by checking hypotheses or for generating new properties, categories and hypotheses.”

In the instance of this research, however, additional information on certain aspects were needed to “complete the puzzle”, and to confirm statements that are often perceptions rather than facts, hence there is greater ‘coverage’ than warranted.

Some universities feel that a long (indented) quoted extract not embodied in the structure of a paragraph should not be placed in quotation marks unless the original is either in direct speech, or in quotation marks for some other reason. A space should be left between the paragraph and the beginning of the quotation. The quotation should be indented and typed in single line spacing, and another space left before the paragraph continues, or a new paragraph starts.

Quotations at the end of a sentence take a full-stop outside the closing inverted comma.


R.K. Yin does not refer to the term generalisation as if its meaning is totally limited to ‘statistical generalisation’.

Where the quotation forms a complete sentence on its own, or is isolated by a colon or dash from the main sentence structure, the closing stop comes inside the closing quotation mark.

Maree (2011: 172) wrote: “It is usually impossible to include the entire population in your study, the two main restrictions being time and cost.”

Where a quotation is broken by the omission of a phrase, three dots should be inserted to indicate the break.


“As the theory grows … the analyst becomes committed to it.”

Where a complete sentence or series of sentences is omitted, four dots should indicate the break.


“A key strength of the case study method is the use of multiple sources and techniques in the data collection process…. Data collection is largely qualitative, but may also include quantitative data.”

Where a long, indented quotation is started in the middle of a sentence, three dots should precede the first word to indicate the omission of the first part of the sentence.


“… starting and examining rival explanations will greatly strengthen any claimed generalisations.”

Where the last part of a long, indented, quoted sentence is omitted the last word should be followed by four dots: three to indicate the omission of the words, the fourth to indicate the full stop at the end of the omitted part.


“Given all these conditions, if a study only uses structured interviews, the study is most likely to be a survey or poll ….”

Where possible, short quoted phrases and single lines should be embodied in the paragraph, and indentations left for longer quotations. Long quotations need not always be separated from the paragraph, for example if they form an integral part of the structure of the paragraph.


Quotations must observe the grammatical structure of the sentence of which they are part.

Quotations can be written in many ways, although the differences are mostly subtle and a matter of taste.

The differences mostly hinge around the following:

  1. If there is an open line between the paragraph and the quotation or if the quotation is typed as if it is an integral part of the paragraph.
  2. If there is an open line between the quotation and the next paragraph.
  3. If the quotation is indented on both sides or on the left side only.
  4. If the quotation is typed in italics or a smaller font size than the paragraph.
  5. If single line spacing is used or the same spacing as the paragraph with which the quotation goes.
  6. If the quotation is encapsulated in quotation marks or not.

Other requirements that some universities have include:

  • The position of the closing full-stop after the sentence and quotation.
  • The use of three or four dots where a sentence or quotation is broken.
  • Embodying short quotes in a sentence of paragraph.


As for typing formats in general, the requirements for quotations need not be rigid.

The most important requirement is consistency.

Your study leader or lecturer will probably accept the way in which you type quotations, if you do it consistently the same throughout your thesis or dissertation.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 102: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: The Layout of the Thesis or Dissertation: Typing Format

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

The attention that a student pays to the layout of the thesis or dissertation is often an indication of what the quality of the work is.

Why would a post-graduate student pay careful attention to the quality of his or her research and the contents of the thesis or dissertation if they do not care about the quality of the reporting?

You will save yourself lots of time if you study the university policy on the layout of the thesis or dissertation before you start writing your thesis or dissertation.

The hints that I share in this article should be accepted by most universities.

However, you should also consult the university policy, even if your study leader or lecturer suggests that you use the suggestions given here.

General layout rules

Universities mostly require either double or one and a half spacing, font size 12 on one side only of A4 paper. Quotations and footnotes should be single spacing and either in Italics or a smaller font size, for example font size 10. The preferred font type is Times New Roman although some universities might also accept other font types that are easy to read and sufficiently formal, such as Ariel.

The following are examples of such requirements taken from the policies and procedures of different universities.

Typing format, text structure and general prescriptions

You need to format your thesis or dissertation exactly according to the university’s instructions. A good thesis or dissertation should be extensive and precise. Use a good yet simple and concise language (UK version of English) and keep sentences short without damaging the flow of your arguments.

A-4 size bond paper of a good quality should be used. The thesis or dissertation must be printed in at least one and a half spacing with one and a half spacing between paragraphs. Paragraphs are justified against the left-hand margin. Take care to be consistent and follow the general typing rules.

The margins at the top, bottom and right-hand side should be 25 mm, while the left-hand margins should be at least 30 mm.

Some universities have no set rules for how long a thesis or dissertation should be. A thesis does not normally exceed 50 000 words of text (approximately 150 pages). It is often accepted that dissertation on PhD level should not be more than 70 000 words.

Language and spelling

If English is your second language it is most important that help is sought during the initial draft reading process already. Faultless language, good style and correct spelling are a prerequisite for the writing of a thesis or dissertation. It is difficult to learn technical writing skills as well as concentrate on a second language.

It is advisable to have your thesis or dissertation language edited by an expert if English is your first language and a must if English is your second or third language.

Check your writing for spelling and grammatical errors. Also pay attention to minor details such as punctuation and when to use a full stop or comma. Use the spell-check facility of your computer but keep in mind that it is not foolproof.

Don’t try to make your writing look more academic by using highfalutin words and concepts that you do not really understand.


Always write full sentences.

All sentences should have a verb.

Keep your sentences simple and as short as possible without damaging the flow of your arguments.

Use adverbs such as ‘however’ to link sentences. This will often improve the flow of your argument or narrative.

Sentences and paragraphs should be linked to one another. Avoid jumping around between unrelated arguments, topics or discussions.


Reports of work done are usually written in the past tense except for discussions and conclusions, which are written in the present tense.

The present tense is used where universal truths such as natural laws are stated.

Do not change tenses in a sentence unless there is a good reason for doing so.


Paragraphs will help you organise your writing by breaking the text up into manageable sections.

Short paragraphs are better than long ones. Variation in paragraph lengths reduces the monotony and renders the work easier to read.

Paragraphs should be linked to one another to ensure the flow from one paragraph to the next.

Each paragraph should deal with one aspect only. A conclusion or summary should be a next paragraph.


Lower-case letters are used, except in cases where grammatical rules require capital letters.

The first word in a sentence and in a direct quotation is capitalised.

Proper nouns are capitalised and common nouns such as mountain and business are capitalised if they form part of a name. For example, ‘the mountain is dark and covered in mist’ versus ‘Table Mountain is dark and covered in mist’.

Common nouns are capitalised when they are used with a number or letter to designate a specific thing, for example ‘Room 101’.

Acronyms and abbreviations

An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of a name or by combining initial letters, or parts of a series of words. The full word, name or concept that can have an acronym must be written out in full, followed by the acronym in brackets where they are used for the first time in your thesis or dissertation.

Certain acronyms, like ‘radar’ and ‘scuba’ have become accepted words and can be used without any explanation.

Abbreviations are short representations of words or terms, for example e.g. for ‘exempli gratia’ or ‘for example’. They should be used with discretion because they can make the text difficult to read. Unfamiliar abbreviations must be written out in full, followed by the abbreviation in brackets where they are used for the first time in your thesis or dissertation.

You should have a list of acronyms and abbreviations as an addendum at the end of your thesis or dissertation.

The word ‘percentage’ is written out in the text and written as a symbol (%) if it is used with a number, e.g. ‘15%’.


Pages are numbered from 1 in sequence throughout the thesis or dissertation, not chapter by chapter. The first (cover) page is page number one, but the page number is not shown. Page numbers are shown from page two.

Page numbers should run consecutively through the thesis or dissertation with all pages numbered.

Number items or paragraphs that need to be numbered in numerals and sub-paragraphs in further numbers. The paragraph number “7” would, for example, be followed by sub-paragraph number “7.1.”, and sub-paragraph “7.1.” would be followed by sub-paragraph “7.2.”) or, if the sub-paragraph is further divided, by sub-sub-paragraph “7.1.1.”. Some universities prefer that the full stop after the last number presenting a sub-paragraph or lower be omitted.

Bullets are used if you have three or less points to number.

Figures are numbered numerically and go with the figure heading under the figure. Figures should fit onto not more than one page.

Tables are also numbered numerically, and table numbers go with the table heading above the table. This is because tables can stretch over more than one page.


Chapters and sections should have headings. Headings should be selected carefully and should be short and to the point. It should be a ‘summary’ of the contents of the chapter or section.

Headings that do not constitute full sentences do not end with a full stop, unless the contents of the section follow directly after the heading on the same line.


You need to consult the university policy for the layout of a thesis or dissertation.

Make sure that the layout that you use will be acceptable to the university.

Issues that you should check include the following:

  • Line spacing.
  • Font size and type.
  • Paper size and type.
  • Page numbering.
  • The numbering of tables and figures.
  • Headings.
  • Margins.
  • Language usage and spelling.
  • Paragraph length, spacing, numbering and justification.
  • The use of capital letters.
  • Punctuation.
  • Sentences.
  • Tenses.
  • The use of acronyms and abbreviations.


Some universities will allow you some leeway in the layout of your thesis or dissertation.

This, however, will mostly be when you add to or enhance the prescribed format and playout.

You might, for example, add an illustration representing the context of each chapter directly after the chapter heading.

Or you may include an electronic copy of your thesis or dissertation if you are required to submit a typed and professionally bound report.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 101: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: The Layout of the Thesis or Dissertation Part 5 of 9 Parts: Ethics Part 3 of 3 Parts

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

I discuss the following issues on ethics in this article:

  1. Trust.
  2. Deception.
  3. Analysis, reporting and publishing.
  4. Plagiarism.
  5. Legality.
  6. Professionalism.
  7. Research ethics and society.
  8. Copyright and intellectual property right.
  9. The originality of your research.
  10. Promulgation of results.

Trust. Trust is the classic key to good research relations. Even so, trust is a constant challenge in any research process. All participants and stakeholders in a research project must have a healthy trust relationship. This includes knowing that you, as the researcher, can be trusted not to erode the relationship between participants to the extent that they would be reluctant or unwilling to co-operate. Trust also applies to the report or the discursive practices defining the standards for presenting both you and the work as trustworthy.

Deception. We have seen that the handling of subjects’ identities is an important ethical consideration. Handling your own identity as a researcher can also be tricky. You must have a good reason for not revealing yourself as a researcher to those you want to study. Most of the time, however, you will benefit from conducting transparent research. Even when you must conceal your research identity you need to keep in mind that, because deceiving people is unethical, deception within research needs to be justified by compelling scientific or administrative concerns. Even then, the justification will probably be arguable.

There is no excuse for providing members of your target group any false information about your own identity, whom you represent, what the purpose of your research is or what the research findings will be used for. It is, therefore, advisable to promise to send the participants copies of your research report before you submit it or use it. If time allows you should also provide the respondents time to appeal against the contents or findings of your report. Some people will set this as a precondition for their participation.

Analysis, reporting and publishing. In addition to your ethical obligations to subjects, you also have ethical obligations to your colleagues in the scientific community. In any rigorous research, you as the researcher should be more familiar than anyone else with the technical shortcomings and failures of the study. You have an obligation to make such shortcomings and failures known to your readers. Even though you may feel foolish admitting mistakes, you should do it anyway.

Negative findings should be reported if your respondents point them out, provided you can confirm them, of course. In science it is often as important to know that two variables are not related as to know that they are. Similarly, you must avoid the temptation to gain recognition and praise by describing your findings as the product of a carefully pre-planned analytical strategy when that is not the case. Findings are sometimes unexpected, even though they may seem obvious in retrospect.

You should always strive to maintain objectivity and integrity in the conduct of scientific research. This implies the following:

  1. You should always adhere to the highest possible technical standards in your research.
  2. You should always indicate – at the conclusion of a research study – the limits of your findings and the methodological constraints that determine the validity of such findings.
  3. You should not under any circumstances manipulate your data or observations.
  4. You must adhere to the public nature of scientific practice. One implication of this is that you should always be prepared to disclose your methodology and techniques of analysis.

In addition to the ethics of analysis and reporting, it is also imperative that you must maintain the same standard of ethical work when publishing your findings. The ethics of publishing involve the following issues:

  1. Appropriate ascription of authorship to a publication.
  2. Rejection of any form of plagiarism.
  3. No simultaneous submission of manuscripts.

Plagiarism. Somebody once wrote that nothing that is now written has not been written before. I would have given credit to the original writer of this insightful statement if I knew who it was. No doubt there are many who claimed credit for being the first. It might be true, but you should not use it as an excuse for claiming authorship of someone else’s work. You will know when you are plagiarising someone else’s work. For example, if you are rewriting what is written in a book that is open right next to you on your desk, then you know that you should acknowledge your source. It is even worse if your readers can see that what you wrote is not your own because of subtle tell-tale signs, for example a sudden change in writing style, a cliché, switching from first to third person, etc.

It takes a good measure of honesty, maturity and a healthy self-image to always give credit for good work by others. It is, furthermore, not necessary to be paranoid about being honest. You will have ample opportunity to show your cognitive thinking and creative writing skills in a thesis or dissertation of more than a hundred pages. Besides, giving credit where credit is due lends validity, authenticity and quality to your work.

While examining the research literature, particularly when photocopying and taking notes, you may copy extracts from sources verbatim (exactly as it was written in the original document) with the intention of incorporating these extracts into your final written report. Although it is common practice to accumulate an abundance of quotations in the initial information collection stage, it is essential when writing the final report that quotations be selected judiciously and used sparingly. Over-quoting can damage the flow of your arguments. The essential selection criterion to follow is relevance, whereas the basic mechanical consideration is the length of quotation. Long quotations are rarely justified and may cause readers to wonder whose ideas they are assessing.

The ability to cite the work of others appropriately is a major indication of your ability to interpret data and to generate your own ideas and arguments on a particular topic from the data that you collected.

You commit plagiarism in your thesis, dissertation, or any other document that you write, when you use words, ideas or opinions that you obtained from the written work of somebody else without giving credit to the original writer. Strictly speaking it is still plagiarism even if you break the original argument down into its component parts (deconstruct) or change the original meaning or level of the original message or argument (reconstruct). This can become confusing when doing research because, after all, you must consult other sources of information. Furthermore, most research is to some extent a reconstruction or deconstruction of existing knowledge with the aim of adding value or providing a new perspective on existing knowledge and philosophy.

The obvious solution would be to acknowledge your sources. You must provide references whenever you quote (use the exact words), paraphrase (use the ideas of another person, in your own words) or summarise (use the main points of another’s opinions, theories or data).

The number of sentences or pages of somebody else’s work that you use are not relevant. Whether it is one sentence, a whole section or perhaps even an entire chapter or assignment, it is still plagiarism. You will know when you are guilty of plagiarism, therefore you cannot argue that you did it accidently or unintentionally. If you use somebody else’s work as if it is your own, you are guilty of plagiarism.

Plagiarism can lead to you failing your studies and perhaps even being expelled from the university.

Legality. You must always ensure that your conduct of the research and reporting your research findings are done within the boundaries of legislation. Legality relates strongly to ‘informed consent’. Although you should guarantee confidentiality, participants in your research need to understand and accept the potential risks of participating. Cruelty to animals, damage to the environment, etc. may be illegal and you need to avoid such transgressions.

Professionalism. Regardless of whether you belong to a professional body or not, you are always expected to conduct your research in a professional manner. This includes making use of scientific methodology and acknowledging any sources that you consult and use. It also implies accuracy in collecting data and reporting analysis of data collected. Research must always be of benefit to the research participants and society at large.

Research ethics and society. The most important principle that guides the relationship between science and the rest of society is that of accountability. Although we sometimes refer to the scientific community as a distinct and relatively autonomous sector of society, this does not mean that the scientific community can do what it wants without regard for the rights of the rest of society. This accountability refers to a general obligation to conduct research in a socially responsive and responsible manner. Accountability in research is manifested in the following:

  1. A rejection of secret and clandestine research.
  2. An obligation to the free and open dissemination of research results.
  3. A responsibility to funders and sponsors of the research.

Coypright and intellectual property right. In the academic context, copyright is primarily about getting the most from your hard work rather than legal complications and plagiarism. Legislation largely protects your copyright. However, some universities have a precondition for embarking on master’s or doctoral studies that the copyright belongs to them. This is mostly specified in your enrolment application, but you need to make sure what the regulations are and that they are acceptable to you.

Intellectual property right describes a class of several different legal regimes that generally concern creations of the human mind. Copyright can be regarded as a subsection of intellectual property right (together with trademarks and patent laws).

The originality of your research. It is not only the identity of individuals that needs to be protected. Especially in online research the challenge to protect data is rather daunting. There is so much information available on the internet that it is almost impossible to protect and ensure the validity of information. Computer programs can store information passively or incidentally. It is almost impossible to book a hotel room without the hotel or accommodation service provider capturing substantial personal information belonging to you. Some electronic watches not only tell you the time and date, they also measure and store your heart rate, blood pressure, weight gain or loss, running times, etc.

The ease with which electronic devices can collect and store personal information is becoming a challenge and opportunity for researchers. Because of this, ethical issues continue to grow more complicated as new technologies and capacities develop.

Electronics make it increasingly difficult to protect and prove the originality of your research. It is already difficult to create original ideas, philosophies and theories – to prove that the results of your research are your own and original is even more difficult. Acknowledging the sources that you consulted is a good start – at least you will show that you respect the intellectual property of others. With such literature and field study as foundation, you should demonstrate sound arguing and thinking skills. This will already count in your favour when your work is evaluated for originality.

Promulgation of results. The worst scenario imaginable for an individual who completed a thesis or dissertation is the report becoming a dust-collector on a library shelf. To avoid this, you should make the results of your research available in a format usable by people who may benefit from it (with prior permission, of course). You can, for example, have all or some of your findings published, act as a speaker for symposiums, etc.


Trust is the foundation of cooperation.

Even though research on master’s and doctoral level is mostly an individual project, you will need the assistance of many other role players.

Therefore, the success of your study largely depends on mutual trust between you and others who are involved in your work.

You should not deceive people about your identity, whom you represent, what the purpose of your research is or what your research findings will be used for.

You owe it to the academic fraternity and society to make any shortcomings and failures of your study known.

Transparency is key.

Always give credit for writing and other forms of research by others that you use in your thesis or dissertation.

Do not transgress legislation, rules, regulations on any level when conducting research. However, it is possible that legislation might obstruct progress or be wrong for a variety of reasons. Therefore, it might sometimes be necessary to follow you own good judgement. Just keep in mind that we are all subjective.

You must always conduct your research in a professional manner.

Keep in mind that you are accountable to society for the research that you deliver. Therefore, your research should be to the benefit of society or at least part of society.

And preferably not at the expense of other sections of society.

Make sure what national legislation and the university’s policy regarding copyright and intellectual property right are before you enrol for post-graduate studies.

Obviously, you must be willing to accept and abide by such legislation and policies.

Proving the originality of your research is difficult to achieve.

It would be impossible to check the internet and other sources of information to ensure that your ideas and arguments are your own.

The best you can do is to acknowledge the sources that you use.

Do not use this situation as an excuse for committing plagiarism.

Share the result of your research by writing books and articles, making videos, acting as a speaker at conferences and lecturing.


In my 98th article, dealing with deconstruction and empirical generalisation, I asked if deconstruction is not just a euphemism for plagiarism.

The answer is captured in my discussion of plagiarism in this video.

Almost all researchers need to use the work of others in their research.

Such work can serve as the foundation for your research and to corroborate and enrich your arguments.

However, you must always acknowledge the work of others that you use.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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