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The Stages of your Doctorate

After you have prepared and submitted a research proposal, and it has been accepted your Doctorate can begin.

Every Doctorate is unique, and the way you complete yours will be governed by the subject you are studying, however most Doctorates have the following steps in common:

Literature review

You will normally begin with your literature review after having an initial meeting with your supervisor. You will need to carry out a comprehensive review of all of the existing research in your field in order to see how this can inform your own research. You will demonstrate that you have an advanced understanding of research in your field and are ready to make an original contribution.

The literature review will be included in your final thesis to provide the context and need for your research, before you begin to explore and demonstrate your own thesis.

Conducting research and collecting results

The type of research that you undertake will depend largely upon your subject area and the question that you are trying to answer.

You might be designing experiments, designing surveys, conducting case studies or analysing texts and other materials.

This may produce complex numerical datasets, quantitative or qualitative data but in all cases it will be essential to use an accepted methodology and be able to critically reflect upon the significance of your findings.

In every field, research will constitute the main part of your Doctorate.

Producing an original thesis

Your thesis is the core argument from the conclusions of your research. You will arrive at these conclusions through evaluating existing research during your literature review and combining this with results from your own primary research.

Your thesis is where you present your findings in written form, in order to prove your conclusions and will form the basis of your Doctorate.

Researching, writing and presenting

Your thesis will develop throughout your Doctorate but once it has begun to take shape you can look for opportunities to present it at academic conferences, or publishing part of your research. Many people find that they do this mostly in their second year.

Presenting work can help you to gain feedback which you can use to develop your thesis and draft material that may later be useful for inclusion.

Writing your thesis

This is the final part of your Doctorate, once you have done your research and analysed your findings. Doctoral theses vary in length but are much longer than undergraduate or Masters, typically they can be between 55,000 and 80,000 words, depending on subject area.

Viva Voce exam

This is the main assessment procedure for your Doctorate and is an oral examination. You will be asked to ‘defend’ your thesis to two academic experts, one of whom is normally from your department and another who is normally external to the university and a recognised expert in your specialist area.

They will have read your dissertation thoroughly and will be looking for proof that you fully understand your thesis and its significance and will ask you about your research, arguments and conclusions.


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Northumbria Research Link (NRL) is an open access repository of Northumbria University's research output.

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