HDR Thesis Preparation Guidelines

Graduate Research School Policy & Procedure HDR Thesis Preparation Guidelines

HDR Thesis Preparation Guidelines

Thesis Preparation Guidelines

Intent & Scope

The intent of this document is to provide guidelines to be followed in the preparation of a thesis for examination for a Higher Degree by Research or PhD by Prior Publication at JCU.

A thesis means either:

  • A substantive description of research undertaken for the purpose of obtaining a degree; or
  • A critical interpretation of creative work, together with any associated material that is also subject to examination.

The thesis must comply with the specific format prescribed by the University for the Doctorate or Masters course, as well as the discipline in which the candidate is enrolled. There is a wide range of disciplines in which theses are written so the generic information provided here may not cover all the specific requirements of every discipline or thesis course.

HDR candidates should consult with their Primary Advisor regarding matters such as style and requirements peculiar to their particular field of research before preparing the final draft of the thesis. Various style manuals are used within the University and most are held by the JCU Library. Examining other theses in the discipline from this and other universities is also good practice. Many examples are available online.

  1. The purpose of writing a thesis

    The thesis should be written with the aim of convincing examiners that the candidate has met the requirements for the degree. The requirements of research degrees offered by JCU follow the specifications of the Australian Qualifications Framework and are as follows:

    Research Doctorate degree: A doctoral degree qualifies individuals who apply a substantial body of knowledge to research, investigate and develop new knowledge, in one or more fields of investigation, scholarship or professional practice.

    Research Masters Degree: A Research Masters degree qualifies individuals who apply an advanced body of knowledge in a range of contexts for research and scholarship and as a pathway for further learning.

    All HDR theses are expected to show evidence of:

    • Originality of the research data and/or analysis of the data;
    • Coherence of argument and presentation;
    • Technical and conceptual competence in analysis and presentation; and
    • Critical knowledge of the relevant literature.
  2. Style

    Irrespective of whether sections of the thesis are written for journal publications, the thesis should exhibit the same form of disciplined writing as would be accepted in a journal publication of the relevant discipline. Candidates should write clearly and concisely, without undue repetition, eliminating redundant tables or graphs and excessive methodological detail.

  3. Presentation and Layout

    Candidates should use a high quality word processing or desktop publishing computer package to ensure that thesis presentation is both clear and attractive to the reader. The typescript must be clear and easily read, such as Times, Times New Roman or Arial, in a font size such as 11, although other fonts of similar size and appearance are acceptable.

    Theses are submitted electronically both for examination and to the library.  The layout should have:

    • The equivalent of paper sizing A4 (297mm x 210mm)
    • Line spacing of at least 1.5
    • Footnotes, if used, placed at the foot of the page to which they refer and not be carried over to another page
    • Margins of no less than 25mm
    • Diagrams, maps, photographs, etc., interleaved in the text included in the page sequence and numbered accordingly.

    Information stored on media such as DVD, CD and USB drive can be included in the thesis. Candidates should consult with the Research Liaison Librarian to ensure that such information is provided in a format that will be easily accessible to an examiner and reader and suitable for long-term electronic storage in ResearchOnline@JCU, the University’s online institutional repository, which forms the University’s archive of research outputs of staff and HDR candidates.

  4. Length of the thesis

    The thesis should not exceed the maximum number of words specified below:

    • Research Masters – 60,000 words
    • Professional Doctorate – 50,000 words
    • Doctor of Philosophy – 100,000 words

    The limits set above are exclusive of appendices, bibliographies, etc. Candidates are asked to sign that they have met the relevant restriction in the forms that accompany thesis submission.

    Many successful theses will be much shorter than these word limits  (e.g. of the order of 50,000-70,000 words or less for a PhD thesis) and candidates should think carefully about whether it is really necessary to produce a PhD thesis longer than about 85,000 words and discuss the matter with their advisors.

  5. Avoidance of Plagiarism

    All quotations, conclusions, findings, important ideas or concepts reached by others (or published previously by the candidate) that are used or referred to in the thesis must be fully acknowledged. The candidate is strongly encouraged to use plagiarism checking software to check their thesis chapters as they write them for references to others work.

    The candidate must declare that they have stated clearly and fully in the thesis the extent of any collaboration with others and that to the best of their knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously published (including grey literature and online blogs, etc.) by any other person except where due acknowledgment has been made by Including a Statement of Contribution of Others. (See Section on Thesis Contents.)

  6. Thesis Contents

    Order of Thesis Contents

    The contents of a thesis must normally include the following in the order specified.  Disciplinary norms and customs may also be taken into account when determining the contents and order of a thesis:

    6.1   Title page

    6.2   Acknowledgements

    6.3   Statement of the Contribution of Others

    6.4   Abstract

    6.5   Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Figures, List of Plates (e.g. images, photographs)

    6.6   Body of The Thesis

    6.7   References

    6.8   Appenices

    The page numbering for Items 6.2-6.5 above is typically in the form of Roman numerals (i.e. i, ii, iii, iv, etc.), with Arabic numerals (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) commencing at the start of the Body of the Thesis.  It is usual not to include page numbering on the title page of the thesis. The thesis document should be formatted using the odd and even pages layout option, such that page numbers sit at the outer margin on all pages when the thesis is printed double-sided and bound.

    Completed theses from the same discipline or that used the same overall structure may be helpful in providing examples of the order and formatting of a thesis.

    6.1 Title Page

    The title page should include:

    • Surname and full given name(s) and degrees and/or professional qualifications already held by the candidate;
    • Full title of the thesis;
    • Degree for which the thesis is submitted;
    • College(s) or equivalent in which the candidate submitted the work;
    • Name of the University; and
    • Date of submission of the thesis – month and year.

    6.2 Acknowledgements

    The Acknowledgements are typically no longer than one page and are usually left to the candidate’s discretion as to whom to include, although it is wise to have the text checked by another person. Acknowledgements will often include thanks for the formal and informal contribution of others in the conduct of the research and production of the thesis, such as advisors, research assistants, peers and mentors. (Details on the nature of such support must be included in the Statement of the Contribution of Others as explained below.) Acknowledgement of personal support provided by family and friends is often also included. Support from a funding body as well as any other support the candidate has received, e.g. a professional association or charity, may also be mentioned.

    6.3 Statement of the Contribution of Others

    Contemporary research, including the work of HDR candidates, is increasingly collaborative or team-based. Thus contributions to the research project by others are inevitable in almost every case. Research may be jointly published, may be carried out in collaborative teams, and may be done and/or written with the technical, theoretical, statistical, editorial, or physical assistance of others.

    In all cases, it is imperative that the candidate acknowledges the work of others appropriately. A statement precisely outlining the contributions of others to the intellectual, physical, and written work must be set out at the beginning of the thesis. When the thesis contains work that is also part of jointly-published papers, the contribution of the candidate and of others must be clearly stated at the beginning of the chapter and the publication details clearly cited as described below.

    The statement of the contribution of others at the beginning of the thesis should include (as appropriate):

    • Tuition Fee Support including acknowledgement of fee sponsorships, waivers, and fee offset scholarship from the Australian Government.
    • Stipend support
    • Supervision
    • Other collaborations
    • Statistical support
    • Editorial assistance
    • Research assistance
    • Any other assistance
    • Project costs
    • Use of infrastructure external to JCU
    • Use of infrastructure external to organisational unit within JCU

    An example Statement of Contributions of Others is available below. Candidates are strongly advised to document the contribution of others in qualitative, rather than quantitative, terms as the latter may be misinterpreted.


    Nature of Assistance


    (specify only those contributions that are applicable to your thesis; the list below is not exhaustive)

    Names, Titles (if relevant) and Affiliations of Co-Contributors

    Intellectual support

    Proposal writing

    Data Analysis

    Statistical support

    Cartography and GIS

    Editorial  assistance


    Financial support

    Fee offset/waiver

    Research costs


    Write-up Grant


    Data collection

    Research assistance

    Interview design and transcription

    Boat drivers


    6.4 Abstract

    The thesis should be prefaced by an abstract of 500 to 1,000 words, which:

    *    States the principal objectives and scope of the study;

    *    Describes the methodology employed;

    *    Summarises the results; and

    *    States the principal conclusions.

    6.5 Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Figures and List of Plates

    The Table of Contents and Lists of Tables, Figures and Plates should reflect the page numbers of section titles, tables, figures and plates, respectively.

    6.6 Body of the Thesis


    The first chapter of the thesis should be a concise description of the purpose of the thesis, the scholarly context of the research and an explanation of the structure of the thesis i.e. the rationale for and scope of the research.


    The body of the thesis will normally be presented as a series of chapters that represent natural divisions or logical progressions of the research. In many circumstances it may be appropriate, in fact highly desirable, to prepare these chapters in a format that will facilitate publication as a series of journal articles or as a book. If the data chapters of the thesis are presented as a series of papers (published or unpublished), the thesis is likely to be more readable if the papers are presented in a coherent format rather than reprints bound together. The intellectual thread that connects the chapters should be signposted in the introduction and summarised by way of synthesis in the general discussion.

    Methods Section(s)

    In some disciplines, the thesis should include a methods section, which fully supports the discussion of the individual chapters. The detailed format of this section will vary, according to whether it is intended to be published, or has been published, as will its organisation, e.g. as a single consolidated chapter or as separate sections associated with individual chapters.

    General Discussion/Conclusions

    The thesis should conclude with a general discussion which:

    *    Provides an integrated statement on the outcomes of the research described in the thesis, how these match the objectives of the research outlined in the introduction and discussion and how these advance or change thinking in the discipline; and

    *    Where appropriate, signals directions for future research.

    6.7 References

    The references should conform to a recognised referencing system appropriate to the discipline.

    6.8 Appendices

    Supporting material that is not central to the thesis should be presented as appendices. These might include a summary of primary data, code for computer programs developed as part of the research, etc.

  7. Editorial Standard

    Before producing the final version of the thesis for submission for examination, the candidate should ensure that:

    *    All textual errors, including typographical and formatting errors, have been corrected;

    *    Spelling, grammar, punctuation and choice of language are of an appropriate standard; and

    *    The referencing is complete and exact.

    Attention to textual detail is essential as mistakes are extremely irritating to examiners and divert them from the substance of the thesis. If a professional proof-reader or editor is used in preparing the final thesis, the candidate must declare that they have read and complied with the Guidelines for the Editing of Research Theses by Professional Editors [2].

  8. Editorial Intervention

    This purpose of this section is intended to clarify the extent to which external paid assistance may be involved in the preparation of the final version of a thesis/dissertation prior to submission.

    The advisors of research higher degree students are expected to provide editorial advice to their students. Candidates are permitted to use additional editors in preparing their thesis for submission, but should discuss this with their Primary Advisor and provide the editor with a copy of these guidelines before they commence work.

    Editorial intervention should be restricted to:

    • Proofreading : that is, detecting and correcting the presentation of the text to conform with standard usage and conventions (e.g. spelling, quotations, italics, lists, word usage, punctuation, graphs, charts, citations, references, heading hierarchies, symbols and equations, headers and footers, style of numbers etc, as noted in Standard E, of the Handbook on Australian Standard for Editing Practice
    • The identification and provision of advice, with corrections as exemplars only, in matters of structure (the need to restructure and reword, deletions, additions); the conventions of grammar and syntax; use of clear language; logical connections between phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and sections; voice and tone; and how to avoid ambiguity, repetition and verbosity, as noted in Standard D of the Australian Standard for Editing Practice

    Editorial interventions will normally be limited to the matters listed in Standards D and E of Australian Standards for Editing Practice (Council of Australian Societies of Editors, 2001). Where editors do deal with matters outside of Standards D and E then this should be noted in the acknowledgements of the thesis.

    When a thesis has had the benefit of professional editorial advice, of any form, then:

    • The name of the editor and a brief description of the service rendered, in terms of the Standards cited in the Australian Standards for Editing Practice, should be printed as part of the list of acknowledgements or other prefatory matter near the front of the work when it is to be presented for examination.
    • If the professional editor’s current or former area of academic specialisation is similar to that of the candidate, this too should be stated in the prefatory matter.

    You may contact Dr Liz Tynan at the Graduate Research School (Elizabeth.Tynan@jcu.edu.au) to receive details of suitable external proofreaders and editors.  The GRS does not fund external editing services, but candidates may use Minimum Resources Funding for this purpose.

  9. Research Data Storage and Release

    Original data should be retained in the College in which they were generated. Data should be held for as long as readers of the thesis or publications might reasonably expect to be able to raise questions that require reference to it.  Data should be stored for at least 5 years.  Where it is impossible or impracticable to hold data, a written indication of the location of the data, or key information regarding its location (e.g. the way in which it was called up from a limited access database) must be kept in the College. More information is available at Research Data: Storage & Management at JCU.

    All data sets which do not have restrictions due to commercial, confidentiality or other reasons should be made publicly available via the JCU Tropical Data Hub. Data and primary materials, such as lab books, must be accounted for and arrangements made regarding their storage, access and disposal in accordance with University, Government and Ethics requirements. When submitting the final copy of your thesis to the JCU Library links to Tropical Data Hub records should be included in the thesis rather than presenting the data in an appendix in the thesis.

  10. Copyright

    James Cook University students and staff are subject to the provisions of the Commonwealth of Australia Copyright Act 1968 and are required to abide by the University’s associated policies and requirements on the copying and communication of copyright material including the University’s Copyright Policy.  Go to ResearchOnline@JCU for specific information about copyright issues and your thesis.

    It is compulsory that you include the following statement at the start of your thesis:

    Every reasonable effort has been made to gain permission and acknowledge the owners of copyright material. I would be pleased to hear from any copyright owner who has been omitted or incorrectly acknowledged.

    The candidate is the sole author of the thesis, and fully responsible for everything contained in it. As a consequence, the candidate is the copyright holder of the thesis. However, if the thesis contains material that has already been published (including material authored or co-authored by the candidate) and you are no longer the copyright owner of the published material (you may have signed away your copyright via a publisher contract or agreement); or third-party material (material created by other people including photographs, maps, drawings, extended quotations, and so on), you will need permission from the copyright owner to reproduce/include copyrighted material in your thesis before your thesis can be made publicly available online.  A letter requesting permission to reproduce material must be sent to the copyright owner of the material.  Any signed letters should be submitted along with your thesis for recordkeeping purposes.

    Where copyright on a publication or third-party material has been assigned to a publisher, permission must be sought to reproduce the work in the thesis. Permission may be required for work authored, or co-authored by the candidate. Publisher copyright agreements may place restrictions on the inclusion of publications in your thesis. Candidates must therefore read the publisher agreement carefully and seek advice from the JCU Copyright Officer (copyright@jcu.edu.au) if they require further information.

    A Thesis Submission and Release Form must be completed and submitted with the thesis.

    Candidates are required to attend the Intellectual Property and Copyright workshop offered through the Graduate Research School’s HDR Professional Development Program for information that will assist in managing thesis copyright issues.

    Library and Information Services have several LibGuides that may provide useful information including:

    Research Online@JCU

    Publishing Academic Research

  11. Credit for Work Completed Prior to Candidature

    JCU recognises that some candidates may have already completed work towards their research project before commencing their candidature. For example, they may have transferred to JCU part-way through their HDR candidature. Candidates may include studies undertaken towards another research degree, provided that the work:

    • Was completed after the candidate was qualified for entry to their current program at JCU;
    • Has not been counted towards a completed award at JCU or elsewhere;
    • Was conducted with adequate advisory oversight at an acceptable institution; and
    • Is of a nature and quality appropriate to the current program at JCU.

    Candidates may include publications in their thesis, so long as the work that led to that publication was carried out under the conditions given above. Conversely, work published, accepted for publication, or submitted for publication prior to meeting these conditions cannot be included in the thesis. When trying to determine whether previously published work can be included in the thesis, key factors to consider include:

    • Was the research work supervised in a manner consistent with the University's advisory policies? If not, then it cannot be included.
    • Did the research that led to the publication contribute, in part or in whole, to the candidate being awarded another degree? If yes, then it cannot be included.
    • Is the research part of the candidate's basis of admission to candidature at the University? If yes, then it cannot be included.
    • Is the research considered to be of Research Doctorate (or Research Masters, if appropriate) standard? If not, then it cannot be included.
    • Was the research carried out with the required ethics approvals? If not, then it cannot be included.

    If there is still any uncertainty or ambiguity about the appropriateness of including previously published work in the thesis, please request formal advice from the Dean, Graduate Research.

    Any publications that cannot be included can be listed in a section detailing additional publications by the candidate relevant to the thesis but not forming part of it.

    Alternatively, the candidate could consider enrolling in a PhD by Prior Publication. Prior Publication means that the publications included in the thesis have been completed prior to enrolment in the PhD degree, and is only available to candidates with a long-standing relationship with JCU, usually staff.

  12. Incorporating Published Material in the Thesis

(Note: This section does not apply to a PhD by Prior Publication, which is a separate degree to a PhD.  Some of the content in this section is based on material developed by the University of Queensland.)

JCU HDR candidates are strongly encouraged to publish the results of their research. In a great many cases (ideally most cases), at least some of the research will be published or accepted for publication before the thesis is submitted. Where their published work contributes directly to the argument and supports the findings of the thesis, candidates are also strongly encouraged to incorporate relevant portions of the published material into their thesis.

Publication or acceptance for publication of material in the thesis provides an indication to the thesis examiners of the quality and originality of the research in the thesis. However, it does not pre-empt the judgement of examiners: it is neither a criterion nor a guarantee for recommending the acceptance of a thesis in whole or in part. An acceptable HDR thesis will always be more than the sum of several published papers.

Peer reviewed papers may be incorporated into a thesis if each of the following conditions is met:

  • The papers have been published, accepted for publication, or submitted for publication during candidature;
  • The papers contribute to the argument of the thesis;
  • The candidate is the first/principal author of at least 75%, but usually all, of the papers included in the thesis; and
  • The research and written work is substantively the candidate’s.

Papers can be incorporated into a thesis in several ways:

  • Passages from published papers can be transferred directly  with appropriate acknowledgment of the source (or in an appropriately edited form and referenced) into one or more chapters of the thesis; or
  • A published paper or an accepted manuscript can form a single chapter (or several papers may form successive chapters) without any editing. Candidates who elect to include published papers without any reformatting should note that examiners often find this arrangement ‘reader unfriendly’ and that a more acceptable and coherent format can usually be achieved with minimal editing (see below).

The readability of a thesis in which the data chapters have been written as papers can be facilitated by:

  • Removing redundancy;
  • Cross-referencing;
  • Including brief explanatory statements as to how each component contributes to the whole thesis;
  • Including a summary of the major findings at the end of each chapter (examiners typically interrupt their reading at the end of chapters and need to be able to pick up the story again quickly);
  • Reformatting in a single format; and
  • Producing a single list of references.

A published paper or book chapter can be included in its original format as an attachment to the thesis; however, this is not usually necessary if the citation is provided.

Work that has been submitted but not yet accepted for publication may be included in the thesis, but must be clearly distinguished from work that has been published or accepted or publication.

Where the papers have been jointly authored, the nature and extent of the candidate's work must be precisely identified for each paper (e.g. to the extent of identifying which figures or passages of text represent the original work of the candidate). However, as stated above, the candidate is strongly advised to document the contribution of others in qualitative rather than quantitative terms as illustrated in the table below.

The following table illustrates an acceptable method of doing this (*Smith is the HDR candidate in this example):



Details of publication(s) on which chapter is based

Nature and extent of the intellectual input of each author, including the candidate


Smith*, J., Jones, R, and Brown, G. (date). Paper title, journal, volume, page numbers.

The authors co-developed the research question. Smith collected the data and performed the data analyses with assistance from Jones and Brown. Smith wrote the first draft of the paper which was revised with editorial input from Jones and Brown. Smith developed the figures and tables.

Before including the work of co-authors in the thesis, the candidate must obtain their written confirmation that they consent to the inclusion of the paper in the thesis and accept the candidate’s contribution to the paper. These agreements must be appended to the forms submitted by the candidate with the thesis using the following format:

Thesis Title:


Name of Candidate:

Details of publication(s) on which chapter is based

Nature and extent of the intellectual input of each author, including the candidate

I confirm the candidate’s contribution to this paper and consent to the inclusion of the paper in this thesis

Chapter No.




The candidate should appreciate that the examiner of a thesis will have different motivation from the reader of research paper. The examiner of a thesis is interested in the evidence that the candidate has met the requirements for the degree. Thus it is essential to outline the rationale for the approach taken. It may be desirable to include more methodological detail than in a publication, such as comprehensive descriptions of methodologies or statistical treatments, in a general methods chapter or appendices.

The irreducible minimum treatment that is required where papers have been published prior to submission and where they are incorporated as a whole or in parts into a thesis is that the thesis must contain:

  • An independent and original general introduction to the aims and design of the candidate's research project that incorporates an up-to-date and original review of pertinent existing work in the field that is entirely the candidate’s own work. This introduction will contextualise the candidate's project and research question in relation to the present state of knowledge in the field and /or to the social, cultural or policy context.
  • Chapters in a logical and cogent sequence leading to an argument that supports the main findings of the thesis, while further expansion of aspects of published papers (such as more comprehensive descriptions of methodologies or statistical treatments) is encouraged through the use of appendices or additional text in a chapter.
  • An independent and original general discussion that is entirely the candidate’s own work and that integrates the most significant findings of the thesis and presents the needs and prospects for future research. If work published by the candidate during candidature is ancillary to the thesis and does not form part of it, the publications should be listed in a section that details additional publications by the candidate that are relevant to the thesis but do not form part of it. Work undertaken and published prior to candidature cannot be included in the thesis.

Candidates must note that the thesis examiners may request amendments to those parts of the thesis which derive, in whole or in part, from published papers, and that the prior publication of those parts of the thesis is NOT an academically acceptable defence for not incorporating those amendments into the final version of thesis.

Suggested steps to converting a paper into the data chapter of a thesis

This procedure should only take a few hours per data chapter and is likely to make the thesis much more reader friendly than including a bundle of papers per se. However, there are disciplinary differences in thesis genres, so check the appropriateness of these suggestions with your advisors.

  • Consider whether you want to include a conceptual diagram for the entire thesis in your Introduction and whether it should be replicated on the front page of each chapter with the relevant sections of the diagram highlighted.
  • Include a statement on the front page of each chapter that states what the chapter is about and explains how it fits in to the overall structure of the thesis.
  • Indicate whether the chapter is: (1) published, (2) in press, (3) in review or (4) has been prepared for publication but not yet submitted, giving the details of the authors, title and journal/target journal, citation, etc.
  • Reformat the Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion sections of the paper into the style of the thesis; use decimal numbering if appropriate.
  • Reformat the abstract of the paper and convert it into a summary placed at the end of the chapter.
  • Go through the paper and insert links to the other chapters in the thesis and remove any redundancy that appears in other (prior) chapters, e.g. methods that have been covered in a methods chapter, descriptions of the study site. Make sure that you insert appropriate links to other chapters in the thesis.
  • Search for words such as ‘we’, ‘our’, etc., and replace with the equivalent first person singular.
  • Re-label all figures and tables in the chapter and indicate the number of the chapter and the number of table, e.g. replace Table 1 with Table 4.1, etc.
  • Excise and if necessary reformat the cited list of references from the paper, remove duplicates and insert a common reference list for the entire thesis.
  • If the paper has been jointly authored ensure that the thesis contains the information on the nature and extent of the work for each paper (for example, to the extent of identifying which figures or passages of text represent the original work of the candidate as explained above).
  • Document the nature and extent of the intellectual input of others to the work reported in the thesis (whether otherwise cited or not) in the Statement of the Contribution by Others in the introductory material at the beginning of the thesis as explained above.