Thesis Planning, Preparation and Presentation

Language, Format and Submission

Doctoral theses may be submitted in Te Reo Maori, English, or in both languages. Candidates must submit two soft bound copies (spiral or hot melt are acceptable), and upload an electronic copy on the student portal, along with the application to be examined .  If clarification is required the candidate should contact the GRS at   Candidates may submit their thesis to either to the Graduate Research School (GRS), Research & Enterprise Office in Palmerston North, or to campus Contact Offices at Auckland or Wellington campuses. Alternatively, theses can be mailed/couriered directly to the GRS, Research & Enterprise, Courtyard Complex (PN 123), University Avenue, Palmerston North. 

General Tips

  • Candidates are expected to take full responsibility for the totality of their thesis
  • The thesis must represent the candidate’s ability to present their research findings, and so professional editing is not permitted
  • Massey University Library can supply a ‘Guide to Preparation of Theses’ which gives format specifications and technical advice
  • Succinctness is important. Examiners are not impressed by the length of a thesis but by its content and contribution to new knowledge and thinking. The PhD regulations state that the maximum word limit is 100,000 words excluding appendices and bibliography, but in some disciplines it can be much less.  The word limit for Named Doctorates is 65,000 words, excluding appendices and bibliography. Figures and tables in the thesis should be taken as the equivalent of 250 words per page. All these matters should be clarified with supervisors
  • Particular care must be taken with grammar and spelling. Examiners will require a thesis to be revised and corrected if it contains poor expression, spelling mistakes and typographical errors
  • Where appropriate, raw data on which research is based should be included in the thesis, usually in appendices. Where data are extensive, a portable storage device may be used
  • Original scientific data generated by Doctoral research should be retained in durable and appropriately referenced form and kept in a safe place for a period of at least five years after the completion of the project
  • All theses must have an abstract of no more than 350 words bound into the thesis at the beginning
  • There should be a clear statement under ‘acknowledgements’ indicating the extent to which the candidate has had assistance with the project
  • The Doctoral thesis should be printed by word processor or similar device. The thesis can be printed as single sided pages or double sided pages. A handwritten manuscript is not permissible
  • Statistical analyses presented should be robust. Seek advice from supervisors or from other academic staff
  • Draft sections or chapters should be discussed with supervisors as early as possible. Candidates have a right to have considered feedback on whatever they show their supervisors
  • While Supervisors may have commented on individual chapters shown to them at different times, they may also suggest revisions when all the chapters are seen together in the context of the whole thesis. It is unwise for candidates to submit a thesis or parts of a thesis for examination that have not been seen in final form by the supervisor
  • In some disciplines, candidates are encouraged to publish the results of their research before their thesis is completed. Publication practice varies widely between Academic Units. Candidates should discuss publishing matters with their supervisors and there should be a clear understanding about issues such as authorship, choice of journal and timing of publication. The candidate must indicate in the thesis which parts of it have been published
  • For creative arts disciplines where the thesis may take the form of creative works and a written component, the candidate should discuss with their supervisors the form and presentation of the thesis including the proportion to be presented as creative works and the proportion to be presented as a written component. The creative work and written component must be presented as an integrated coherent whole
  • The Doctoral thesis may be submitted in final hard bound form or in a temporary but securely bound form (hot melt or spiral). The DRC does not permit theses to be submitted in an unbound state


The DRC expects candidates to adhere to accepted international standards of research, with proper acknowledgement of assistance and collaboration, and to make appropriate references to all sources of information. Failure to properly acknowledge and reference the work of others constitutes plagiarism. Massey University treats plagiarism and research misconduct very seriously. Candidates found guilty of these activities may have their candidature terminated or be failed. If you have any doubts about what constitutes plagiarism or research misconduct please seek advice from your supervisors or learning services. It is essential that you are familiar with the Massey University policy on Research Practice and the Code of Responsible Research Conduct and Procedures for Dealing with Misconduct in Research. Both policies can be accessed on

Submission of a thesis based on publications

The publication of papers during candidacy can be highly advantageous. Massey University allows the submission of theses based upon published research (or research accepted for publication), providing it conforms to the following:

  • The research must have been conducted during the period of candidature (this stems from CUAP requirements, and it has implications for funding)
  • The candidate may be the sole author of the publication(s), OR, where the candidate was a joint author, the research contributed by the candidate is normally expected to be in the capacity of primary author. The contribution of the candidate to jointly authored chapters must be clearly documented by a statement signed by the supervisor and candidate and bound into the thesis. To protect the interest of candidates, it is important that authorship is discussed at an early stage of candidacy, ideally with the involvement of an independent party
  • Published material may be submitted for examination once only and by one doctoral candidate, so where team research is involved, it is important to clarify roles at an early stage. Where material submitted for publication or examination by another candidate is critical to understanding the thesis, it may be included in a non-examinable appendix with an appropriate explanation. In special circumstances, different parts of the same publication may be submitted for examination by different candidates (e.g. where experiments and modelling have been done by different people)
  • Theses based upon publications must have an appropriate introduction, including research objectives, and a comprehensive conclusion which clearly identifies the original contribution to knowledge of the subject with which it deals. The thesis must work as an integrated whole, and linking sections may also be used to this end
  • Submitted manuscripts and accepted and published work, in part or in full, may all provide the basis for chapters in the thesis. Where work has been previously published, a journal may need to give copyright permission for the material to be included in a thesis which will be placed in the Library’s electronic repository. Candidates should gain copyright clearance as early as possible
  • Candidates are strongly advised to standardise the format and referencing of chapters. Copies of articles and/or creative works, as appropriate as published may be included in a pocket in the thesis, or in pdf form on the thesis CD.
  • Candidates are advised to fully reference previous publication of their own sole-authored work, including graphs, tables and images that they themselves have generated. Any other intellectual content must be fully and appropriately referenced to the person(s) that supplied them. They are then able to sign a statement that the thesis is their own work. It is advisable to list in the preface publications that have arisen out of the work
  • The University sets the standard by which theses are examined, and acceptance of any part by a publisher does not necessarily mean that it meets examination standards. Examiners will be instructed to examine all parts of the thesis with equal rigour, and may request changes to any part of the thesis regardless of whether it has been published or not
  • The candidate is expected to have a working knowledge of all parts of the thesis, and to be able to answer questions about the thesis as a whole in the oral examination
  • The candidate is required to complete the form DRC 16 - ‘Statement of Contribution to Doctoral Thesis Containing Publications’ - for each article/paper included in the thesis

NB: Research that has been published (or accepted for publication), does not ensure a successful Doctoral examination.

Doctoral Thesis with Publications - Guildelines 2020 Amended.pdf (175 KB)

Characteristics of Positive Candidature

It is important that candidates play an active role in the supervisor-candidate relationship. While candidates are expected to accept advice and guidance from their supervisors, they are not expected to work as ‘technicians’ . Candidates should strive towards their own intellectual independence from within a supportive relationship with their supervisors. The following factors can contribute to successful Doctoral candidacy:

  • Being a full-time candidate with few or no employment responsibilities
  • Being committed to the research project
  • Taking initiatives to find out from staff and others about life and prospects as a Doctoral candidate
  • Getting off to a good start
  • Maintaining regular and frequent contact with supervisors
  • Seeking and accepting advice from supervisors and others
  • Being familiar with policies and guidelines relevant to the Doctoral programme and research, including the Policy on Responsible Research Conduct and associated codes and practices (policies can be found on
  • Being prepared to acknowledge and discuss both academic or personal difficulties
  • Being well organised and capable of setting and meeting deadlines according to a work schedule
  • Always being clear as to the overall aim of the research and of the intermediate goals along the way
  • Starting Thesis drafting early and continuing to write throughout the programme
  • Regularly providing supervisors with written reports on progress and future plans
  • Presenting seminars and otherwise participating in the intellectual life of the academic unit
  • Establishing professional and social links with other academic staff and other candidates
  • Attending conferences and presenting papers
  • Publishing, where feasible and appropriate

In general terms, it is important that candidates and supervisors meet frequently, and that there is a mutually co-operative relationship and common understanding of the progress being made. Supervisors and candidates need to determine for themselves the actual mechanics of their working relationship.

Characteristics of Positive Supervision

Supervisors have a complex role to play. In general they have to oversee the intellectual development of the candidate, whilst fulfilling the range of administrative duties required as the candidate progresses from provisional registration through to examination. Some features of successful supervision by both main and co-supervisors include:

  • Accepting only research topics within the ambit of the academic expertise possessed by the supervisory team
  • Maintaining a realistic research student load
  • Assuming supervisory responsibility only if there is a genuine expectation that you will be available for the duration of the supervisory responsibility
  • Ensuring with the head of academic unit that alternative or satisfactory supervisory arrangements are put in place if taking sabbatical leave
  • Ensuring candidates are familiar with and understand any legal, professional, ethical and safety issues that might concern the project. Give guidance about the following:
    • the nature of the research and the standard expected
    • planning the research programme, literature and sources
    • resources and their availability
    • specific techniques (as appropriate and including arranging for instruction where necessary)
    • relevant policies, practices and procedures including the Policy on Responsible Research Conduct and associated Code of Procedures
  • Being familiar with the NZ Government's Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016
  • Taking the Statement of Expectations seriously
  • Organising and maintaining a regular communication schedule with candidates, including meetings with the co- supervisors and any advisors
  • Completing Massey’s Doctoral proformas in a timely manner, in particular six monthly reports, ensuring that the candidate progress is satisfactory and that any problems are addressed early
  • Giving timely feedback on draft material and questions
  • Introducing candidates to other experts in the research area, either within or outside the Academic Unit and encourage networking
  • Keeping written records from meetings and of significant outcomes and issues. This is particularly important where candidates are having problems
  • Providing regular and consistent support throughout in all matters of sound research practice, providing full and informative feedback to candidates on their progress in a timely manner
  • Assisting candidates to develop intellectual skills within their limits appropriate for the field of study (e.g. in experimental/research techniques/approaches, use of statistics, ability to critique published work, oral and written communication skills)
  • If necessary introducing the student to appropriate Student Support Services within the University
  • Checking to ensure that the work submitted is that of the candidate, and that all data provided as part of the work have been validated
  • Contributing more broadly to the provision of a supportive graduate research environment in the Academic Unit, College and the University
  • Assisting candidates to integrate into the Academic Unit research and social culture. Encouraging candidates to make seminar/conference presentations and to publish
  • Developing an ethos of expectation of timely Thesis submission, and completion of progress and final reports for commercial sponsor
  • Seeking advice where appropriate from experienced colleagues; if unsure then contact the Graduate Research School
  • Acting professionally ensuring the dignity of all individuals involved in the programme

NOTE: All new staff members eligible to supervise Doctoral candidates are required to attend an induction programme on Doctoral supervision run by the GRS.