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Thesis Writing and Submission

A PhD thesis should be presented within four years after the start of full-time research. The following notes and guidelines are intended to help students to do that.

A thesis submitted for the PhD degree in Physics will:

  • report on an original investigation, which will normally be a single piece of work or at most three pieces of work on a related theme
  • make a significant contribution to knowledge, normally including work that could be (or has been) published with the student as principal author
  • contain a substantial introduction that sets the work in context
  • be characterised by rigorous methodology
  • contain a full bibliography.

A thesis submitted for the MSc degree by Research in Physics will:

  • demonstrate research training at the forefront of knowledge
  • have evidence of originality in method and/or interpretation
  • contain a substantial introduction that sets the work in context
  • be clearly and concisely presented
  • contain a full bibliography.

To see examples of previous theses from students in the Department please look at the WRAP archive.

Thesis Writing

Use of papers published during the PhD studies

(This guideline refers to use of papers written while studying for a PhD. There are separate University regulations covering a PhD based entirely on published work.)

Where a candidate has produced a large body of published work, these published papers may constitute a part of the thesis provided that:

  • the papers are substantial, self-contained, and published in reputable peer reviewed journals
  • the candidate was the principal author of the papers
  • the work was performed during the period of PhD registration
  • the thesis includes a substantial introduction to the methodology employed that puts the papers in context and, in the case of multiple authors, established the candidate’s contribution to the published work. Typically this introduction would be around 50 pages.


    The time required to write a thesis is longer than is often supposed. A respectable timetable, allowing for the possibility arising of the need for further experimental observations or calculations and for the checking the literature, might be:

    Writing Introduction 4 weeks
    Experimental Techniques 2 weeks
    Treatment of Results 5 weeks
    Discussion 5 weeks
    Conclusions 2 weeks
    Consultations and Revision 2 weeks
    Preparation of Diagrams/Figures 4 weeks
    Allowance for Problems 2 weeks


    26 weeks

    This means that writing should normally begin around 6 months before the planned submission date (e.g. 6 months before a student's funding completes). In any case, in the final year of your PhD you will be asked to complete a Thesis Plan to help assess your progress towards submission.

    Presentation of thesis

    Please ensure you read the Guide to examinations for higher degrees by research ( before starting your thesis, paying particular attention to the model title page. The abstract should be limited to 300 words on one A4 Page .

    The Physics Department guidelines for the presentation of theses for the degrees of PhD, MPhil and MSc are as follows:-

    1. All theses must conform in style content and presentation to the University Regulations, which include the following statements:
      1. The PhD thesis shall not exceed 70,000 words excluding appendices, footnotes, tables and bibliography. For appendices there is a 5000 word limit. MSc by Research 40,000 words, exclusive of appendices, footnotes, tables and bibliography
      2. A thesis submitted for the degree of PhD should be an original investigation characterised by rigorous methodology and capable of making a significant contribution to knowledge commensurate with the normal period of registration for a full or part time student.
      3. You should not feel that your thesis must necessarily be as long as the maximum word limit allowed…Theses which exceed the word limit may not be accepted for examination.
    2. The appropriate lengths for Physics theses are as follows:-Ph.D. - 90 to 110 pages of text
      M.Phil. - 70 to 90 pages of text
      M.Sc. - 50 to 70 pages of text plus essential diagrams, tables etc.
    3. Students are advised not to include unessential data as appendices in the bound thesis.

    The guidelines in 1(a) and (2) above at first sight appear different, because the University regulations do not mention figures and diagrams. Counting the equivalent number of words that would fit in the space of a figure, with on average 350 words to a double spaced side of A4, the University regulations effectively limit the final bound thesis to 200 pages including everything. In practice this is far longer than necessary.

    In practice a suitable target would be a PhD thesis of ~100 pages of text with ~50 diagrams. Within this length, the original contribution should exceed any background material that can be found in a text book or thesis submitted previously from the same group.

    Note especially the last paragraph from the University Regulations - it is only necessary to write sufficient to demonstrate the aims of a PhD have been satisfied, and no more. All the work done during three years does not have to appear in the final thesis. It is always possible to finish early and write papers afterwards, while awaiting the viva.

    The thesis should be no longer than necessary to provide a succinct introduction to the field of study for the non-specialist, to present your results and to discuss what conclusions can be drawn from the results in the context of current knowledge of the field. These conclusions should be backed up with adequate references from the published literature.

    Before Writing

    Adequate preparation before beginning to write can help greatly to obtain a logically arranged, readable thesis and to shorten both the thesis and the writing time. First analyse the problem by answering the following questions.

    What information do I want to present?
    What background can I assume?
    What is the most sensible sequence in which to present the information?

    Make a detailed outline. Identify as many subdivisions as possible. It is easier to combine subheadings, or eliminate them, than to insert new ones later. Plan tables and figures. It is a good idea to make extra prints of photographic illustrations such as micrographs at the time you are dealing with them rather than wait until you are preparing the thesis. Avoid duplication of results in tables and figures unless there is specific justification. Consign material that would disturb the smooth flow of an argument to an Appendix. Bulky material such as computer programmes should normally be omitted; if appropriate, copies should be left with the supervisor.

    Some excellent tips are contained in a short article Writing your thesis by J.M. Pratt (Chemistry in Britain, 20 (December 1998. 1114-5) which you would do well to read. (But note that he allows 250 page theses - we most certainly do not!); and in Communicating in Science: Writing and Speaking by V Booth, CUP 1985.


    Scientific writing is not exempt from the rules of good grammar, spelling and punctuation! Keep a dictionary handy (and use a good spell checker, but don't rely on it!)

    Avoid long, meandering and contorted sentences, but do not achieve brevity by becoming telegraphic - do not omit a’s and the’s. Remember that it is an invariable rule that every sentence begins with a capital letter, contains at least one verb and ends with a full stop. Good punctuation is an aid to clarity; if someone familiar with the subject has to re-read a sentence to understand it, the sentence probably needs more punctuation, or reconstruction. Go through paragraphs when you have written them, trying to put yourself in the place of the reader rather than the writer.

    Avoid vague and inexact terms: for instance, y increases as x increases is preferable (if appropriate) to y changes with x, the signal duration was very small is almost meaningless - the signal was very small compared with the recovery time is much better. Whenever possible quantitative, rather than qualitative, comparisons should be used: z increased by 25% more than y for the same change in x. Define all non-standard terms, symbols and abbreviations where first used, and stick to them. Try to develop your arguments in a logical manner, this may be quite different from the chronological order in which you performed the research!

    Copying (Plagiarism)

    Any material copied word for word MUST be placed in quotation marks and the original source fully referenced. This principle applies to diagrams as well as text. Students are reminded that plagiarism - reproducing another person’s work as your own - is considered a very serious offence. Your attention is drawn to the following paragraph

    ‘The Thesis must be entirely the candidate's own work, and all sources used should be fully referenced and acknowledged in the thesis. There is no distinction to be made between plagiarism of reviews or summaries of existing knowledge on a subject and original research work.

    The University's regulations on plagiarism appear in the University Calendar-Regulation 11’,

    This cheating guideline should be read in conjunction with The University of Warwick Regulation 11

    It is also a requirement to complete the Library's Course: Avoiding Plagiarism ( Moodle course as part of your degree.


    The general style of presentation should conform to that required for scientific papers in reputable journals. The thesis will be longer than typical research papers. It will therefore require a list of contents. A suitable style is that adopted for Institute of Physics journals, as described in Notes for Authors. An alternative style guide can be found from Review of Modern Physics, although you will need to change some peculiarities of US English. In particular, SI units should be used, figures and tables should have captions in words, standard notation for physical quantities and units should be used. This notation is to be found in the pamphlet ‘Quantities, Units and Symbols’ 2nd Edn (London: the Royal Society, 1975), which is among a number of useful publications listed in ‘Notes for Authors’. Number all pages including diagrams, illustrations and tables. Collect all references and put them either at the end of the thesis or at the end of individual chapters.

    After Writing

    When you have completed the first draft (of a chapter, for example) put it aside for a day or two. Then, coming to it afresh, read it carefully for a final revision, making sure notation and symbols are uniform throughout and consistent with what you have used in other chapters. Look out for obscurities, duplication or omissions. Adequate marginal annotation of your manuscript will help the typist and minimise the number of corrections to the typescript.

    Proof read the typescript for typographical errors and accidental omissions. This requires the utmost care if the thesis is not to be spoiled by residual minor errors. Allow yourself enough time for this essential final stage; it cannot be hurried. You can expect your supervisor to read and comment on your first or second drafts in general terms, but not rewrite it for you. Remember, it is your thesis!


    The University provides some relevant documents which should be read in conjunction with this page:

    1. Guide to Examinations for Higher Degrees by Research
    2. University Calendar, Regulation 38 Governing Research Degrees

    You should note that, among other requirements, the University insists that the thesis have an abstract, a declaration regarding joint work, and a specification in the bibliography of the set of guidelines used - in your case this document.

    Further information on the examinations process can be found on the Doctoral College website - click here

    Thesis submission

    It is very useful to the Department if you could make sure the following pieces of information are provided to the Postgraduate Programmes Officer (

    • The date and time of your PhD viva and where it is being held.
    • The outcome of your viva (e.g. pass with no corrections / pass with minor corrections / etc).
    • Contact details, including alternative email addresses, so we can keep in touch with you (please complete form found here)


    Nomination of Examiners form

    Prior to the submission of your thesis, please complete the Nomination of Examiners Form at least one month before you intend to submit. Your supervisor will help you complete part 2 of the form.

    Please email your completed form to Physics PG or alternatively hand to Rosalind in P522

    It will then be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or the Head of Department and then submitted to the Doctoral College for final approval.


    For information and guidance on submitting your thesis, please see: Submitting Your Thesis

    The Doctoral College will inform us when you have submitted, so please don't worry about advising the department yourself.

    From the time of submission the Student Records office provide an automatic 4-month extension to your University Card, so access to the Department, Library etc is still possible.

    PhD Viva

    Once your thesis has been submitted to the Doctoral College your nominated internal examiner will set a date for your viva. Please see the Doctoral College pages for further information. How long this is after the time you submitted depends entirely on the availability of both the internal and external examiners, but the process must be completed within four months.

    For further information on the submission and viva processes, including how to prepare and courses provided at Warwick please use the links provided.

    Final Submission of Corrected Thesis

    After any “minor corrections” on your thesis have been completed these must then be approved by your internal examiner. Once approved you are then able to submit the final version of your thesis, further details can be found here: final thesis submission form


    The final electronic copy of your thesis will be used for storage in the University’s institutional repository. Theses stored in this way will be accessible through the British Library (BL) EThOS service. Details on this service can be found on the following link:

    If your examiners recommended a “resubmission” or then please contact the Director of Graduate Studies for further information.


    Depending on when you submit your final corrected thesis and the date at which this is approved by the University Senate committee, you will then be able to graduate either in the summer (July) or winter (January) University graduation ceremonies. More information can be found here.

    The University will contact you directly with details about registering for the appropriate graduation ceremony.

    If you have any queries regarding the submission deadline to attend either of these ceremonies, please contact either the Postgraduate Programmes Officer or the Doctoral College.

    Up to date information on dates of Degree Ceremonies can be found here.

    Alumni Information

    Information on alumni activities and services can be found via the Department's Alumni and Careers website