Examiners' comments on introduction chapter in theses
Examiners’ Comments on the Introduction
Chapter in Theses
School of Languages, Literacies & Translation, USM April 01, 2014
Dr. Omer Mahfoodh
3.Thesis examination: procedures
4.Thesis evaluation forms: Examples
5.Comments on the Title
6.Comments on the Abstract
7.Comments on the Introduction Chapter
Learning in higher education is considered to be an
adaptation to a set of innovative ways of
understanding, interpreting and organizing
These new ways of knowledge are affected by
several factors: social, personal and cultural factors.
The central skills which can help students to
undergo a successful adaptation are writing and
Thus, understanding students’ experience in higher
education has been a source for learning more
about academic learning.
On other hand, understanding the complexities,
problems, and practices of PhD/Master’s
supervision and theses examinations have been
examined from the perspective of the supervisors,
This line of research on postgraduate education
has included also examining how examiners’
evaluate PhD/Master’s theses and how do they
approach this task.
A third line of research have focused on textual
analysis of Ph.D/Master’s examination reports.
Since we have understood that writing and reading
are two essential skills for postgraduate students,
we need to take into account that writing in higher
education is not a set of rules that should be
followed strictly. Rather, it is better to be described
as a set of conventions.
These conventions are practiced and learnt
implicitly. Another important feature of these
conventions is variation.
Disciplinary variation in academic writing has been
the focus of several research studies.
These variations are noticed at hierarchical levels:
university, school, discipline and supervisor.
These conventions are also different from one
context to another; from one supervisor to another;
from one discipline to another.
However, there are some common shared
conventions in most institutions in higher
Examples of variations in these conventions are:
1. The total number of pages
2. Conceptual framework
3. The structure of the statement of the problem
4. Limitations of the study
5. Number of the chapters in the thesis
6. The number of research questions
7. Examiners’ approaching a thesis
It has been found that “academics are able to exert
power and authority around a range of textual
practices, even when these practices are far
removed from the more conventional domains of
research and teaching, whereby one might expect
to find the main locus of academic control in
institutional and disciplinary terms”.
(Lea a & Stierer, 2013)
Genres in academic writing are several reaching 30.
The most common/major ones for postgraduate
students in our school are
1. Research proposal
2. Research article
3. Ph.D/Master’s Thesis/Dissertation
Each genre of these is considered important for a
postgraduate students because they may reflect the
development and growth of a postgraduate student.
Among all of these genres, PhD is an important award,
recognised internationally to signify high level
intellectual endeavours in a specialised field of study.
If we give a careful examination at the completed
theses in this school (i.e., The School of Languages,
Literacies & Translation), we may be able to develop
an appreciation of how these theses are constructed
and written, and can also give a sense of an
appropriate standard of the cultural practice of
doing/writing a PhD theses..
Examining theses in this school, we can clearly find
that they share the common structure which includes
3.Table of Content
My talk focuses on
1. examiners’ evaluation
and comments on these
2. Suggestions for how
tackle these comments
The examination process is the platform on which the
standards of doctoral qualifications are based.
As a result of this conceptualisation, the examination
process or the viva is considered to be an important
moment in the doctoral education.
In addition, the examination of a PhD thesis is a crunch
point in which the final judgment, which comes after
the investment of intensive effort for several years, is
Overall, those in higher education understand that
examination process is a very crucial aspect of
doctoral candidature (Johnston, 1997).
At both Master’s and doctoral levels, the examiners’
reports are considered to have an important role in
postgraduate examination because these reports
mark the culmination of many years of supervised
In most universities in UK and countries which follow
a similar system in postgraduate examination, for a
postgraduate student to be awarded the degree,
external evaluation of a written thesis is essential.
Based on the degree and the regulations in the
university, the number of examiners can vary.
However, most of the time the examiners are two
The task assigned to the examiners is usually
marking the thesis and giving a final assessment
(Pass, Resubmission or Fail).
“Even though systems might vary with regard to
any further examination requirements, for instance
oral examinations, referred to as viva or defence,
all systems require written examiner reports”
(Stracke & Kumar, 2010).
In our context here, in this university, a
Master’s/Ph.D candidate is given examiners’
copies of the thesis because these copies
definitely include some more comments or editing
of some parts of the thesis.
Viva: moves analysis
Chairperson and examiners:
Chairperson and examiners:
In the pre-viva discussion, the chairperson
requests the examiners to brief the committee
about his/her assessment of the thesis and the
major problems and issues need clarification in the
In this phase, each of the examiner may justify the
final judgment he/she gives in the report. This
justification is largely based on the standards
criteria given to the examiner when he/she
receives the copy of the thesis.
During the main part of the viva (Examiners’ questions to
the candidate), examiners raise the questions they have
and the candidate has to answer and provide clarification.
In the post-viva discussion, the chairperson refer to the
examiners and asks them about their own immediate
evaluation of the answers and clarifications given by the
Another important question by the chairperson to each
one of the examiner: Do you maintain the final
assessment (Pass, Re-submission or Fail)?
In this phase, the committee negotiates the final decision
Thesis evaluation reports: Examples
The following are examples of Thesis Examination
1. (UTM).pdf http://goo.gl/9cHfYV
2. (USM).pdf http://goo.gl/JA7yEx
3. A Malaysian univeristy.pdf (Stracke & Kumar, 2010)
As shown in the attached evaluation reports of PhD
and Masters’ theses, an evaluation report consists of
two essential components (Stracke & Kumar, 2010):
The first component of examiner reports is a
summative assessment where examiners make a
judgment as to whether the thesis has met the
standards established by the discipline and the
university for the award of the degree.
The second component is developmental and
formative, where examiners provide feedback to
assist the candidate to revise the thesis. This
feedback should be intended to improve the
candidate’s work. Unfortunately, this essential
element may be ignored by some examiners.
With reference to understanding the examination of a
PhD thesis as an assessment task, the PhD
examiner considers whether learning outcomes meet
the standards that have been established.
These standards are the guidelines for examiners
and they can be considered as the assessment
Thus, in this respect, in the assessment of a PhD
examiners provide information about a performance
The PhD examination report is also considered
from the feedback perspectives because some of
the comments provided by the examiners may
provide developmental experiences and encourage
In other words, some PhD examination reports may
give feedback which involves closing a gap in
knowledge. In this respect, examiners may
approach the thesis with the attitude to provide
feedback for improvement.
The final judgment/assessment of a PhD thesis is
influenced by several factors. I prefer to group them
under two broad types: academic and non-
The academic factors may be related to/can include
the content of the thesis, the discipline, and the
expertise of the examiners.
Non-academic factors can be related to the
relationship between the PhD student and his/her
supervisor(s), relationship between the candidate
and the examiners, relationship between the
supervisor and the examiners, the candidate’s
performance in the viva, the candidate’s
personality, and so on.
Comments on the Title of the thesis
1. The title of the thesis seems to be appropriate
and matches with the content of the thesis.
However, the title needs to be amended based
on the following suggestion: ..........
2. The thesis title is appropriate and reflects the
content of the thesis.
3. The title needs to be refined.
4. The title of the thesis needs to be re-phrased
properly to reflect the focus of the study. For
example the study does not investigate .... .
5. The title is clear except for the errors in typing [The
examiner requests the candidate to refer to the
examiner’s copy of the thesis].
6. In terms of content, the title is adequate but could
7. In terms of the content, the title of the thesis should
be reworded to reflect the content of the thesis.
[The examiner summarizes the content and gave a
suggestion for the title].
8. The title is clear and concise, but I suggest making
the word translation plural.
Suggestions for a good title of the thesis
It is well-established that The title is designed to
stimulate the reader’s interest. In the case of PhD
thesis examination, the readers are the examiners.
However, the examiners are not only readers. Rather
they have to evaluate the title based on their reading
of the content of the thesis.
Thus, when a PhD student construct the title, he/she
should convince the examiners that the current title is
the most appropriate one.
Whatever the title of the thesis is, a PhD candidate
can still have comments which may be positive or
Although the first part of a thesis is the Title, working on it
seriously comes after writing the thesis.
This is because throughout all the drafting and
preparation, a PhD student will have a working, tentative
title in mind.
When a PhD student progresses in his/her research,
he/she returns to the Title regularly to reflect on and to
change it as necessary.
Factors that may contribute to this kind of reconstruction
done to the title are proposal presentation, presentations
in conferences, seminars, colloquia, and talking to
friends working/has worked on PhD research.
A good title should be accurate.
A good title should attract readers’ attention and
inform them what the thesis is about.
It needs to stand out in some way from the other
thousands of titles.
It must summarize, in a few words, what the research
It should be a concise and accurate description that
includes key words.
The title of a thesis must do several things in a
relatively small number of words.
1. The abstract is satisfactory but could be improved
to show the complexities of the writing process is
variously addressed by the researcher.
2. As it stands, the abstract lacks preciseness in
terms of spelling out, the focus and rationale for
understanding the research.
3. The abstract is too long. It should be shortened to
about one page or one page and a half (of around
4. The abstract could be improved.
5. The abstract is too long. The key points in the study
have to be summarized by highlighting the research
problem, objectives, methodology and key findings.
6. A more concise abstract is required.
7. A more concise abstract that includes the purpose, a
brief description of the research design, and main
findings is required.
8. The abstract is not well-written.
9. The abstract is concise and sufficient except for the
theories and methods used in the research are
mentioned in the abstract.
Suggestions of writing Abstract of thesis
The abstract is NOT an introduction, instead it
summarizes the very essence of your thesis: a
concise description of the problem(s), your method
of solving them, results and conclusions.
Don’t write the abstract at the very last minute
because you will need several drafts. It’s the very
first thing the external reviewer will read.
The Abstract typically aims to provide an overview
of the study which answers the following
1. What was the general purpose of the study?
2. What was the particular aim of the study?
3. Why was the study carried out?
4. How was the study carried out?
5. What did the study reveal?
The typical structure of an Abstract, then, may
include the following communicative events:
1. overview of the study;
2. aim of the study;
3. reason for the study;
4. methodology used in the study;
5. findings of the study.
Tenses in the Abstract
Based on Cooley and Lewkowicz (2003), there are
two ways of viewing an Abstract:
1.as a summary of the thesis or
2.as a summary of the research that was carried out.
The first of these will typically use the present
simple tense (This thesis examines ...).
The second will typically use the past simple tense
(The study revealed that ...) and the present perfect
tense (Previous research has shown that ...).
Comments on Chapter One
(The Introduction Chapter)
While it has been found that there are
variations in the structure of theses, most of
theses include the Introduction Chapter.
The main purpose of the Introduction chapter is
to create a research space (Swales, 1990). In
other words, the Introduction Chapter should
show the focus of your study and its
1. The first chapter provided an effective advanced
organizer for the reader explaining quite clearly
the background and purposes of the study.
2. Chapter One is a very well-written and
3. The background of the study is well-articulated.
4. The statement of the problem is stated clearly.
5. The candidate provides strong arguments as
why he thinks the research questions are
important and worth investigating.
6. Problems statement needs some work:
- Lines 12 and 13 on page 16 are not clear if the
candidate is referring to ESL or EFL.
- Lines 16 and 17 do not make sense.
- Beginning portion of the problems statement generally
not addressing the crux of the problem related to EFL.
- Only towards the end of the problem statement
section, beginning on page 20, the candidate starts
to discuss the problems related to EFL.
7. The statement of the problem should be
shortened to two pages.
8. Page 24 and 25: verb examine - for all the
objectives – please look into possibilities of using
some other verbs.
9. The objectives of the research are appropriate and
they reflect the focus of the study . However, they
should be re-written in numbering form.
10. the objectives of the study as articulated on page 17
are sufficiently clear.
11. The first section in the thesis starts with a focus on
language learning and teacher education. I find this a
bit odd since the major thrust of the thesis is on EFL
12. Sections 1.3 needs to be re-written because the
ideas are not well-organized. In the first
paragraph of this section, the candidate
discusses the classification of the educational
system; and in the second paragraph in the same
section, he/she discusses another classification
of the educational system. A synthesis of what
the candidate has read may provide clear
description and helps the readers to understand
Suggestions for writing the Introduction Chapter
The organizational structure of the Introduction can
be said to move from a fairly general overview of
the research terrain to the particular issues under
investigation through three key moves which
capture the communicative purposes of the
Introduction (Swales & Feak 1994):
1. to establish a research territory;
2. to identify a niche or gap in the territory;
3. to then signal how the topic in question
occupies that niche.
Based on several research on academic writing, the
typical ‘gap statement’ words and phrases which
may be useful for thesis writers.
disregard, neglect to consider, fail to consider
overestimate, ignore overlook, is limited to suffer
from, misinterpret underestimate.
controversial, questionable, incomplete,
unconvincing, inconclusive, unsatisfactory,
None of these studies/findings/calculations
It remains unclear
It would be of interest to
The examination process of Ph.D/Master’s theses is a
summative assessment in which examiners have to
assess theses and give comments based on
(guidelines given to the examiners, the expertise of
the examiner, or both.
As a postgraduate candidate, you will NEVER leave
the viva hall (after the viva) without comments on your
thesis; these comments will definitely involve some
medications in your thesis. The difference between a
PhD examination report and another one is the quality
and/or the quantity of the summative assessment and
developmental feedback given on your thesis.
Johnston, S. (1997). Examining the examiners: an analysis of examiners'
reports on doctoral theses. Studies in higher education, 22(3), 333-347.
Kumar, V., & Stracke, E. (2011). Examiners’ reports on theses: Feedback or
assessment?. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 10(4), 211-222.
Paltridge, B., & Starfield, S. (2007). Thesis and dissertation writing in a
second language: A handbook for supervisors. Routledge.
Sidhu, G. K., Kaur, S., Fook, C. Y., & Yunus, F. W. (2013). Postgraduate
Supervision: Exploring Malaysian Students’ Experiences. Procedia-Social
and Behavioral Sciences, 90, 133-141.
Swales, J.M. (2004) Research Genres: Explorations and Applications,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Swales, J.M. and Feak, C.B. (1994) Academic Writing for Graduate
Students, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Swales, J.M. and Feak, C.B. (2000) English in Today’s Research World,
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.