Will the examiner tear my thesis apart?

You’ve done years of research, you’ve got the results, you’ve done the analysis, drawn your conclusions… But what if the examiner tears your thesis apart?

Obviously you want to avoid the humiliation of having your thesis torn to pieces. So here are the 7 deadly sins of thesis writing to avoid at all costs.

1. Lies

Any hint that you’ve fabricated results, or tried to cover up major problems by lying, and the examiner will tear you apart.

If you feel tempted (or pressured) to lie about your research in your thesis or in published journals, it’s really time to have a good look at your situation, and talk honestly with someone you trust. The temptation is understandable, but it’s just not worth it.

2. Bullshit

Distinct from outright lies, bullshit involves trying to give the impression of expertise in a subject you actually know very little about.

It’s tempting to try to appear like you know everything, but it’s far better to give more detail on subjects you are genuinely expert in.

3. Plagiarism

Even if you get away with plagiarism in your thesis, you can lose your doctorate if someone finds out later. This happened to the German defence minister in 2011.

It is sometimes hard to paraphrase other people’s writing, so it’s better to try explaining the idea to someone verbally then writing about it in your own way.

Never sit with the paper in front of you and try to rearrange sentences to make it look different. It just doesn’t work.

4. Misrepresentation of other people’s work

You will have to write about other people’s work, and give references to back up your arguments. It’s very, very important that you know what these references actually say, because the examiner will tear you apart if you misrepresent other people’s work (especially if it is the examiner’s work).

Don’t cite anything you haven’t actually read.

5. Getting the basics wrong

It’s OK to have the occasional mistake, but if you make a fundamental mistake in your assumptions which then undermines your conclusions, then you are in trouble.

6. Ignorance

While you aren’t expected to know everything, you should have a good knowledge of relevant developments in your field and some knowledge beyond your highly specialised niche.

It depends how broad your field is, but at the very least you should be aware of who the top people are and the most highly cited papers.

7. Lack of insight

What does it all mean? How does your work relate to the wider field? What are the limitations of your research and what open questions remain (or are raised)?

You have to give the examiner an idea of what and how you think, beyond just the dry technical details.

You have to be willing to commit to what you think, and know that you can defend it.

It will be OK!

If you avoid these 7 sins, as long as the basic research is OK (it doesn’t have to change the world), and as long as you write honestly and don’t stray too far from what you are expert in, then you should be OK.

torn thesis

5 thoughts on “Will the examiner tear my thesis apart?”

  1. Fantastic site. Lots of helpful information here. I am sending it to several pals ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thank you on your sweat!

  2. A question regarding the length of the thesis.
    I know, I know what matters is the quality and not the quantity, but was wondering where to set my daily word limit, so this question came up.
    You’ve mentioned 500 words/day (which is easily doable), but in 3 months that will be 45K words in total only. Isn’t that too low?
    I googled a bit on what a typical word count for a PhD thesis is and people are suggesting 80K and even 100K for humanities thesis:
    Mine is in Electrical Engineering, so I suppose engineers write less than those in humanities and have more graphs or SEM photos to show the results. But still, I wonder what word/day goal I should set for myself to be able to finish in 2 months. (And I have noticed with the word limit of 1000 or 1500 I sacrifice spending time on images to write more. Which is not good.)
    Thanks for the your input!

    • You don’t have to stop at 500 each day. If 500 is the minimum acceptable word count, your average will be higher. The point is to have a target you can meet consistently every time, so you build up on a habit of success.

      It’s really not about numbers though in terms of the total. It’s purely about how much you have to say.

      Re spending time on images, do them in bulk, with a clear target in terms of what you want to achieve. I found it was good to start the day with figures or images, get them done early and then get on with writing.

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