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Research Matters: communicating your results


Research Matters:

Communicating your results

Published by Dennis Hawkes at Shakespir


Copyright 2016 Dennis Hawkes

ISBN ******

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this eBook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favourite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

Table of Contents

1.0 The Purpose of the Booklet

2.0 Keeping Records

3.0 The Report

4.0 Research paper Writing

5.0 Conferences

6.0 Poster papers

7.0 The Higher Degree Thesis


About the Author

Other Titles by Dennis Hawkes

[] 1.0 The Purpose Of This Booklet

This guide is especially written for those who are embarking on a course of study that will lead to them gaining a higher degree. It has been written especially for students of scientific or engineering subjects, but humanities students may also find it useful. During their period of research, whether theoretical ‘blue-skies’ or applied, it is usual to write up some of their results in the form of an interim report or a research paper for publication, or to present their results at an academic conference orally or in the form of a Poster presentation. At the conclusion of their work the higher degree candidates will be faced with writing a thesis and will be orally examined on this. This short booklet has advice on each of these topics.

[]2.0 Keeping Records

2.1 References

Published research papers, together with your own research results, are the materials from which your publications will come. It is vital therefore to have an adequate system for recording what you have read during your period of research so that reference can be easily made to it when you come to write up your work. Make notes when reading research papers and file this data. When writing your paper, report or thesis, all the references in your list of references should appear in the text (unless you have a ‘Reading List’ or a ‘Bibliography’). They can be inserted in the text as, for example, (Jones et al. 1996) for multiple authors, in which case the list of references will be in alphabetical order. [Note the “et al.” is a Latin expression et alia that means “and others” used in academic publications when it is not necessary to list all the authors. The abbreviation “al” needs a full stop after it as it is an abbreviation, “et” is a complete Latin word and therefore it is incorrect to put a full stop after that word].

The “et al.” is only used for the citation in the main text of the paper or the thesis, but in the list of references at the end of the publication the names and initials of all of the authors are included. There are many websites that give examples of how to reference correctly any publication using this Harvard system. More details about how to write references correctly are to be found in Section 3.1.12 or on the internet.

Another method is the Numeric system where a number is given to each reference in the order these appear in the text. Only the number of the publication is inserted in the text, for example (23). The reference list will contain all of the references in numerical order. The Harvard method has the advantage of being much easier to correct or to insert additional references or delete them without the problem of renumbering. It also gives the reader more information without turning to the References section. The Numeric method has the advantage of saving limited journal space and may sometimes be insisted on by the journal. Unless it is, always use the Harvard system to reference your work.

There is a large selection of Reference Management Software that you could use, some free and others that usually will have been purchased by your university. Use the one recommended by your academic peers.

For a book the minimum reference required is: author’s surname and initials, book title, edition, year. An expanded reference that you should store would include other information such as ISBN number, publisher, city of publication and price.

The minimum reference required for a contribution to an article in a serial publication like a journal is: surnames and initials of all authors, title of article, title of periodical, year of publication, volume and issue number and first and last pages. The publication that you write for will have its own requirements for the references, for example it may require the year of publication first.

Some examples of how to reference material using the popular Harvard style are given below, although your university will have guides for their students that you should consult:

Journal Paper.

Hawkes, F.R., Dinsdale, R., Hawkes, D.L. and Hussy, I., 2002. Sustainable fermentative hydrogen production: challenges for process optimisation. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 27(11), pp.1339-1347.

WHO document.

Currie, C. ed., 2004. Young people’s health in context. World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe..

Web site.

Lane, C. et al. 2003. The future of professionalised work: UK and Germany compared [Online]. London: Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society. Available at: http://www.agf.org.uk/pubs/pdfs/1232web.pdf [Accessed: 5 July 2007].


Bruce, F.F., 1965. Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews: the English text with introduction, exposition, and notes. Grand Rapids, Marshall, Morgan & Scott.

2.1.1 Source material

Your source material will come from your own data or experimental results and also from the work of others that you will acknowledge. The information contained within the research paper can be stored in short note form or as key words, depending on whichever is more appropriate for your subject. You will need to extract from the research papers two kinds of information. One will be the information contained in the paper on your subject and the other is bibliographic details of the paper so that you can find it again and refer to it correctly.

Every paper you consult will have a list of references of previous work that the author has referred to. Software such as Web of Science or Google Scholar will enable you to find other work that has cited the paper you are looking at, enabling you to go forward in the research as well as back.

2.2 Experimental data

You do not need to be reminded that your experimental results are valuable. They were gained after long hours in the laboratory or library and probably can never be replaced if they are lost. Apart from leaving a set of results on the bus, I have also known of fires and floods that have taken their toll and caused utter misery to the researchers concerned. I know of one research assistant who used to deposit her partly finished thesis in a bank vault when she went on holiday! Yes, they are that valuable. Therefore keep your experimental data safe.

Many of your results may be on computer and you will of course know about the need to back-up regularly in more than one place in case of a computer crash. Even worse may be a burglary when your computer and the backup hard drive sitting beside it on the desk get stolen!

Keep the records of your results neat and tidy, it is very much easier when referring to them later. If you are using paper to record some day-to-day information then a hard-bound records book is preferable to a loose leaf one where pages can get mislaid. When the unexpected happens, for example, one evening you sprain your ankle playing soccer, (yes, that sort of thing unfortunately does happen), and you cannot get into the laboratory next morning someone else may need to take action to keep your vital experiment going. Neat records will make things much easier for everyone concerned. Finally keep everything; well, perhaps not everything but even results that at the time you think are useless may turn out to be significant later.

2.3 Photographs

It is all too easy to modify your research equipment or even to strip it down ready for the next set of experiments and only after it is gone to realise that you have no photograph or accurate drawing of it to put in your paper or thesis. A photograph takes only moments to take but gives you a permanent record for possible later use. Make sure that before the photograph is taken you tidy up the cluttered foreground. A large sheet of white paper behind the experimental apparatus can focus attention on your equipment if the background is distracting.

[]3.0 The Report

There are many forms of communication but one of the most common, in the area of technology, is the technical report. Such reports will be required as part of a higher degree course, for example as an account of a laboratory experiment that has been undertaken. Sometimes the report will be assessed and sometimes it may be used to communicate to an outside funding body such as the industry supporting the research. The standards required are high and a professional presentation should always be the aim. After graduation, what has been learnt by practice will be used in your employment.

3.1 The contents

A formal report for an experimental project will usually consist of some or all of the following sections, although not necessarily in this order. It is important to plan the writing before you start. If there is a word limit then you must work to that.

Title Page

Abstract or summary

List of Tables and Figures

Table of contents

Nomenclature (if necessary)

[_ Introduction/Theory_]

Procedure or Methodology


Discussion of results

[_ Conclusions/Recommendations_]



For a non-experimental project the contents may be more like this:

Title Page

Abstract or summary

Table of contents

Scope of the project

_ Introduction_

Literature Survey

[_ Conclusions/Recommendations_]



In addition to these sections there may well be a list of tables and figures and a short acknowledgement of those who have given assistance to the author.

3.1.2 The title page

The title tells the potential reader why he or she should read the report; it should be brief but explanatory. The title page should also normally contain the author’s name and affiliation and the date. If it is a thesis, there should be a statement of the purpose of the thesis right under the title, for example, This dissertation is submitted in partial fulfilment of the regulations for the degree of MA in Language and Communication Research.

3.1.3 The summary or abstract

The summary will usually be written last of all but will appear at the beginning of the report or immediately after the contents page. Even for a long report it should be not much more than one page in length. The summary should be written in a way that it can stand alone and should explain why the research is being undertaken. It should mention the methodology used, the major findings and the significance of the research. It is an important section since a busy reader may only read this, the contents page and the conclusions/recommendations. The summary should comment on the aims of the report and include very briefly the main points of the report including a précis of the conclusions.

3.1.4 The contents page

The contents page tells the reader what subjects are covered by the report. It should communicate the structure of the report and should have a clear numbering system. If a word-processor package with Styles is used, such as MS Word, then the “Table of Contents” can be generated automatically. The heading, sub-headings etc. listed should identify the contents of the report. The contents page is a useful document in its own right.

If there are a large number of tables and figures it may be helpful to list them in the List of Tables and List of Figures before the Introduction of the thesis. Every table or figure should be numbered consecutively throughout each section, or chapter (for example, Figure 4.2 indicates the figure is the second one in Section 4 or Chapter 4) with a title explaining what the reader should expect to extract from the table or figure.

An example of a table and a figure is given here, taken from Hawkes, D. (2012). A First Century Traveller’s Guide to Palestine. 1st ed. [ebook] Cardiff: Dennis Hawkes. Available at: https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/171209 [Accessed 7 Mar. 2016].

Figure 1 Map of the Roman Provinces in and around Palestine in the First Century AD

Table 1 Monetary Systems in Use in the Area in the 1st Century (Wikipedia 2012), (Landering 2012) (Jeffers 2009)

3.1.5 Nomenclature

If any symbols or terms, including the units used, may be unfamiliar to the reader then they should be defined. For the ease of the reader’s reference, the technical terms are usually listed in List of Abbreviations in the beginning of the thesis.

3.1.6 The introduction

The word introduction means “act of leading in” and this section may sometimes better be called by a more descriptive title such as “An Historical Background” or “Terms of Reference of the Study”. It must lead the reader from the general to the specific and introduce the subject of the report. What follows the introduction will the Theory, Methods or Procedures, Results, and the Discussion of Results. The information must be ordered in a logical way.

3.1.7 Methods or literature review

For a report on an experimentally based project the experimental Methods or Procedures you have used should be explained so that anyone else could repeat your work. If the report is for an experimental project then full details of the apparatus and the procedures used for the experiments must be given. For a Humanities subject a literature review may replace a Methods section.

A literature review examines scholarly articles, books, journal papers and other sources e.g. conference proceedings that are relevant to the particular issue, area of research, or theory being covered in your paper and provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work.

3.1.8 Results

The Results section should indicate the experiments or investigations that were carried out, describe the results in the text and display the relevant results in tabular, pictorial or graphical form.

3.1.9 Discussion of results

The Discussion of Results is the key section and shows the meaning, as you see it, of the results you have obtained. What you later conclude about your results should also be obvious to the reader from this discussion.

3.1.10 The conclusion

Be concise, perhaps listing your conclusions. They should relate clearly to the aims of the report and quantify whether or not these aims were achieved. They must contain no new material and should flow logically from the body of the report, being the conclusions that would be naturally drawn by the reader from the discussion. This section should also point out limitations and suggestions for further study.

3.1.11 Appendices

Only include in an Appendix information which is essential to the report and which may need to be consulted whilst reading the report. Such information might include a computer program listing or a table of raw data. Use an Appendix for information that, if included in the Methods or Results section, would interrupt the flow of your argument.

3.1.12 The references

Throughout the text references made to books, periodicals, patents etc. should be indicated by either consecutive numerals, or more conveniently by the author’s name and date, e.g. (Hawkes 2014) or (Hawkes et al. 2015) if there were more than one author. The latter, Harvard system, means that any changes, additions or deletions, of references when revising the text will not result in all subsequent numbers having to be altered, a frequent cause of error. Unless otherwise specified this Harvard style should be used.

The references used in the publication will all be listed in the References section at the end. There may be particular requirements for the arrangement of references in certain circumstances, for example, it may be that the year of publication needs to come immediately after the author’s names. Whatever is specified, all references must be in a consistent style. Within the reference section the quoted references should be listed either alphabetically or numerically depending on the method used in the text.

Be careful to avoid plagiarism by correctly referencing any work you are using. Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. The penalty for plagiarism may be dismissal from the course.

3.1.13 Bibliography

In technical and scientific reports a Bibliography is not normally needed as a References section is required. In humanities a Bibliography will usually be required. The literature sources cited in the bibliography are those you have consulted in preparing your work, whether or not you referenced them in the text, and those the reader may find useful as background reading, listed in alphabetical order of surname of first author.

3.1.14 Tables and figures

All tables must have explanatory headings and all figures must have explanatory legends (headings above the tables and legends below the figures, see Section 3.1.4 above). Information should not be duplicated in both tables and graphs. All parameters must have the units stated. Graphs must have clearly readable axes and labeling. Use the same style and font for each of your figures and tables. All Tables and Figures should be numbered in order of their appearance and be referred to by number (e.g. Figure 1, Table 1) at the appropriate point in the text. This helps your readers to know at which point in the text they should look at each figure and table.

Some of the types of figures that may be required in a report include: orthographic drawings, pictorial drawings (isometric or perspective), exploded view drawings, schematic drawings, sectional drawings, graphs, bar charts, sketch maps, flow charts, or photographs. Each has its place depending upon the type of report.

[]4.0 Research Paper Writing

4.1 Planning the research paper

It is good to publish the results of your research as a paper in a refereed journal, if possible one with a high ranking. If you are working for a PhD, then publication of part of your work in such a journal shows that your work is an original contribution to your field, thus proving you have fulfilled one requirement for award of PhD. If you are working under a research grant from government or industry, then all that the funding agency is getting for its money is what is written down; they cannot see what is in your head. In effect publications, including your thesis, are what they are paying for. Your research paper will be an important item in your cv for the next step in your career.

4.1.1 Where will it be published?

When you are ready to communicate your results to the world at large you will have to decide which journal is most appropriate. The journal will almost certainly have available a copy of their “Instructions for Authors” to which you must refer. From then on you plan with that in mind.

In it you will find instructions as to that particular journal’s own House Style, how long the paper should be, what is the standard for the diagrams and figures etc. and almost certainly how they like the References cited.

When you are preparing your paper, remember you also have to prepare your Masters or PhD thesis and try to make everything count. Your diagrams could perhaps be drawn so that they can be incorporated into your thesis without modification. Even some of the written text such as description of the apparatus used should be written with your thesis in mind.

4.1.2 The role of the referee

You will want, where possible, to publish in journals where the papers are refereed and the journal has a high ranking. This ensures that the standard is high and gives you some valuable experience at having someone in addition to your own supervisor judge your work – just what will happen when you come to your Masters or PhD viva!

With most refereed journals it is the job of usually two or more referees to read the submitted paper in order to maintain appropriate standards and ensure that the paper is clearly written and contains no factual errors. This is known as peer review. Often there is a questionnaire for the referees to complete which may contain questions such as, “Are you aware of any publications which contain the main substance of the paper?” or “Should any parts be condensed, deleted, clarified or expanded?” Each referee has to study the paper thoroughly and answer the questions and ultimately recommend acceptance, amendment or rejection for publication in that journal. Usually the referees are also invited to give their opinion of the quality of the paper i.e. outstanding, above average, average or below average.

Nearly always there are certain alterations that need to be made before a paper is finally accepted. As well as the questionnaire, comments are invited which may be sent by the journal Editor to the author(s) of the paper to assist with any changes that are felt necessary. You may feel hurt that your masterpiece has been rejected as it stands and that corrections are requested, but you must realise that the comments are genuinely made and are designed to be helpful. Even if there has been some misunderstanding by the referee of what you have written, it shows that that section should be made clearer. Correct your paper as requested and reply including a covering letter showing the way your corrections have responded to each point raised by each referee.

The names of the referees are not usually divulged to each other or to the authors of the paper. This can save a lot of embarrassment!

4.2 Organising the writing of papers

4.2.1 Have a good grasp of the facts

Before writing-up any of your work you need to be sure that you have a good grasp of the facts that you have gleaned, both from your own and other peoples’ experimental results. You must understand the significance of your results and this means you must be familiar with the work of other researchers in a similar field. This will enable you to spot anomalies or trends and to make discoveries and that is ultimately what research is all about. Decide which of your numerical results you need to include in your paper and whether they are best displayed as graphs or tables or just referred to in the text. Science depends upon integrity; never be tempted to exaggerate or in any way falsify your results to make them look better. Ultimately, if this is done, the main person fooled is the researcher.

4.2.2 Breaking the task down

In the Instructions to Authors you will have been guided as to the style and the usual length of a research paper published in that particular journal. Perhaps it is 7,000 words on average plus illustrations. At about 400-500 typed words to a page that is 15 pages, a daunting task when each word must be weighed carefully and your scientific standing is at stake. You must plan the paper, guided by the usual layout of other papers in that journal perhaps, and by the Instructions to Authors. Whilst you cannot write 7,000 words straight off you will be able to make a start on one of the smaller sections or sub-sections of the paper.

Plan your publication carefully before you start to write it. Think of the headings you need and break these down into sub-headings and even sub-sub-headings. Try to estimate how many words that each section will need so that the total will be the number wanted. If possible show this to your supervisor before you start to write. This will save you a lot of work and cut the time of writing considerably. Too many students in my experience do not plan well, write too much and have to prune severely. That wastes effort and valuable time. One student of mine once handed in his introduction for me to look at; it was almost as long as the whole theses should have been. You can imagine what happened.

4.2.3 What to write first

Rather than start at the beginning with the Title or the Abstract start with what you know most about; perhaps a description of the apparatus used or the Methods section may be the easiest to begin with.

The Abstract or Summary, although it comes early in the paper just after the Title and the authors’ names and affiliations, is probably the last section to write. It is only after you see the whole paper in draft form that an accurate abstract should be attempted.

4.2.5 Early drafts and final copy

Several draft copies of your publication will be required before you and your supervisor are happy. Word processors can cut down the number to the minimum although when you get to a stage when your Supervisor has to approve it they may need to see a paper copy.

Check all your Figures and Tables are numbered in order of appearance and referred to in the text and that every citation in the text occurs in your References section. When at last you think you have the final copy, you need to check that it does meet publisher’s requirements before you submit it electronically. If you do not, your masterpiece will be returned to you immediately.

4.2.6 Timing

You should note that after you have finished writing your paper and have submitted it to your chosen journal for publication it could take at least several months before you see it in print.

First the editor will receive it and send it to usually at least two referees. They will eventually read it and submit their comments back to the editor. He will send the paper with these comments to you for correction and revision. You will eventually send your corrected paper back. The proofs will be produced which you will have to look at carefully in the short time period the journal allows you, and correct if necessary. Finally the editor has to slot your paper into the appropriate issue of the journal. This can take a long time. Some journals work on a much shorter time scale, in particular those dealing with short communications such as “Letters” as they are sometimes known. The journal may make your paper available on the web pre-publication.

[]5.0 Conferences

5.1 “Papers are invited…”

At some stage during your research your attention may be drawn, perhaps by your supervisor, to the first announcement of a conference or symposium in your field of research. The brochure will be inviting abstracts or summaries of possible papers to be sent in to the organising committee. These will then be scrutinised and, for the chosen ones, more details may be asked for, or you may be told directly that your paper has been accepted for the conference. Organising committees have the task of putting together a varied and interesting programme of papers describing new work, and of course not previously published. They will choose mostly authors with a proven track record, but also a number of new researchers whose papers look interesting. You may be one of these. If your results are suitable for a high quality refereed journal paper, remember you may not publish the same results twice. Usually conferences publish conference proceedings, often viewed as less prestigious. Check if that conference publishes proceedings, and choose which results to publish in the conference paper. If you have concerns, consider a poster paper that allows you to meet the community at the conference without compromising intellectual property. However, if you need to apply for funding to attend the conference, check if funding is awarded to those presenting only posters.

5.1.1 Rejections

Your abstract may of course be rejected, not necessarily because your research is not of interest, but because it does not fit in with the planned programme. Alternatively it may be that you did not express yourself clearly when you wrote your abstract. What committees are looking for is:

a clear and concise statement of the problem being investigated,

an explanation of the experimental method used,

a brief but specific summary of the essential results obtained,

the convincing conclusions that you have reached.

All of this information must be condensed into the few hundred words the committee has allowed for the abstract. If the paper is accepted for the conference it may be for oral presentation or as a poster.

5.1.2 Your first paper

If this is your first paper in your science or engineering topic, then your more experienced supervisor may help you write it and take the major responsibility for it’s production. His or her name will then probably be the first author’s name.

5.2 Planning the oral presentation

The paper will need to be submitted to the Committee’s timescale, ready for publication in the conference proceedings that the delegates hope to have in front of them as you speak. Once the paper has been written and accepted by the conference committee, you need to think about your presentation. You will not, I trust, read out the written paper verbatim from the platform; this is an infallible way to bore the audience or put them to sleep.

5.2.1 Be selective

You will want to consider the objectives of your talk. What do you want this audience to learn from you? You will have a limited time at your disposal and it is very important to stick to the time allowed. You cannot tell the audience all you know about your subject nor would they want to hear it; you must select the areas of interest and concentrate on how to present that information in the time allowed. You may not need to show the whole table of results that the delegates have available to them in your paper, just a section to illustrate the point you are making. All the points on the graph may not need to be shown, just the line showing the trend may be enough.

5.2.2 Communication aids

At a conference most speakers will illustrate their talk with the use of PowerPoint or Keynote plus perhaps film or video or some specialist display. If the meeting is quite small, say in a hotel meeting room, then it may be appropriate to use a flip-chart or a whiteboard. In a large hall with perhaps several hundred people there will be microphone equipment. If you are not familiar with its use, you should practice. Ask the technician in charge when you can do this. Do not turn away from the microphone to look at the screen. With international conferences the microphone may be the only communication with the translators whose difficult job is made impossible if they cannot hear what you are saying. A neck microphone, if there is one available, allows much more movement. The main thing to remember is that to communicate effectively, the audience must be able to hear you and to see your material.

5.3 Speaking in public

You may feel anxious if this is the first time that you have addressed such a distinguished audience. That’s not unusual even if you are an experienced speaker. Confidence comes from being very familiar with your material and having practiced beforehand. A good tip is to write out your talk in full and then make notes, learn your opening remarks by heart and know how you will finish. You should, in the days before your presentation, practice your talk from the notes you have made and with the visual aids you will use, until you are sure about what you want to say and how you are going to say it. Practice speaking clearly and loudly enough to be heard. Imagine you are addressing those in the back row of seats. If you are too loud the technician can easily turn the sound level down but cannot amplify what is not there. Have something worth saying and say it confidently and clearly.

5.4 Illustrating your talk

When using visual aids you must ensure that the audience even at the back of the hall can read and see what you are referring to. There is no excuse for a table of results being displayed at the size it appears in your paper. Using the rule for lettering size in section 6.2.2, you will note that this typing could only be clearly seen at a distance of about 2 meters from the screen but not much more. This may be fine for you standing on the platform close to the screen, but just an irritating blur for your audience. Remember the golden rule about the size of lettering.

For Power Point or Keynote slides the lettering needs to be large enough and bold enough to be seen from the back of the hall. You should experiment with the thickness of line and colours; for example orange or yellow tend not to show up very well even if the lettering is large enough. Do not try to put too much information on one slide, split it up or condense it. About 7 lines are all that you should attempt to write on a slide. Apart from having too much information or the writing being too small, other common mistake in a small hall is standing in front of the light beam of the projector. When using a laser pointer, remember that any slight shaking due to nervousness may show, so try to steady your hand!

5.4.1 Timing

Whatever the visual aids you decide to use remember it is an aid, so that what you are saying is being illustrated at the time by what the audience is seeing. That way it will be remembered. It is frustrating and diverting for the audience to be reading something on the screen whilst the speaker is talking about something different. Any one slide should not be on the screen for very long for that reason, and about 2 or 3 minutes is the maximum for a complex diagram whilst about 12 seconds for a simple photograph. Put in blank slides if you want to talk with nothing on the screen.

5.5 Questions

You may have a total of 30 minutes available for your talk plus questions. Don’t be tempted to take the coward’s way out and try to talk for the whole 30 minutes so as to leave no time for anyone to ask you hard questions! Questions are very valuable, they may allow you to show that you do know your subject well, or to elaborate further on parts of your talk which were not fully understood by at least one person in the audience. Some questions may also make you think about your work in a way that opens up a new line of research. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and say so.

5.6 Getting the most out of the conference

Do take the opportunity that is presented by the conference to talk to people about their work. You will find that you will meet people who are experts in your research field that normally you may not come into contact with, except by reading their papers. Coffee breaks and meals, if they are taken communally, are good times to make conversation as are the after-hours forums or receptions. Don’t be shy even if the name is famous, the person will remember what is was like at his or her first conference and will probably be pleased to talk to you. Once you have presented your paper, your face will be familiar and people will come up and talk to you about your work. Much of the value of going to a conference is in the conversations you have outside the lecture theatre.

[]6.0 Poster Papers

6.1 Objectives

It is common practice for a room to be set aside at a conference to display Posters. Delegates to the Conference walk around the room stopping to read only the Posters that they choose. This is an efficient use of time since delegates do not have to sit through talks which are not on their chosen topic or in which they have little interest. A Poster Presentation is a means of advertising and explaining the essentials of your work in a highly visible manner. A secondary objective for you may be to find other researchers who are working on a similar topic to yours.

6.2 The poster boards

Boards are normally about 1 meter by 1.5 metres or thereabouts, so there is no room for verbosity. They may be of a variety of surfaces and this needs to be determined from the organiser so that a means of fixing your poster can be devised. Velcro pads are commercially available for felt surface boards. There is usually an opportunity for the authors to stand beside their Posters whilst the delegates file past. Hopefully if you have made a good job of your Poster, some of them will stop and discuss the fuller details of the work. You can encourage people who may be interested in your subject to communicate with you by making available a list, on which they can write clearly their names and addresses or a receptacle for business cards. A small photograph displayed on the poster next to the author’s name and address may help people to locate the author(s).

6.2.1 Amount of text

To communicate effectively in a small space the length of any text must be kept to the minimum consistent with clarity. The art of preparing a Poster presentation is the art of précis.

6.2.2 Size of lettering

The text should be of sufficient size to be read comfortably by someone standing in front of the Poster. The golden rule is that the size of lettering should be;

Lettering Size = Reading Distance divided by 200

That usually means that the minimum size used should at least 24pt, that is twice the size of that often use in a paper (12pt).

6.3 The contents

There is a big difference between a Paper for publication and a Poster presentation. The same sort of material may be being presented, but in the Paper it can be fully discussed whilst on the Poster it must be highly condensed.

There will need to be a TITLE displayed so that a potential reader can decide whether or not to stop at your poster and read it all. The authors names and work addresses must follow.

The reader should be able to see clearly what are the AIMS of your work. These need to be clear but concise.

The way in which your experiments were performed, including any experimental rig needs to be made clear so a diagram of your apparatus and a section on METHODS is needed, again this must be concise. A photograph or diagram can save a lot of description. The RESULTS will be of great importance but must be summarised drastically. Only the important results will be able to be presented because of the (deliberate) restriction on space. The use of colour can be very effective on a Poster.

The CONCLUSIONS should be clear and very concise and of course related to the aims.

6.4 Handouts

Whilst it is helpful to have handouts available to supplement the Poster display, the problem of disclosing information that you may later wish to publish has to be considered. Handouts may contain more information about aspects of your work and references to the literature.

6.5 Resulting publications

Frequently, but not always, there will be a Poster Paper Publication associated with the conference and if your Poster is chosen to be included then a fuller version of your material will be requested. This will probably be limited to just a few pages and not be as long as a full paper for a journal and may not be refereed. They will contain more information than your Poster was able to include.

If you publish your work in a Poster Paper Publication, the same results will not usually be accepted for publication in a journal so a choice may be necessary as to where you publish.7.0 The Higher Degree Thesis

7.1 Planning the Masters/PhD thesis

7.1.1 What is required

In most universities there will be a booklet or website page available with a title such as “Regulations for the award of the University’s degrees of Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy” which lays down what is required. This will have sections on the General Conditions, Registration, Period of Time for Completion of the Work, The Thesis and Examinations amongst other topics. At an early stage in your research you should study carefully what is required.

7.1.2 Transfer of registration from Master to Doctor of Philosophy

For those candidates who initially registered for Masters degree with the possibility of transfer to PhD, there comes a time, normally after about 9 – 15 months of full-time study, when the application for transfer is due. The application is made to the appropriate Registering Authority and must include a full progress report. The report would typically be 3,000 to 6,000 words in length and would include a brief review and discussion of the work already undertaken. In addition, there needs to be a statement of the intended further work showing details of the original contribution to knowledge that is likely to result. If the Registering Authority is satisfied from the transfer report and the supervisors’ comments that the candidate has made sufficient progress and that the proposed programme provides a basis for work at PhD standard, then the candidate will be allowed to transfer.

7.2 Organising the writing of your thesis

7.2.1 Know your subject

What was said about publishing and presenting papers is equally valid here. By the time you come to organising your thesis writing you may have already had some experience in writing a paper for publication or a report for the project funding agency. They will often require annual progress reports, for example a poster presentation for a conference or even just a written report for your supervisor. Lack of a thorough understanding of your material is perhaps more often the cause of confused writing than is an inability to write clear English.

7.2.2 Break the task down

Break the task down just as you would for a paper. For a PhD the advised approximate length for Science or Technology is usually around 40,000 words, plus figures and tables, and for an arts subject perhaps 80,000 words. Most doctoral thesis are between 100 and 300 pages long in a normal font, for example 12pt Times. The length will vary with subject and will be specified by your university.

For an MPhil/MSc by research the approximate length is normally less, no more than 20,000 words for Science or Technology plus figures and tables and about double that for an arts subject.

It is difficult to write 40,000 words straight off for a scientific thesis; you can, however write a few hundred words about a small sub-section of one chapter. That is probably the best way to tackle the problem. Once you have an outline structure, that has been agreed in discussion with your supervisor, then you will have an idea about the major headings and sub-headings that are required.

7.2.3 What to write first

Start writing with one of the sub-sections that you know most about, say a description of your apparatus or part of the literature review, and this will give you confidence to proceed. Don’t start with, for example, the ‘Abstract’ or ‘Summary’ even though they may eventually come towards the beginning of the thesis.

7.2.4 The final thesis

The higher degree regulations usually set out essential features that shall be followed in the presentation of the thesis. These govern such things as the size of paper, the margins width, spacing, page numbering, the type of binding and even the minimum size of type for the title embossed on the spine and the front cover. These regulations must be studied and adhered to, or you could be asked to resubmit the work that would mean a costly rebinding.

7.3 Timing the thesis

7.3.1 The writing

The time that it takes to write a thesis is longer than is sometimes realised. For many the rate-limiting step for producing the final thesis is not your speed of typing but the thinking speed, and that is most important part. Assuming that you have already thoroughly read the literature, processed your data and written papers and reports, a typical timetable for many subjects might be:

Introduction – 3 weeks minimum

Methods and Results – 6 weeks minimum

Discussion, tables, figs, refs. etc. – 6 weeks minimum

Time for your supervisor to read your thesis

Corrections after reading by your supervisor – 1 week minimum

Total – at least 4 months!

It will be very different for a humanities subject.

7.3.2 The thesis production, binding etc.

As well as the actual writing of the thesis there are various production tasks that also take a lot of time and a reasonable timetable for this part of the thesis production will be:

Draft revisions – 2-3 weeks

Final typing, Art work, Proof reading etc – 3 weeks minimum.

Binding – 1 week

Total up to 2 months!

Thus you can see that a period of 6 months is about average for the complete production of the thesis. A humanities PhD will be very different. Some students may take a shorter time than this, but for most people the time taken for such tasks tends to expand rather than contract unless one is very well organised.

7.4 Thesis requirements

7.4.1 Contents

Although the presentation of the thesis must be of a certain laid-down standard, it is the content of the thesis that is most important. Apart from the oral examination, all that the examiner knows about what you have done is what you have written in the thesis. Whatever the awarding body, there are common requirements. A thesis should demonstrate advanced knowledge of the subject and provide evidence of effort and application during the period of registration. For a PhD degree there is the requirement of showing that the candidate has undertaken detailed investigations and has tested their original ideas in relation to those of others. The thesis should contain one or more original contributions to the field worthy of publication in an established and refereed journal. An MSc has similar requirements except that it is shorter and is not expected to have involved original research.

7.4.2 Length

The number of words is not of course fixed, but the length should be sufficient to express yourself clearly yet concisely. The usual guide for the length of thesis is:

Masters by Research Approximate typical length:

Science/Technology, Art and Design – 20,000 words

Arts, Social Studies, Education – 40,000 words

PhD. Approximate typical length:

Science/Technology, Art and Design – 40,000 words

Arts, Social Studies, Education – 80,000 words

7.5 The examination

7.5.1 Procedures

When your thesis is finished and the required number of copies have been presented to your Academic Registrar, an oral examination will be arranged with an external examiner familiar with your subject. You, however, should by now know more about your particular subject than anyone else, so you can take comfort from that fact.

There will also be at least one internal examiner appointed from within your own establishment and both examiners need to be in agreement as to the final outcome of the examination. If your supervisor is also present (that may or not be allowed in your university), he or she will not be allow to take part and often they will prefer not to come into the examination room.

7.5.2 What an examiner looks for

There is in every institution a set of ‘Instructions to Examiners’ for research degrees and these make clear to the examiner what they should be looking for. The wording of the instructions as to what a PhD must contain may vary, but they will include such phrases as, “significant contribution to knowledge”, “discovery of new facts”, “independent critical powers”, “originality”, “literary succinctness”, etc.

The instructions for an MPhil or MSc by Research will include phrases such as “satisfactory knowledge and understanding” of subject matter and background, “competence in investigation”, “critical study”. The major difference, apart from length, between the two degrees is the need for originality for a PhD.

7.5.3 The viva voce examination

‘Viva voce’ is a Latin term meaning ‘living voice’ in other words an oral examination. The term is usually abbreviated to viva. Before this oral examination the examiners will have been sent a copy of the thesis. They will have read it thoroughly, studied your calculations and any computer program listings you have included. They will be looking at how you have handled your experimental data; how many measurements you have taken, the accuracy and reproducibility of the results, and of course your interpretation and presentation. They will probably be familiar with many of the references you have quoted and will have had time to look up others. In other words, they will have had time to study your thesis in depth.

You may find it helpful to look at the publications and particular interests of your external examiner, but most of your preparation time should be given to making sure you are familiar with the contents of your own thesis. Although you may well be nervous of the examination, it is an important one after all, you should remember that the examiners are trying to help you explain your work to them. It is not the examiners’ job to try to trip you up, but they must satisfy themselves that the thesis is your own work, that you meet the rigorous standards laid down for the award of the degree, and that the thesis is suitable to represent your institution.

During the oral examination the external examiner may go through your thesis section by section asking searching questions, for example, about why you did what you did or what you understand by certain statements you have made. It may take an hour, it may take three or four with a break for lunch. There is normally no fixed length of time, it will last as long as is necessary.

At the end of the oral examination and after you have left the room, the examiners will confer and you will then be told of their recommendations as to the award being made.

7.5.4 Examiners’ recommendations

The examiners will have to produce a written report for the awarding body and also answer questions that will reflect the requirements for awarding the degree.

Finally they are asked to say “that the candidate be:” either,

1. granted the degree,

or 2. granted the degree subject to minor alterations,

or 3. allowed to resubmit with,

(i) only revised thesis

(ii) revised thesis and oral exam

(iii) only oral exam

(iv) special exam,

or 4. not granted the degree, no re-examination allowed,

or 5. awarded a Masters degree instead of a PhD.

It will be the aspirations of the reader of this booklet that the recommendation is Number 1, but it is perhaps more common to be Number 2, since it is unusual to find no spelling mistakes or minor corrections that have to be made. Each copy of your thesis will need to be corrected. Usually it is possible for the candidate to do these corrections immediately after the oral examination and for the external examiner not to wish to see them. They can then be approved by the internal examiner acting alone.


I am indebted to a number of people who have read through the manuscript and suggested comments and improvements, especially Dr. L. Sullivan, Prof. R. Deng and my wife Prof. F. R. Hawkes.

About the Author

Professor Dennis Hawkes (HNC, BSc., PhD., DTech.) originally trained as a mechanical engineer in the aircraft industry and began his academic career after his experience with Voluntary Service Overseas in Malawi and Teacher Training in Garnett College London. He gained a PhD in an area of renewable energy. After a teaching and research career he retired in 2009 as Professor Emeritus from the University of Glamorgan (now the University of South Wales), Wales, UK. In 2010 the university admitted him to the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Technology. His experience as a leader of a research group, MSc and PhD supervisor, an academic journal editor and higher degree examiner both in the UK and abroad has given him the experience and desire to write this short guide to help others.

Other titles by Dennis Hawkes available from Shakespir

p<>{color:#000;}. A First-Century Travellers’ Guide to Palestine

p<>{color:#000;}. Places Paul Knew

p<>{color:#000;}. Church – The Early Years

p<>{color:#000;}. Early VTOL Aircraft (before 1967)

p<>{color:#000;}. Malawi Memories – 50 years on

Research Matters: communicating your results

This eBook is written for students who are embarking on a course of study that will lead to them gaining a higher degree, Masters or Doctorate, by research. Although universities always have clear instructions about all aspects of ways of communicating research results it is not always in a convenient form, so an eBook, was suggested, that can be downloaded onto a smart phone for ready access. This should always be compared with the students own university requirements. It has been written especially with students of scientific or engineering subjects in mind, but humanities students should also find it useful. During their period of research, whether theoretical 'blue-skies' or applied, it is usual to write up some of the results in the form of an interim report or a research paper for publication. Such reports will be required as part of a higher degree course, for example as an account of a laboratory experiment that has been undertaken. Sometimes the report will be assessed and sometimes it may be used to communicate to an outside funding body such as government or the industry supporting the research. Students may also present their results at an academic conference orally or in the form of a poster paper presentation. At the conclusion of their research the higher degree candidates will be faced with writing a thesis and will be orally examined on this in a viva. This short book has advice on each of these topics. Emeritus Professor Dennis Hawkes has long experience as a leader of a research group, academic conference speaker, MSc and PhD supervisor, an academic journal editor and higher degree examiner both in the UK and abroad. Although now retired he still has regular contact with students engaged in study for a higher degree and as a result or conversation with them this eBook has been produced.

  • Author: Dennis Hawkes
  • Published: 2016-03-11 11:40:07
  • Words: 8828
Research Matters: communicating your results Research Matters: communicating your results