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Exeter University History Phd Dissertations

Research, Writing and Thesis Requirements

MA by Research, MPhil and PhD degrees are examined solely on the basis of a piece of research presented in the form of a thesis submitted within the prescribed period of study. The production of that thesis is, therefore, your main task. In order to undertake this work you will need a well-focused research topic, a knowledge of the existing secondary literature on the subject, a well thought out methodology for tackling the research, access to the necessary primary sources required and the ability to produce a well-structured argument in lucid and well-presented prose. Many ancillary skills may be required to do this: knowledge of languages, palaeography, information technology, the latest theoretical and methodological approaches in your discipline, interview techniques and questionnaires to name but a few. 

Successful research students understand the task in hand, plan their work carefully, acquire the training and skills required, and take a systematic approach to research and writing, always keeping their deadline for submission clearly in view. They are helped in this task by supervisors, with whom they work closely. A thesis needs to conform to accepted academic conventions, to avoid plagiarism and to follow the ethical guidelines laid down for research. 

Students must work within strict deadlines laid down for completion, which vary according to the type of degree being taken and the registration status of each student. The progress of each student is monitored by the PGR Support Team, which decides on any changes to a student’s status.

Research Council funded students

Research Councils assess the University on submission rates for its funded students. Students are expected to submit their thesis for examination, if possible by the end of the period of funding, but no later than one year from the end of the studentship if they are full-time. 

More detailed information about all these matters is given in the sections that follow. 

In addition we would like to draw your attention to the great variety of published information for research students, including guides to grants, which are now available – much of it in the University libraries. Many excellent guides for postgraduate research and writing exist. Two good examples are particularly relevant to the Humanities: Gina Wisker’s The Postgraduate Research Handbook: Succeed With Your MA, MPhil, EdD and PhD (Palgrave, 2001) and Patrick Dunleavy’s Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation (Palgrave, 2003). Both of these books can be recommended as practical aids to postgraduate research, and are available as relatively inexpensive paperbacks. Also useful are Pat Cryer’s Research Student's Guide to Success (OUP, 2000) and Estelle M. Phillips and Derek S. Pughs’ How to Get a PhD: A Handbook for Students and Their Supervisors (OUP, 2000).


Requirements of a research thesis

You need to know what you have to achieve in your research in order to obtain your degree. A thesis must conform to standards laid down by the University and to follow proper academic conventions. The PhD demands a higher standard than the MPhil or MA by Research. 

Format of thesis

The University’s general regulations concerning the format and presentation of the thesis must be closely followed. These provide information on all aspects of the overall layout of a thesis, including word length (up to 100,000 for a PhD, 60,000 for an MPhil and 40,000 for an MA by Research), division into chapters, the scholarly apparatus, how it should be bound and the number of copies you need to produce. If you would like to see an example of a successful thesis please ask your supervisor to show you one. 

In addition to the general formatting rules, research and writing in the Humanities normally follow particular conventions and in part your thesis will be judged upon its adherence to them. 

  1. You should write clearly and concisely. Avoid unnecessary jargon and technical language: the best writing is simple, direct and straightforward. The aim of academic writing is to convey complex ideas and arguments in an accessible manner, not to confuse the reader. 
  1. Spellings and usage should conform to UK English standards (including the layout of dates, numbers, capitalisation etc.). If you are unsure of these please refer to a suitable dictionary, style sheet or consult your supervisors. Text quoted in other languages should be provided accurately in translation, according to a suitable translation guide. 
  1. You need to provide references. The point of references is to guide readers to the evidence you have used in formulating your judgements or to indicate where you are drawing upon the words or ideas of others. Do not use them to ‘pad’ the text: if the information they contain is important, it should be in the main body of the thesis, otherwise it should be discarded. 
  1. References should be laid out in a clear, consistent pattern according to the nature of your research and writing, and you should ensure that you keep to one consistent referencing system throughout your thesis. A number of systems exist, details of which can be found in the Modern Humanities Research Association Style Book (MHRA). Be aware, however, that no set system is complete. In particular, references to archival material, internet sources (which should be dated), interviews etc. will often require you to make a judgement as to the best format. You need to provide enough information that your sources can be located. The most important thing to bear in mind is that a reader of your thesis should be able, via your references, to go directly to where you have drawn your information in order to check that what you say is valid or to follow up an interesting idea that you have put forward. Consult your supervisors about an appropriate layout for your thesis and the appropriate method of referencing to use.

 You may also wish to consult the referencing guidance provided to taught students in the Subject Handbooks for your discipline as follows:


Classics and Ancient History


English and Film Studies


Modern Languages

Theology and Religion 

  1. The bibliography should also be laid out consistently. It should include all material that you have consulted for the thesis. It is normal in the Humanities to divide bibliographies into sections for primary and secondary materials. You may also choose to use subdivisions for further clarity: archival, printed primary, newspapers, official publications, memoirs, interviews etc. Again, you should arrange the bibliography in a way appropriate to the nature of your research and writing. 
  1. Appendices, maps, diagrams, photographs and tables, if included, should only contain material directly referred to in the main text. They should not be used as ‘padding’ or additional information. They may include raw data, the results of interviews, filmographies or other kinds of material vital to the reader’s understanding of the findings of your research. Consult your supervisors for advice on these matters.

Research Misconduct

The University expects its staff and students to maintain the highest standards for the conduct of research. As such the University has procedures in place that govern academic/research conduct for graduate research students. ‘Research Misconduct – Procedure for Graduate Research Students suspected of Research Misconduct’ is specific to graduate research students, and defines research conduct in the context of the range of activities undertaken by those doing research. 

You are expected to review this procedure and ensure that you understand your responsibilities under this Procedure, and that you understand the definitions of misconduct. You should also be aware that any work submitted to a member of your supervision team either in full, in part, or as a draft will fall under the provisions of this Procedure, as will any work handed to a member of staff. 

Please consult the University's Procedure for Graduate Research Students suspected of Research Misconduct for full details. 

If you are in any doubt as to what constitutes Research Misconduct and how to avoid it please talk to your supervisors or your Discipline DPGR in the College. 

The Researcher Development Programme also provides a number of relevant courses that may be of interest to you in this context. For a live list of upcoming courses and to book on a course please go to http://as.exeter.ac.uk/rdp/postgraduateresearchers/pgr-exeter/. 

Research Data Mangaement and Open Access

There are a number of benefits to making your research and thesis available via Open Access:

  • Increases citations and the visibility of your research
  • Helps to build your research career
  • Increases chances of further funding opportunities and collaborations
  • Meets the transparency/openness agenda 

The key points of the University’s Open Access Research and Research Data Management Policy for PGR Students are as follows: 


  • A copy of your final thesis/dissertation will need to be submitted to the institutional repository Open Research Exeter (ORE), prior to the award of your degree. 

Research Papers

  • PGR students should make the published peer-reviewed research papers and conference proceedings they produce whilst affiliated with the University available on Open Access according to funder requirements and as soon as publisher restrictions will allow.
  • PGR research papers should be made available on Open Access, by depositing a copy of the paper in Open Research Exeter (ORE).
  • Published research papers should include a short statement describing how and on what terms any supporting research data may be accessed. 

Research Data 

  • PGR students should always comply with funder policy on research data management.
  • The lead PGR Supervisor is responsible for advising the PGR student on good practice in research data management.
  • PGR students and their supervisors should discuss and review research data management issues annually, addressing issues of the capture, management, integrity, confidentiality, security, selection, preservation and disposal, commercialisation, costs, sharing and publication of research data and the production of descriptive metadata to aid discovery and re-use when relevant.
  • A checklist to support PGRs and their supervisors in the annual research data review is available.
  • At the end of the degree, PGR students should register selected research data in Open Research Exeter (ORE). Information about the data should be included as a statement in the thesis record using the Description field. When legally, commercially and ethically appropriate, this selected research data should also be made available on Open Access in an appropriate repository.
  • PGR students will be able to embargo their research data in order to have a period of privileged use of the data that they have created or collected for a standard period of up to 18 months initially. An extended embargo may be required if your thesis contains any of the following:
    • unprotected intellectual property which you, your sponsor or any other 3rd party has the intention to use
    • sensitive information that may need to be withheld from public view
    • commercially sensitive material that may belong to your project sponsor

Please contact pgadmin@exeter.ac.uk if you require any further advice.

Research Data Management Guidance

In order to save time and effort later on in your degree, before you start collecting or creating research data or materials research students should consider the following: 

Managing references

Using a reference manager such as EndNote or Mendeley helps with the organisation and citation of journal articles and the notes you make about them. 

Data storage

Where will you store your research data/materials? Research students are allocated up to 20 GB of storage space on the University's U drive which is regularly backed up and can be retrieved if you accidentally delete a file or it gets corrupted. If your data is confidential and/or sensitive don't use cloud storage such as Dropbox or share it using email. Confidential and/or sensitive data should be encrypted and stored according to ethical approval. 

Data back-up

Make sure you make regular back-ups of your files to avoid data loss, especially if you store your data on a memory stick or portable hard drive. 

Organising your files and folders

Create a logical file storage system to find files easily, for example, with separate folders for reports, presentations, projects etc., and sub-folders separating raw data, tools, and analysed data. You should also develop a naming system for your files so that you know which version has included revisions or use a document control table on the front page. 

Document your data creation/collection

It is easier to document data when you start creating or collecting your research materials rather than retrospectively. Think about what information you need about the data/materials so that you or somebody else can reuse and understand the data in the long-term. Information could include how data were created or digitised, what hardware/software was used, how the data was analysed, what their content and structure are and any manipulations that may have taken place. 

Know your funder's policy on Open Access to research data and research publications

The University and your funder normally expect you to put your research data and publications on Open Access when appropriate.  There are exceptions for commercial, confidential and copyright reasons. See the Digital Curation Centre's page for an overview of funders' policies and the University of Exeter PGR policy. 

Further Information

The following links provide further help and guidance on Open Access and research data management:

There are also training sessions on OA and RDM as part of the RDP programme.


If you have been recommended for award by your Board of Examiners you must submit a copy of your thesis/dissertation to Open Research Exeter (ORE) before your degree can be formally approved. 

ORE is the University's repository of all research carried out at Exeter. Depositing your thesis in the collection will ensure it is made publicly visible, or open access. There are many benefits of making your research papers and thesis available via open access; it:

  • Increases citations and exposure of your research.
  • Helps to build your research career.
  • Increases chances for further funding opportunities and collaborations.
  • Meets the transparency/openness agenda.

Before depositing your thesis:

After depositing your thesis:

  • Your deposit in ORE will be checked by the Postgraduate Administration Office to ensure all the information is correct before it is added to the archive.
  • If any changes need to be made to your thesis deposit you will receive an email notification, to your University email account, to confirm what changes are required
  • You will receive an email confirmation once your deposit has been made successfully.

For more information on submitting your thesis to ORE please contact the Postgraduate Administration Office.

For more information on accessing theses already in ORE please contact a Liaison Librarian.

Hard-bound theses

If you registered for your degree before October 2008, and prefer not to submit electronically, you can submit one hardbound copy of your thesis/dissertation. Please contact the Postgraduate Administration Office for guidance on the correct presentation.

To have your thesis permanently bound please contact the Students' Guild Print Room in the Forum.

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