Hartmann’s Hints for Thesis Writing

Listed below are hints on writing the PhD thesis, gleaned from a seminar at University of Western Australia [1], with points made largely by the first speaker during split group discussion, and subsequently by all three speakers at a panel discussion.

  1. Title. The title should be succinct, focused and objective, giving, if possible, the scope of the thesis.
  2. Abstract or Summary. Examiners will look here to find out whether it is new knowledge; and if so what.
  3. Introduction. Remember that the introductory pages are important because they create the first, and perhaps lasting, impression on the examiner. Use flow diagrams, headings, sub-headings etc., to create and sustain interest.
  4. Literature Review. This should be a critical synthesis of the state of the knowledge. Especially important are the areas needing further investigation: what has not been done, as well as what has been done, but for which there is a conflict in the literature. The examiner finds out how the candidate thinks from reading this section.
  5. Hypothesis Testing. The hypothesis must be framed carefully and experiments designed thoughtfully to test it.
  6. Materials and Methods. Ensure proper quality control and statistical planning and analysis. Retain enough details to allow repetition of experiments for up to seven (7) years, as legally required.
  7. General Discussion or Conclusions. You may afford to be speculative here.
  8. Examiners ask the following questions when reading a thesis:Has the student read all the references?
    What questions does this thesis raise?
    What richness does it contain that can spawn other work?
    What is the quality of flow of  ideas?
  9. Keep in mind that examiners read a thesis in instalments and display a natural benevolence, i.e., they do not set out to read a thesis with the aim of failing the student.
  10. Read the whole thesis to pick up repetition.
  11. Read your thesis for ideas and read it again for editing



  1. P. Hartmann, R. Fraser, and P. Maddern, “The characteristics of a good thesis.” Discussion during Staff Development Programme entitled “Supervising Postgraduate Students” organised on 29 March 1999 by the Centre for Staff Development, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA, Australia, 1999.
  2.  Chandrasekhar, R. (2002). How to write a thesis: A working guide. (pp. 12). The University of Western Australia.

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