Skip to main content

PGR Student Handbook

Research Writing and Thesis Requirements

PGR degrees are examined primarily on the basis of a piece of research presented in the form of a thesis submitted within the prescribed period of study. You will be examined about your thesis at the end of your programme. The production of that thesis is, therefore, your main task. In order to undertake this work you will need a well-focused research topic, a knowledge of the existing secondary literature on the subject, a well thought out methodology for tackling the research, access to the necessary primary sources required and the ability to produce a well-structured argument in lucid and well-presented prose. Many ancillary skills may be required to do this: knowledge of languages, palaeography, information technology, the latest theoretical and methodological approaches in your discipline, interview techniques and questionnaires to name but a few. 

Successful research students understand the task in hand, plan their work carefully, acquire the training and skills required, and take a systematic approach to research and writing, always keeping their deadline for submission clearly in view. They are helped in this task by supervisors, with whom they work closely. A thesis needs to conform to accepted academic conventions, to avoid plagiarism and to follow the ethical guidelines laid down for research. 

Students must work within strict deadlines laid down for completion, which vary according to the type of degree being taken and the registration status of each student. The progress of each student is monitored by the PGR Support team, which decides on any changes to a student’s status.

Research Council funded students

Research Councils assess the University on submission rates for its funded students. Students are expected to submit their thesis for examination, if possible by the end of the period of funding, but no later than one year from the end of the studentship if they are full-time (pro-rata for part tieme students).

You need to know what you have to achieve in your research in order to obtain your degree. A thesis must conform to standards laid down by the University and to follow proper academic conventions. The PhD demands a higher standard than the MPhil. 


Requirements of MPhil: Requirements of PhD:
1. evidence that it extends the knowledge of the subject 1. evidence that it forms a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject
2. evidence of the candidate's ability to relate the subject matter of the dissertation to the existing body of knowledge within the field 2. evidence of originality
3. a satisfactory level of literary presentation. 3. evidence of the candidate's ability to relate the subject matter of the thesis to the existing body of knowledge within the field
  4. a satisfactory level of literary presentation

The TQA Manual, Chapter 11 - Presentation of theses/dissertations for degrees in the Faculty of Graduate Research: statement of procedures details the format and presentation of the thesis must be closely followed. These provide information on all aspects of the overall layout of a thesis, including word length (up to 100,000 for a PhD and 60,000 for an MPhil), division into chapters, the scholarly apparatus. As of March 2020, you are no longer required to print and bind a hard copy of your thesis for submission, as we now follow an electronic thesis submission procedure. If your examiner requests a hard bound copy, our PGR Administration team will arrange for a copy to be printed and sent to your examiner. If you would like a hard copy of the thesis to refer to in your viva, it is your responsibility to arrange for your copy to be printed. 

If you would like to see an example of a successful thesis please ask your supervisor to show you one. 

In addition to the general formatting rules, research and writing in the Business School normally follow particular conventions and in part your thesis will be judged upon its adherence to them.

1.  You should write clearly and concisely. Avoid unnecessary jargon and technical language: the best writing is simple, direct and straightforward. The aim of academic writing is to convey complex ideas and arguments in an accessible manner, not to confuse the reader.
2.  Spellings and usage should conform to UK English standards (including the layout of dates, numbers, capitalisation etc.). If you are unsure of these please refer to a suitable dictionary, style sheet or consult your supervisors. Text quoted in other languages should be provided accurately in translation, according to a suitable translation guide. See English Language support section of this handbook.
3.  You need to provide references. The point of references is to guide readers to the evidence you have used in formulating your judgements or to indicate where you are drawing upon the words or ideas of others. Do not use them to ‘pad’ the text: if the information they contain is important, it should be in the main body of the thesis, otherwise it should be discarded.
4.  References should be laid out in a clear, consistent pattern according to the nature of your research and writing, and you should ensure that you keep to one consistent referencing system throughout your thesis. A number of systems exist, details of which can be found in the University of Exeter LibGuides: Referencing Guidance. Be aware, however, that no set system is complete. In particular, references to archival material, internet sources (which should be dated), interviews etc. will often require you to make a judgement as to the best format. You need to provide enough information that your sources can be located. The most important thing to bear in mind is that a reader of your thesis should be able, via your references, to go directly to where you have drawn your information in order to check that what you say is valid or to follow up an interesting idea that you have put forward. Consult your supervisors about an appropriate layout for your thesis and the appropriate method of referencing to use.
5.  The bibliography should also be laid out consistently. It should include all material that you have consulted for the thesis. It is normal in the Business School to divide bibliographies into sections for primary and secondary materials. You may also choose to use subdivisions for further clarity: archival, printed primary, newspapers, official publications, memoirs, interviews etc. Again, you should arrange the bibliography in a way appropriate to the nature of your research and writing.

Appendices, maps, diagrams, photographs and tables, if included, should only contain material directly referred to in the main text. They should not be used as ‘padding’ or additional information. They may include raw data, the results of interviews, filmographies or other kinds of material vital to the reader’s understanding of the findings of your research. Consult your supervisors for advice on these matters. 


Alternative Form of Submission

Changes to the guidance on the presentation of theses have been made resulting in a re-definition of what we mean by the term ‘thesis’ which reflects the wide variety of ways in which research is carried out and assessed. This allows, for example, for the production of a thesis in an alternative format, which may include either:

a) The presentation of part or all of the thesis in an alternative format e.g. it may be a multimedia document (e.g. an element or the thesis in its entirety, which is presented in a format appropriate perhaps for presentation at a conference; OR

b) A constructed text such as a piece of art, or a record of professional practice in the form of a series of case-studies, which must be accompanied by a commentary.

You must seek advice from your supervisor and PGR Support Team as early as possible into your degree if you wish to consider the use of an alternative thesis format.

Different disciplines within the Business School may expect “norms” in the way that research degrees are presented. Whilst for many Business and Management Schools these norms are unspoken rules, we have defined the most common ways that theses may be presented. Over the last few years, we have found that the 3 study thesis is becomiong more popular across all disciplines, although this is the primary thesis style in Economics and Finance. 

It is important to note that the structure of the thesis depends very much on the project itself and is to be agreed by the student and supervisor prior to upgrade, and preferably within the first few weeks of planning the research.

If you are unsure which format your thesis will take, you should discuss with your supervisory team in the first instance. They can share examples of other thesis in your subject area.

“Big Book” Thesis: Management, SITE, Leadershiop, Accounting

One research study which typically includes: Introduction, Literature review, Research Objectives and Contribution, Methodology and Research Methods, Analysis & Findings, Conclusion 

Note: it is atypical to have a ‘big book’ type thesis in finance and economics. If you are registered in either of these disciplines and wish to submit your thesis in this format, you are required to discuss with your discipline DPGR and supervisor.

 “2 or 3 Study thesis”: all disciplines

The final thesis must include: Introduction to thesis, two or three stand-alone studies, conclusion to the thesis. 

The decision whether to include 2 or 3 studies will depend on whether data are readily available or need to be hand-collected for example among other factors. Each of the 2-3 standalone studies should include an Introduction, Literature review, Identification of research questions, Contribution, Research methods, Analysis and findings, Conclusion

Note: it is not common to have a ‘2 or 3 study’ type thesis in Management and Leadership. If you are registered in either of these disciplines and wish to submit your thesis in this format, you are required to discuss with your discipline DPGR and supervisor.

The University expects its staff and students to maintain the highest standards for the conduct of research. As such the University has procedures in place that govern academic/research conduct for graduate research students. ‘Research Misconduct – Procedure for Graduate Research Students suspected of Research Misconduct’ is specific to graduate research students, and defines research conduct in the context of the range of activities undertaken by those doing research. 

You are expected to review this procedure and ensure that you understand your responsibilities under this Procedure, and that you understand the definitions of misconduct. You should also be aware that any work submitted to a member of your supervision team either in full, in part, or as a draft will fall under the provisions of this Procedure, as will any work handed to a member of staff. 

If you are in any doubt as to what constitutes Research Misconduct and how to avoid it please talk to your supervisors or your Discipline DPGR.

Academic Misconduct and Avoiding Plagiarism

Academic honesty means always giving full credit for any other people's contributions to our own achievements (i.e. by full and correct referencing) and never falsifying the results of any research.

Academic honesty is fundamental to the values promoted by the University and no student should be allowed to obtain for themselves, or for someone else, an unfair advantage as a result of academic dishonesty, whether this is by plagiarism, collusion with another, or cheating.

The University takes any instances of academic misconduct very seriously and expects all of its students to behave in a manner which upholds the principles of academic honesty.

The University uses plagiarism detection tools and will submit students' assessments for originality checking against an archive of previously submitted work, web pages and journal articles. All students' work submitted in this way is then anonymously stored in their archive for use in future checks. By submitting coursework you confirm that all material in the assignment which is not your own work has been properly identified and referenced and that it has not, in whole or part, been presented elsewhere for assessment. You also confirm your consent to the University copying and distributing any or all of your work in any form and using third parties (who may be based outside the EU/EEA) to monitor breaches of regulations, to verify whether your work contains plagiarised material, and for quality assurance purposes.

The Researcher Development Programme also provides a number of relevant courses that may be of interest to you in this context.

There are a number of benefits to making your research and thesis available via Open Access:

  • Increases citations and the visibility of your research
  • Helps to build your research career
  • Increases chances of further funding opportunities and collaborations
  • Meets the transparency/openness agenda

The key points of the University’s Open Access Research and Research Data Management Policy for PGR Students are as follows:


A copy of your final thesis/dissertation will need to be submitted to the institutional repository, Open Research Exeter (ORE), prior to the award of your degree.

Research Papers

  • PGR students should make the published peer-reviewed research papers and conference proceedings they produce whilst affiliated with the University available on Open Access according to funder requirements and as soon as publisher restrictions will allow.
  • PGR research papers should be made available on Open Access, by depositing a copy of the paper in Open Research Exeter (ORE).
  • Published research papers should include a short statement describing how and on what terms any supporting research data may be accessed.

 Research Data

  • PGR students should always comply with funder policy and University policy on research data management.
  • Responsibility for ongoing, day-to-day management of their research data lies with PGR students. Where the PGR is part of a project, data management policy will be set and monitored by the Principal Investigator (PI) and the PGR will be expected to comply with project guidelines.
  • The lead PGR Supervisor is responsible for advising the PGR student on good practice in research data management.
  • PGR students and their supervisors should discuss and review research data management issues annually, addressing issues of the capture, management, integrity, confidentiality, security, selection, preservation and disposal, commercialisation, costs, sharing and publication of research data and the production of descriptive metadata to aid discovery and re-use when relevant.
  • checklist to support PGRs and their supervisors in the annual research data review is available.
  • At the end of the degree, PGR students should register selected research data in Open Research Exeter (ORE). Information about the data should be included as a statement in the thesis record using the Description field. When legally, commercially and ethically appropriate, this selected research data should also be made available on Open Access in an appropriate repository.
  • PGR students will be able to embargo their research data in order to have a period of privileged use of the data that they have created or collected for a standard period of up to 18 months initially. An extended embargo may be required if your thesis contains any of the following:
    • unprotected intellectual property which you, your sponsor or any other 3rd party has the intention to use
    • sensitive information that may need to be withheld from public view
    • commercially sensitive material that may belong to your project sponsor
  • Please contact if you require any further advice.
  • It is not School policy that students must provide the School with a copy of the final version of the thesis. However, it would be courteous of students to offer their supervisors a personal copy of the final thesis

Research Data Management Guidance

In order to save time and effort later on in your degree, before you start collecting or creating research data or materials research students should consider the following:

Managing references

Using a reference manager such as EndNote or Mendeley helps with the organisation and citation of journal articles and the notes you make about them.

Data storage

Where will you store your research data/materials? Research students are allocated up to 20 GB of storage space on the University's U drive which is regularly backed up and can be retrieved if you accidentally delete a file or it gets corrupted. If your data is confidential and/or sensitive don't use cloud storage such as Dropbox or share it using email. Confidential and/or sensitive data should be encrypted and stored according to ethical approval.

Data back-up

Make sure you make regular back-ups of your files to avoid data loss, especially if you store your data on a memory stick or portable hard drive.

Organising your files and folders

Create a logical file storage system to find files easily, for example, with separate folders for reports, presentations, projects etc., and sub-folders separating raw data, tools, and analysed data. You should also develop a naming system for your files so that you know which version has included revisions or use a document control table on the front page.

Document your data creation/collection

It is easier to document data when you start creating or collecting your research materials rather than retrospectively. Think about what information you need about the data/materials so that you or somebody else can reuse and understand the data in the long-term. Information could include how data were created or digitised, what hardware/software was used, how the data was analysed, what their content and structure are and any manipulations that may have taken place.

Know your funder's policy on Open Access to research data and research publications

The University and your funder normally expect you to put your research data and publications on Open Access when appropriate.  There are exceptions for commercial, confidential and copyright reasons. See the Digital Curation Centre's page for an overview of funders' policies and the University of Exeter PGR policy.


Further Information

The following links provide further help and guidance on Open Access and research data management:

There are also training sessions on Open Access and Research Data Management as part of the Researcher Development.