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Producing a successful PhD thesis
  1. David Barrett1,
  2. Alison Rodriguez2,
  3. Joanna Smith3
  1. 1 Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Hull, Hull, UK
  2. 2 School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK
  3. 3 School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leedss, West Yorkshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr David Barrett, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX, UK; D.I.Barrett{at}

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All doctoral students strive for the day—after years of often all-consuming study—that their thesis is ready to submit. For both doctoral students and supervisors there is often trepidation about whether the thesis will meet the criteria to merit the award of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). As anxieties increase, doctoral students often ask what makes a good PhD, something we explored in a recent ‘Research Made Simple’ article,1 but perhaps the more important question is ‘what makes a PhD student successful?’ In this article we outline the core criteria on which PhD theses are judged and offer suggestions for achieving success.

How are PhDs assessed

Traditionally, a PhD involves 3 to 4 years of full-time study (or a longer part-time programme), which is assessed by the student submitting the work they have undertaken as a thesis or—less commonly—a portfolio of published papers and an associated narrative (sometimes referred to as ‘PhD by publication’). In addition, the student must undertake an oral defence of their work through a discussion (the ‘viva’) with examiners, who are deemed to be experts in the field of study or with related methodological expertise.2

A thesis is a self-contained monograph written by the student which:

  1. Sets out the problem and context of …

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