Thesis Guidelines

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Word lengths

The word length for masters theses are:
•    four paper thesis:  30,000 – 40,000 words
•    three paper thesis: 20,000 – 30,000 words

The word length for doctoral theses are:
•    PhD thesis: 100,000 words maximum
•    EdD thesis:  60,000 word maximum


A realistic time-line for completion is crucial. Among other things, this will include adequate time to edit and proof-read your thesis to get it to a publishable standard, as this is a criterion for writing at this level. You will also need to allow time to have your thesis bound.

Writing your thesis

Perhaps the best way to  explore how theses are developed and structured is to read exemplars. Some hard-bound theses are available in the University’s libraries and in Departments. University of Waikato theses are deposited in ADT—the Australasian Digital Theses Project.

It is important to be discerning when you read these as the grades are not recorded on them.  Some will have just got through; others will be A+ quality.

As always when producing a good piece of writing, all the drafting and hard work getting to the end are not evidenced in the final version itself because good writing is characterised by a fluency and authorial control that belie the efforts of the writer. For successful writers—including your supervisors—extensive drafting and re-working, time-consuming as these are, are the norm.

Thesis quality

A good thesis is coherent. This means that all the bits connect and how they connect is spelled out for your readers.

  • The introduction introduces both your research project and the way that you have put the thesis together, and very often it explicitly inroduces you as both its writer and the researcher.
  • Your review of the literature locates your research within what has been written about already and what is being written about, and identifies where your particular project fits and how your research question has arisen. All sources are referenced in the most current APA style.
  • You explain what you did, that is, your methods, and account for them in terms of the methodological theory that underpins them and how they are particularly suited to your purpose in this piece of research.
  • You say what you found out and then you discuss this, linking it to what the literature has already told you. You identify and discuss what seem to you to be particularly significant insights and observations that demonstrate that your research makes a contribution.  If you are a doctoral student you will have been striving for innovation of some kind and the discussion is where you demonstrate this particularly. You explain how what you have done and what you have found out clearly address the research question with which you began.
  • You pull back from the detail itself and re-establish the purpose, the themes, the fieldwork, the findings, the conclusions you have reached, the parameters and other aspects of the study that presented limitations, and where related research might go in the future.
  • You explicitly tell your readers at the beginnings and ends of chapters, except at the beginning of chapter one and the end of the final chapter, where the connecting argument of the thesis has just been and where it is about to go in the chapter that follows.

A good thesis has a strong critical edge. On the one hand, there is a certain amount of room for descriptive writing as you outline your topic, summarise the research, ideas and theories of others and present your results, for example. However, you will, on the other hand, continually engage in critique, asking questions of yourself, your material and your writing, questions like:

  • why is this so?
  • where is the evidence in the literature or my data?
  • how have I supported this assertion?
  • what connections can I claim?

A good thesis is of publishable quality. It will demonstrate the hallmarks of excellent writing and professional presentation, features like:

  • clear expression of ideas
  • fluency through its explicit connections within paragraphs, between sections and across chapters
  • logical organisation made obvious by meaningful section and sub-section headings and focused paragraphs
  • the grammar, syntax, spelling and punctuation of formal academic writing
  • the best words for saying what you want to say
  • full attention to all relevant academic conventions, usually regarding referencing.

Formatting the thesis

The thesis must be presented in 12 pt type, in 1.5 or double spacing on A4 paper of at least 60gsm. It may be printed on either one or both sides of the page. Margins for all pages (before binding), including those on which photographs or diagrams are mounted, must be as follows: inner 40mm; outer 30mm; top/bottom 20-25mm.

Submission of the thesis

If you are a masters student you are required to submit three hard-bound copies of your thesis to the Student and Academic Services Division. The cover must be black buckram, with the binding either sewn or glued. The spine and cover of the binding must be lettered in gold with the initials and name of the author and the title or short title of the thesis.
If you are a doctoral student you are required to submit two soft-bound copies of your thesis to the Student and Academic Services Division.

An electronic version of the thesis must also be lodged with the University of Waikato library. Digital copies of theses completed at the University of Waikato must be deposited directly into Research Commons. Instructions for how to do this can be found at the following main university website.

At the time of final submission (for doctoral students this is after examination when any amendments have been completed), you will be required to complete a Library Authorisation to Copy form.

Your thesis must be accompanied by a declaration, signed by your thesis supervisor, stating:

  • whether the thesis is, in the supervisor’s opinion, ready for examination
  • that the thesis embodies the student’s own work carried out under the supervisor’s direct supervision.

The Financial Services Division of the University will be contacted to determine if you have any outstanding debts. Please ensure that you have paid any outstanding library fines before you submit your thesis.

If you have no outstanding debts, you will be issued a receipt acknowledging your thesis submission.  Full details, including forms, are available at the main university website.

Examining/Assessment of thesis/portfolio

Formalities and regulations to do with the examining of masters and other higher degree theses are detailed in the University of Waikato Calendar under the appropriate degree regulations. Examiners normally return the grade and a report within 6-8 weeks of the report being submitted, although not always. The Director of the Centre for Postgraduate Studies for Graduate Studies will notify you in writing of your grade and enclose, if the examiners agree, copies of their reports.

Masters thesis

A masters thesis usually has an examiner who is external to the University. Your supervisor will also examine the thesis. When your project is nearing completion your supervisor will make an informal approach to a person considered suitable to be an examiner. You may have ideas about the people you would like to have (or not to have) as examiner of your thesis. Although student requests are taken into account, the Centre for Postgraduate Studies has the final say about who the examiner will be. Normally students do not know who is examining their work. Athough examiner may prefer to remain anonymous, they usually agree to make their reports made available to students.

Doctor of Education Research Portfolio

Examination of the Research Portfolio proceeds through the Centre for Postgraduate Studies of the Faculty of Education.  The papers required for the portfolio will be read by supervisors and feedback given progressively, with negotiated due dates for draft and final papers.

The Research Portfolio is awarded a Pass or Fail at the end of this process.  Students who do not wish to continue with the EdD may apply for credit to a Postgraduate Diploma in Education.

Doctoral thesis

A doctoral thesis (EdD/PhD) is examined by two examiners, one of whom is usually based overseas. Your Chief supervisor also provides a report. After you have received your examiners’ reports, you also participate in an oral examination. There are three possible outcomes of the examination process: accepted without amendments; accepted with amendments; not accepted.

The examination procedures for the thesis are available in the Handbook for Research Degrees of MPhil, PhD and EdD at the university’s main website.

General assessment standards for doctoral thesis

The criteria below have been adapted from those used by the New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies for the reviewing of articles. Your lecturer will include similar criteria in course requirements. These give a useful indication of the ‘measures’ used to assess whether or not a paper is written at doctoral level:

  • Some estimation of the importance of the general area of the article;
  • The degree of importance of the author’s own contribution (does it show comprehensive reading of the literature; does it critically engage with the debates, theories and methods in the field?);
  • The fairness and accuracy of the author’s summarising of past work by others (does it engage with the different theories and approaches within the broad field of study; does it engage seriously with differing points of view?);
  • The nature and type of evidence offered to support the arguments of the author’s own contribution; the clarity of presentation of the evidence or argument or analysis (does the author base his or her own conclusions or interpretation on a sound overview of the available evidence or possible approaches?);
  • Any important omissions (are key theories, methods or topics left out?).