PhD examination criteria

PhDs take many forms but the examination criteria are common to all disciplines. PhD examiners will be asking the following questions:

  • does the candidate show sufficient familiarity with, and understanding and critical appraisal of, the relevant literature?
  • does the thesis provide a sufficiently comprehensive investigation of the topic?
  • are the methods and techniques adopted appropriate to the subject matter and are they properly justified and applied?
  • are the results suitably set out and accompanied by adequate exposition and interpretation?
  • are conclusions and implications appropriately developed and clearly linked to the nature and content of the research framework and findings?
  • has the research question(s) in fact been tested?
  • is the literary quality and general presentation of the thesis of a suitably high standard?
  • does the thesis as a whole constitute a substantive original contribution to knowledge in the subject area with which it deals?

Examiners are also asked to consider the following attributes.

The thesis: 

  • demonstrates authority in the candidate's field and shows evidence of command of knowledge in relevant fields
  • shows that the candidate has a thorough grasp of the appropriate methodological techniques and an awareness of their limitations
  • makes a distinct contribution to knowledge. Its contribution to knowledge rests on originality of approach and/or interpretation of the findings and, in some cases, the discovery of new facts
  • demonstrates an ability to communicate research findings effectively in the professional arena and in an international context
  • is a careful, rigorous and sustained piece of work demonstrating that a research 'apprenticeship' is complete and the holder should be admitted to the community of scholars in the discipline.

Note that: 'it is expected that examiners consider the thesis solely on its merits as an independent piece of supervised research, irrespective of whether or not the thesis adopts an approach which may be considered as not falling within the mainstream or established research paradigm for the discipline, and irrespective of whether or not the approach to the research is the same as that which the examiner might have used in such a study.'

Consider the following questions

  • Are you surprised by any of the questions asked by and of examiners?
  • Based on the examination criteria, what are the essential elements of a PhD thesis in your opinion?