Writing my thesis

Getting started on your thesis

The approach to writing will vary by discipline. The best way to make sure you are doing the right thing is to talk to your supervisors, plan the structure of your thesis and start writing early and regularly.

In creative arts disciplines where your thesis may take the form of creative works and a dissertation, you should also discuss the form and presentation of your thesis with your supervisor, to ensure that it is presented as a cohesive whole. You can refer to the thesis with creative works page for further information on formatting , weighting and the examination process for creative works.

Thesis formats, preface and word limits

The rules governing thesis content, language and word limits are contained in the Graduate Research Training Policy while the formatting and preface requirements for theses, compilations and creative works are provided in the Preparation of Graduate Research Theses Rules. You can also refer to the sample thesis title page.

If your thesis includes some of your publications, or material extracted from some of your publications, format requirements are explained under Including your published material in your thesis.

The University repository, Minerva Access, stores completed theses and is a good resource for viewing how others have presented their work. Just browse by types and choose Masters research thesis, PhD thesis or Doctorate.

You will need to add an Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) to your thesis title page. Information on the ORCID and how to apply for one is available from the University Library

If your thesis includes third party copyright material, the Preparation of Graduate Research Theses Rules requires you to include a list of the material and whether or not you have gained permission from the copyright owners to make this material publicly available as part of your thesis. When creating the list, please use the Template for Listing Third Party Copyright Material. For further information on copyright and dealing with the copyright of others, see Copyright & Research.

Check the Handbook entry for your course for specific word limits and, where applicable, for the proportion of the thesis to be presented as a creative work.

The maximum word limit for theses (including footnotes but excluding tables, maps, bibliographies and appendices) are:

  • 50 000 words for Masters theses
  • 100 000 words for a PhD or doctoral thesis.

You should aim to write a thesis shorter than the maximum allowed, for example 40 000 for a Masters thesis or 80 000 words for a PhD. Any thesis that exceeds the maximum limit requires permission to proceed to examination, which must be sought via the Graduate Research Examinations Office prior to submission.

It may have been necessary for you to significantly alter your research plan, due the COVID-19 pandemic or other major disruption. In some cases, this may mean that the thesis you submit is not typical for your discipline. In your thesis, you should discuss any methodological changes you have made and explain how the changes arose because of the disruptions. Theses usually also include discussion of possible future research; you may wish to outline research that could be done once conditions change. Your discussion in the thesis of COVID-19 or other impacts will guide the examiners’ understanding of the reported work and the environment in which it was undertaken.

Acknowledging COVID-19 disruptions in your thesis

This guide discusses how to explain the impact of COVID-19 disruptions in your thesis. You should consult with your supervisors to decide what approach suits your situation best.

What to include or exclude

When you include statements within your PhD, other than in the Acknowledgements, they must be objective and within the scope of matters that examiners consider. You can include statements about the impact of COVID-19 or other significant external disruptions on matters such as the scope of the thesis; experimental design; or access to resources including facilities, collections, cohorts of experimental subjects, fieldwork, laboratories, and performance spaces. Note this list is indicative only. If in doubt, contact your supervisor or advisory committee chair about other relevant inclusions.

It is not appropriate to include emotional statements, how your experience compared to others (examination is not competitive), nor impacts such as the need to work remotely, or personal statements on mental or physical health, family, finances, nor the behaviour or availability of supervisors. Examiners are not asked to consider these matters.

While these factors may have had a profound impact on many candidates during the disruptions, there is no concept of ‘special consideration’ in examination of theses. Challenges to candidature are expected to be managed prior to submission and are not considered by examiners. For example, if access to supervisors was a difficulty, alternative arrangements should have been made. Examiners are not asked to make allowance for such factors.

Major changes to the project

If the disruptions led to significant changes to your project, you could address this in a single location.

For example, you might include a section that addresses the impact that the disruptions had on the entire thesis, or on multiple chapters within the thesis in a systematic and explicit way.

The introduction is where candidates lay out the thesis for examiners and so provides an opportunity to present objective statements regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the thesis. If the disruptions meant that different methodologies were pursued in different parts of the thesis, the introduction is a good place to explain why in a cohesive way.

Alternatively, statements can be added to the preface, to provide context to the work as a whole.

A final conclusions chapter is used to summarise the work and outline future research opportunities. If the disruption prevented you from undertaking particular research activities, you can use this section to highlight these gaps in the study and how they might be addressed.

Carefully explaining how the methodology was shaped by the disruption demonstrates your capacity to think beyond the PhD and to adapt to changing conditions. It can show that you are creative, flexible, and exploratory as a problem-solver.

The skills expected of a strong candidate include an ability to formulate a viable research question and to analyse information critically within and across a changing disciplinary environment.

You have the opportunity to demonstrate these attributes, even if the investigative component of the research was impeded. Remember that the core goal is research training, not the achievement of specific research outcomes.

Impact on specific chapters

If the disruptions impacted just one or two chapters of your thesis, they still need to stand alone as quality research.

One option is to explain the original design and how it was revised, either in the chapter introduction or in the section where it best fits in your narrative. It is important to explain to the examiners why you chose that methodology, particularly if it is unusual for your discipline. For example, the disruption may have affected the number or type of interviews that were conducted or have forced a change from experimental work to computational modelling.

Again, writing a focused discussion of the impact of the disruptions on a specific piece of work is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the qualities and skills that an examiner seeks in a strong candidate.

Impact that was not specific

You may wish to note that your thesis was completed during COVID-19 disruptions, even if there was no specific identifiable impact on the scope of the thesis or the project design. The appropriate location for this note is in the acknowledgements section because it is not examined. Remember that although this is the section where you might offer gratitude for family, friends, supervisors, inspirations, and supports; not every examiner will read the acknowledgements.

Editing my thesis

Your thesis must be your own work, and you must clearly understand your role as well as the roles of your supervisors and others throughout the editorial process.

The Graduate Research Training Policy limits the editing of theses by others to that permitted in the current Guidelines for Editing Research Theses.

As editorial intervention (other than by your supervisors) should be restricted to copyediting and proofreading, as covered on page two of the Guidelines for Editing Research Theses, it is important that you understand the types of editing as explained on the Institute of Professional Editors Limited (IPEd) website.

The University does not maintain a list of editors. If you would like help finding a suitable editor, the Institute of Professional Editors Limited (IPEd) has a register of accredited editors.

If your thesis has had the benefit of editorial advice, in any form, you must provide the name of the editor or company providing the service and a brief description of the service rendered, in terms of the Standards, in the preface of your thesis.

Registering my intention to submit

Prior to submission, or prior to your performance or exhibition of a creative component of your thesis, register your intention to submit by logging into the Thesis Examination System (TES). About 2-months prior to your submission is the ideal time for this. Your estimated submission date, or your thesis submission date, must not exceed your maximum submission date, i.e. your expected thesis submission date as listed on the Graduate Research Details page of my.unimelb.

Registering your intention to submit begins the process of the selection of examiners. You will need to provide a brief (80-word) overview of your research question, methods and results which will be sent to potential examiners. If you are submitting a thesis with creative work, include the weighting of the proportion of the written dissertation and creative component/s. You will also be given the opportunity to name up to two people that you consider to be unsuitable examiners, along with substantiated reasons. You are encouraged to create and enter an ORCID.

Preparing to submit your thesis soon? Download our Thesis Submission Checklist to assist you.

More information

Read the FAQs on using the Thesis Examination System

You must be admitted to the relevant graduate research degree in order to submit your thesis. If your candidature is suspended, cancelled or terminated and you wish to submit, you must first apply for reinstatement and readmission. Before applying for readmission you should contact your supervisor or head of department to discuss your thesis. If your supervisor is no longer available please contact the graduate research team for your faculty, or the faculty nearest in discipline to your former department.

Resources and workshops to help you write

  • The academic skills graduate research services page offers a range of workshops, individual appointments and a free program to help you develop your academic writing, communication and language skills, such as:
    • Writing skills
    • Publication, open access and copyright
    • Library skills for researchers
    • Systems and tech tools including - Nvivo, LabArchives, File Management 101, Producing excellent graphs and sessions for a range of reference management software
    • Communication skills and presentation skills workshops including - Oral presentations, Working with people and managing complex relationships and Working with a supervisor
    • Upcoming workshops offered by Research@Library including digital skills webinars.
    • Melbourne talks - a free program for international graduate researchers to the University of Melbourne delivered by the Student Peer Leader Network in partnership with Academic Skills.
  • The University’s Library Guides provide a resource of library research support information on research, reading and writing skills
  • We recommend you watch the series of eight short videos on Getting Started with Library Research
  • The Eastern Resource Centre Library will be regularly updated to include information on when they are hosting structured social writing sessions known as ‘shut up and write’ and library information sessions
  • Connect to the Thesis Writers’ Community on LMS. Established by Academic Skills, the Community provides information and support through the writing process for graduate researchers
  • You can join GSA’s regular Shut Up & Write sessions and Shut Up & Write-a-Thons
  • Book an adviser for individual appointments to help with your thesis
  • Your graduate school may have writing groups and they may offer 'boot camps' for an intensive writing effort. GSA also runs regular thesis bootcamps.
  • You may also find it helpful to look at theses from past candidates in your field.  You can use the Browse “Communities and Collections” function in the University's institutional publications repository, Minerva Access to find the “Theses” collection for your faculty or department (use the “+” symbol to expand the list of communities available).  You can also use the search function to find theses with relevant keywords.
  • Annual graduate research competitions organised by the University such as the Three minute thesis (3MT®) competition and Visualise your thesis competition 

Please note: These programs and workshops are subject to change, based on bookings and demand.

Next: Thesis with publication