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Examiners' comments on introduction chapter in theses


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Examiners' comments on introduction chapter in theses

  1. 1. 1 Examiners’ Comments on the Introduction Chapter in Theses School of Languages, Literacies & Translation, USM April 01, 2014 Dr. Omer Mahfoodh
  2. 2. Outline 2 1.Introduction 2.Thesis Structure 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 8.Conclusion
  3. 3. 3 Introduction
  4. 4. 4  Learning in higher education is considered to be an adaptation to a set of innovative ways of understanding, interpreting and organizing knowledge.  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 reading.  Thus, understanding students’ experience in higher education has been a source for learning more about academic learning.
  5. 5. 5  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, Ph.D/Master’s examiners.  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.
  6. 6. 6  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.
  7. 7. 7  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 education.
  8. 8. 8  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
  9. 9. 9  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)
  10. 10. Topic Two 10 The structure of thesis
  11. 11. 11  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.
  12. 12. 12  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 the following:
  13. 13. 13 1.Title 2.Acknowledgment 3.Table of Content 4.Abstract 5.Introduction 6.Literature Review 7.Methodology 8.Results 9.Conclusion 10.References 11.Appendices My talk focuses on 1. examiners’ evaluation and comments on these genres/section. 2. Suggestions for how tackle these comments
  14. 14. Topic Three 14 Thesis examination: procedures
  15. 15. 15  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 given.  Overall, those in higher education understand that examination process is a very crucial aspect of doctoral candidature (Johnston, 1997).
  16. 16. 16  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 research.  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.
  17. 17. 17  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 or three.  The task assigned to the examiners is usually marking the thesis and giving a final assessment (Pass, Resubmission or Fail).
  18. 18. 18  “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.
  19. 19. Viva: moves analysis 19 Chairperson and examiners: Pre-viva discussion Questions by examiners Chairperson and examiners: Post-viva discussion Final result Candidate answers Work presentation by candidate Viva
  20. 20. 20  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 thesis.  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.
  21. 21. 21  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 candidate.  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 of assessment.
  22. 22. Topic Four 22 Thesis evaluation reports: Examples
  23. 23. 23  The following are examples of Thesis Examination reports: 1. (UTM).pdf 2. (USM).pdf 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):
  24. 24. 24 Thesis examination report Summative assessment Developmental and formative feedback
  25. 25. 25  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.
  26. 26. 26  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 criteria.  Thus, in this respect, in the assessment of a PhD examiners provide information about a performance (the thesis).
  27. 27. 27  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 self-regulated learning.  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.
  28. 28. 28  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- academic factors.  The academic factors may be related to/can include the content of the thesis, the discipline, and the expertise of the examiners.
  29. 29. 29  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.
  30. 30. Topic Five 30 Comments on the Title of the thesis
  31. 31. 31 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 .... .
  32. 32. 32 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 be strengthened. 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.
  33. 33. Suggestions for a good title of the thesis 33  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 negative.
  34. 34. 34  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.
  35. 35. 35  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 is about.  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.
  36. 36. Topic Six 36 Comments on the Abstract
  37. 37. 37 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 420 words). 4. The abstract could be improved.
  38. 38. 38 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.
  39. 39. Suggestions of writing Abstract of thesis 39  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.
  40. 40. 40  The Abstract typically aims to provide an overview of the study which answers the following questions: 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?
  41. 41. 41  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.
  42. 42. Tenses in the Abstract 42  Based on Cooley and Lewkowicz (2003), there are two ways of viewing an Abstract: a summary of the thesis or 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 ...).
  43. 43. Topic Seven 43 Comments on Chapter One (The Introduction Chapter)
  44. 44. 44  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 contribution.
  45. 45. 45 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 convincing chapter. 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.
  46. 46. 46 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.
  47. 47. 47 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 reading.
  48. 48. 48 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 the argument.
  49. 49. Suggestions for writing the Introduction Chapter 49  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.
  50. 50. 50  Based on several research on academic writing, the typical ‘gap statement’ words and phrases which may be useful for thesis writers.  Verbs  disregard, neglect to consider, fail to consider overestimate, ignore overlook, is limited to suffer from, misinterpret underestimate.  Adjectives  controversial, questionable, incomplete, unconvincing, inconclusive, unsatisfactory, misguided
  51. 51. 51  Noun phrases  Little information/attention/work/data/research  Few studies/investigations/researchers/attempts  No studies/data/calculations  None of these studies/findings/calculations  Other forms  However  It remains unclear  It would be of interest to
  52. 52. Conclusion 52  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.
  53. 53. References 53  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.
  54. 54. 54 THANK YOU Any Question or comment?