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Masters theses

Important information

At the time of enrolment, all candidates undertaking a masters thesis should obtain a copy of the Arts Graduate School Research students induction handbook available from the graduate studies office, first floor, Humanities building.

Assurance of standards in supervision of masters students

The principal supervisor should be an academic* staff member of the university (*this may include honorary appointees and, under special circumstances, research fellows subject to the following:

The principal supervisor must hold a minimum academic qualification of master.

An associate supervisor, who need not be a member of the academic staff of the university but who has some formal association in the department/centre may also be appointed. The associate supervisor should be of recognised standing in the field.

An expert who has no formal association in the department may be invited to act as an adviser.

Where the nominated principal supervisor has not had experience supervising masters students, an experienced supervisor should also be appointed as either a joint principal, or associate, supervisor.

Functions of a supervisor

Candidates for the masters degree pursue research under the direction of a supervisor, who will report on their work and progress to the graduate studies committee of the relevant department or centre. Supervisors shall also report whenever in their opinion students are not making satisfactory progress in their work, are otherwise not fulfilling the conditions laid down for them, or appear unlikely to reach the standard of the degree for which they are enrolled.

The supervisory relationship is an idiosyncratic one. The degree of supervisor direction and conversely the degree of student autonomy will depend upon the working relationship that the supervisor and student negotiate. The faculty recommends that early in the working relationship the supervisor and the student discuss their respective expectations and assumptions. Factors recommended for discussion include the meeting schedule, a time line, responsibility for the selection of the topic, degree of supervisor direction in the development of the research, degree of supervisor direction in the writing of the thesis, responsibility for the standard of the thesis, and responsibility for finishing within the minimum time period. While all of these factors need to be clarified and negotiated on an individual basis, the Arts faculty has constructed written guidelines and responsibilities for supervisors and students. Candidates should read the `Code of practice for supervision of masters candidates'.

If more than one supervisor is appointed, candidates shall consult all such supervisors on all matters of general concern to their work and thesis.

If candidates are of the opinion that the appointment of a particular supervisor is inappropriate, it is their right and duty to consult the head of the department or director of the centre concerned or, if necessary, the dean.

The masters regulations require that when the thesis is complete the supervisor submit a statement certifying (i) the extent to which the work was carried out by the candidate and (ii) whether the thesis is properly presented and prima facie worthy of examination. The supervisor is further asked to certify whether the length of the thesis is appropriate to the topic and to the prescribed weighting of the thesis. In certifying that the thesis is properly presented and prima facie worthy of examination, supervisors are not forecasting the result of the examination. They are stating that, in their opinion, an examiner who recommends the award of the degree would not necessarily be acting unreasonably. A thesis thus certified would be expected to be reasonably free from typographical and grammatical errors and to contain a properly presented bibliography. Supervisors should impress upon candidates the necessity of proofreading the typescript of the thesis very carefully before it is submitted, so as to reduce the need for minor amendments later.

If a supervisor does not certify that the thesis is properly presented and prima facie worthy of examination, the faculty still has the power to determine that the thesis should be examined. It may be noted that when a supervisor certifies that the thesis is not properly presented the options open to the candidate are as follows: (1) to request the faculty to accept the thesis for examination forthwith; (2) to seek the faculty's permission to revise the thesis before submitting it; (3) to withdraw from candidature for the masters degree.

Working away from the university

Some candidates may need to visit other places in Australia or even abroad for periods of time in order to collect material for their research, either in libraries or on field work of a variety of kinds.

The Committee for Graduate Studies considers, however, that the central work and preparation of the thesis and its supervision must be centred on a department at this university, and candidates are required to spend at least one half-year of full-time study (or its equivalent in part-time study) working there, no matter what external travelling they do. Candidates should seek permission of the committee in writing and through the head of the department or director of the centre if their work entails being away from the university for periods greater than three months. A supporting statement is also required from the head of department or the director of the centre, indicating arrangements for supervision whilst the candidate is away from the university.

Writing-up away from the university

Candidates may request permission to complete the writing of their theses away from the direct supervision of the university. Usually this means that they have collected all their data or consulted their sources etc., and their considered views must now be written up in the form of the final thesis.

This situation most commonly arises when a candidate wishes to obtain employment or accept a research fellowship abroad or interstate. Candidates frequently underestimate the time it will take to prepare a thesis away from the university and out of contact with a supervisor while under pressure from a new activity in employment or research. The Committee for Graduate Studies, therefore, in considering whether to grant permission to write-up away, will normally wish to be assured by both the student and the supervisor that the preparation of the thesis is already at an advanced stage and preferably that a first draft has been completed or substantially completed. Students granted writing-up-away status are considered to be enrolled, but are not charged HECS or amenities fees, since they are not using any university facilities or needing supervision. Students granted this status must hand in their student ID card.

Preparation and presentation of a masters thesis

Language of theses

Masters theses are to be written in English. However, where the thesis is on a literature or language subject within one of the language departments (including the Department of Linguistics), a recommendation may be made to the Committee for Graduate Studies for the thesis to be written in the language, or one of the languages, of that department. The recommendation must be made to the Committee for Graduate Studies within three months of the commencement of candidature for a candidate proceeding by thesis only or within three months of the minor thesis topic being approved by the dean for candidates proceeding by coursework and thesis.

The faculty board has agreed that permission for a masters candidate to write a thesis in a language other than English would be granted only in exceptional cases, for example where treatment of the topic of the thesis would be severely hampered by insistence on the use of English.

Length of theses

The quality of a thesis, as regards both the project and its execution, should be the paramount consideration at all levels. Nevertheless, some attention needs to be given to the matter of length. In what follows it is assumed that the average number of words per page in a finished thesis is 300.

The faculty recognises that the different natures of the various disciplines presuppose wide variations in the types of work involved and the ways in which results are reported. Making due allowance for such differences, the faculty board has approved the following guidelines for the length of theses:

In departments and centres where a minor thesis of 51 per cent or 49 per cent was part of the program prior to 1995, students may choose - after consultation with the department or centre - between undertaking a minor thesis of 18,000-25,000 words or undertaking a thesis as is now defined in the program (usually 66 per cent or 75 per cent). Students who started after 1995 do not have the option of undertaking a minor thesis. Some departments and centres offer research projects (refer to the subject listings for each program for details).

The faculty has also set a maximum upper limit of 75,000 words for a 100 per cent masters thesis, beyond which faculty approval is required before the thesis may be submitted for examination.

These word limits assume the exclusion of such items as acknowledgments, tables, charts, maps, musical examples, diagrams, bibliography and notes which merely indicate sources. (Notes which discuss at some length side issues raised by matters dealt with in the body of the text should perhaps be included.) Appendices containing documents, texts or other matters referred to in the thesis would not normally be counted, though if the material is being edited as part of the project it should not be discounted entirely. Critical editions are clearly a special case.

Specifications for theses

Careful attention to matters of presentation of a thesis is considered to be most important. The method of citation within the body of the thesis is not something which the faculty wishes to prescribe. Conventions differ from discipline to discipline, and even within disciplines there may be alternative, acceptable conventions; the major requirements are that they be intelligible and consistently applied. The choice of a particular style manual to be followed in the thesis should be decided in consultation with the candidate's supervisor. The recommendations on typing, bibliographic details and presentation of diagrams and figures, set out below, are suggestions for normal practice. Candidates should seek the approval of the faculty if the proper presentation of their thesis requires some major departure from the recommendations, eg variation in page size from A4, a need to present large sections of handwritten symbols or foreign language script, special types of large diagrams or maps. The request should be supported by a statement from the head of the department or director of the centre.


The responsibility for the layout of the thesis rests with the candidate after discussion with the supervisor.

The thesis should be written and submitted before the candidate leaves the university, although, in certain circumstances, the faculty may give permission for the thesis to be completed elsewhere.

Candidates must state the sources of their information and the extent to which they have availed themselves of the work of others.

Candidates may not submit for the degree work previously accepted for a degree in this or another university, nor may they, without the permission of the faculty, submit work which they have previously submitted for any such degree.


The final typing or printing and binding of a thesis is the responsibility of the candidate. Candidates should make private arrangements to have their theses wordprocessed.

A masters thesis should be printed on paper of a size and quality approved by the faculty board and, after examination, bound in a form approved by the faculty board. The paper normally used is A4 bond (297 mm x 210 mm). Both sides of the paper may be used provided the result is clear, legible and tidy. Either 1.5 spacing or double spacing may be used, and the margins should be not less than 40 mm on the left hand side and 15 mm on the right hand side to allow for binding and trimming. Additional copies of the thesis may be provided by photocopying. The faculty may admit departures from the standard pattern if the nature of the thesis warrants it; in all such instances the permission of the faculty board must be sought beforehand.

The contents of the thesis should be ordered as follows:

1 a title page, giving the title of the thesis in full, the names and degrees of the candidate, the name of the department of the university associated with the work and the date when submitted for the degree;

2 a summary of not more than 250 words;

3 a table of contents;

4 a signed statement to the effect that the thesis contains no material which has been accepted for the award of any other degree or diploma in any university and that, to the best of the candidate's knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously published or written by another person, except when due reference is made in the text of the thesis;

5 an acknowledgment of any help given or work carried out by another person or organisation;

6 the main text;

7 appendices, if any;

8 references (if not included in the text).


The bibliography is one of the most important parts of a thesis, and considerable care must be taken in its preparation.

In the first place the bibliography presents a record of the candidates' research into their subjects, and it should be possible to regard it as a form of guarantee that they are fully acquainted with all significant earlier contributions to scholarship in the chosen field. It follows, therefore, that a bibliography should be (a) complete, (b) scrupulously accurate and (c) presented in a readily usable form. Incomplete coverage of a subject, inaccuracy in bibliographical details (eg authors' names, titles of books or articles, dates and places of publication etc.) and disorderly presentation of material are not only a source of irritation to a reader but can be positively misleading.

The actual form in which a bibliography is presented may vary in some ways from thesis to thesis, depending upon the nature of the subject under discussion. In some cases, for example, it may be desirable to list books and articles alphabetically by authors' names; in other cases a chronological listing may be more appropriate. This is a matter which should be discussed and decided upon as early as possible in consultation with the candidate's supervisor, and the method adopted should then be followed rigidly; inconsistency in this matter is a common source of confusion. A brief statement of method at the beginning of the bibliography will help to prevent misunderstanding.

All books and articles mentioned in the body of the thesis should, without exception, appear in their appropriate places in the bibliography. For this reason it is extremely unwise to postpone its compilation, since this will almost inevitably lead to omissions. Ideally, the bibliography should be a `continuous exercise' beginning with the candidate's first thoughts about the thesis, and being brought strictly up to date at regular and frequent intervals as the work proceeds. This is best done by the use of some form of card index based on either an alphabetical or a chronological sequence. Although this may produce, in many cases, a rather frightening bulk of material, it should be remembered that it is much easier at a later stage to reject irrelevant material than it is to ensure that no relevant item has been overlooked.

Fullness, consistency and accuracy are the keynotes of a good bibliography. In any case of doubt the candidate's supervisor should be consulted.

Diagrams and figures

The following are general suggestions for normal practice:

1 diagrams, figures and so on should preferably be drawn or photographed on A4 paper and bound in the appropriate place in the text;

2 tables should be inserted in the appropriate place in the text, except that lengthy or bulky tables should appear as an appendix;

3 diagrams, maps, tables etc. exceeding A4 size should be folded and bound into the thesis;

4 assistance in the preparation of diagrams, charts and photographs may be given by the university at the discretion of the head of the department concerned.

Submission of thesis

A candidate about to submit a thesis is advised to read the appropriate regulations and if in doubt on any point should also consult the secretary to the Committee for Graduate Studies, Faculty of Arts graduate studies office.

Candidates who submit their thesis by 31st of January 1997 do not need to re-enrol for 1997 and do not pay any fees for 1997. Candidates who submit their thesis after that date need to re-enrol at the appropriate time (see the section on re-enrolment in this Handbook) and will be charged for each month of their re-enrolment (including January).

Three copies of the thesis in secure binders (eg spring-back or similar) must be lodged in the department/centre responsible for coordinating the program undertaken for examination. At the time of lodgment the candidate also needs to fill in the first part of a thesis examination worksheet. The supervisor must certify that the work was carried out by the candidate and that in their opinion the thesis is worthy of examination, and they must also complete section B of the thesis examination worksheet.

Appointment of examiners

The Committee for Graduate Studies appoints two examiners on the recommendation of the head of the department or director of the centre. It is expected that as a matter of normal practice the head or director will first consult with the supervisor and with the candidate with regard to the names of possible examiners and will also note comments from them with respect to those who, for good reasons advanced by either, may be thought to be unsuitable examiners. A candidate who believes that the appointment of a particular examiner may be prejudicial to the fair examination of the thesis should inform both the supervisor and head of department (or director of the centre) in writing either before the thesis is submitted or at the time of submission.

Choice of examiners is made with regard to their knowledge and standing in the field of study involved, but qualities such as reputation and experience in thesis examining should not be overlooked. Experience here and elsewhere suggest that speediness in completing examinations and submitting reports, clarity of examiners' reports, and reasonableness in expectation of the level of a masters thesis, are important qualities to seek in potential examiners, in addition to their scholarly standing.

The nomination forms should require the provision of sufficient information on prospective examiners for the Committee for Graduate Studies to reach an informed decision. Normally this requirement will be satisfied by an examiner who is an academic at any recognised tertiary institution. In other cases the following information should be provided as appropriate:

In order to reduce examining time, both examiners should be asked informally before the thesis is submitted whether they will be able to act. It is also appropriate at this stage to ask whether an examiner would be able to complete the examination within eight weeks from an estimated date of receipt of thesis.

The examiners will be informed in writing of the proportion of the program represented by the thesis. For theses which are graded, the examiners will receive a clear indication of what numerical marks the faculty uses for its grades.

The names of the examiners will be revealed formally to the candidate after they are appointed. All communication with examiners on any matter affecting the examination must be carried out through the secretary of the Committee for Graduate Studies.

When the result of the examination is know, candidates whether successful or unsuccessful, will be given copies of the examiners' reports.

Length of examination

The faculty is very conscious of the need to have as rapid an assessment as possible of a thesis. The average time in straightforward cases from the submission of the thesis to a final decision by the committee on the result of the examination is currently four to five months. Sometimes the examining period may be substantially longer than this. However, everything possible is done to speed up this process. Examiners are asked to complete their assessment within two months of receipt of thesis, and reminder letters are sent if the reports are not received on time.

If examiners are not unanimous in passing a thesis, further time may be spent in adjudication by a third person or in holding an oral or written examination. In these circumstances candidates should not expect a rapid notification of the result.

Advisory panels

The principal function of an advisory panel is to consider the examiners' reports in any case where something other than the award of the degree (with or without conditions) has been recommended by either or both examiners, and to make an appropriate recommendation to the Committee for Graduate Studies. The panel may seek, through the secretary of the Committee for Graduate Studies, clarification of any matter raised in the examiners' or adjudicator's reports before making its recommendation.

Advisory panels comprise the chair of the Committee for Graduate Studies or their nominee, the head of the department or the director of the centre, the supervisor, and a fourth academic staff member, who must not be a member of the department or centre of enrolment. An administrative officer from the graduate studies office is also present at advisory panel meetings.

Where one of the examiners recommends revise and resubmit, and the other examiner recommends that the thesis be passed, the advisory panel usually recommends that an adjudicator be appointed. The student is advised that the thesis is to be sent out for adjudication and is provided with copies of the examiners' reports and asked to submit comments on the examiners' criticisms of the thesis. Any such comments are then forwarded by the graduate studies office to the adjudicator, together with copies of the examiners' reports (with the names and institutions of the examiners deleted) and a copy of the thesis. The role of the adjudicator is not to act as a third examiner of the thesis, but to adjudicate between the two reports.

If the adjudicator recommends that the thesis be revised, the advisory panel will decide who shall be the supervisor for the revised thesis and the deadline for the resubmission. The advisory panel also makes a recommendation as to the examiners for the revised thesis; normally the examiner who in the first instance recommended resubmission and the adjudicator.

If an adjudicator recommends that the thesis be passed, the advisory panel will decide whether the thesis should be passed with no corrections, subject to the correction of minor errors or subject to amendments. For graded theses, the advisory panel will also recommend the grade.

Where both examiners recommend revise and resubmit the advisory panel will normally decide who shall be the supervisor for the revision and on the deadline for the resubmission. The panel will also decide who shall re-examine the thesis - normally the same examiners as for the original thesis.

Once a thesis has been resubmitted it undergoes examination and the candidate is no longer eligible for a further revision and resubmission.

The option of an oral or written examination is also open to advisory panels, but is rarely used.

The faculty finally decides whether a candidate has satisfied the requirements for the degree and approves its award. The secretary of the Committee for Graduate Studies will write informing the candidate of the results as soon as possible after a decision is made by the committee.


Once the thesis has been successfully examined, two copies must be sewn and bound in boards covered with dark cloth and submitted to the faculty. During binding the edges should be trimmed.

On the spine of the thesis the following should appear in gold lettering, reading from top to bottom: the surname of the candidate, the title of the thesis (abbreviated if necessary) and the year of submission.

The bound copies are distributed as follows: one copy to the university library and one copy to the department. The copy lodged in the university library may be made available by the university to any person for consultation, provided that for a period of three years after the thesis is lodged, at the request of the author, access to and copying of the thesis may be restricted. In exceptional circumstances the faculty reserves the right to restrict access to the thesis for a specific period.

Accordingly, when submitting the thesis, the candidate is asked to sign a certificate of consent which reads: `I agree/disagree that this thesis may be made available for consultation within the library; I agree/disagree that the thesis may be made available for photocopying; and I note that, in any case, my consent is required only for the three years following acceptance of my thesis.'

Termination of candidature (masters research students)

It is expected that discussions between candidate and supervisor will have given adequate warning if the student's work is not developing satisfactorily. Whenever it has been recommended that a candidature be terminated, the student concerned will be asked if he or she wishes to make representation to the Committee for Graduate Studies before a final decision is made.

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