‘Signposting' research stories in doctoral theses: Writing that keeps the reader in mind

  • Shosh Leshem
  • Eli Bitzer Professor, Faculty of Education, Stellenbosch University
Keywords: doctorateness, signposting, writing strategies


One critical component in doctoral theses is having the readers in mind by orienting them to ‘the story of the research’. The candidate might be writing for an audience familiar with the broader content, however, when original material is explained and put in context, exceptional emphasis on clarity might be needed. Readers would therefore appreciate signposts to direct them on their journey through the work. The aim of our study is twofold: Firstly, to identify and briefly reflect on the signposts or links that make thesis texts more reader-friendly and assist the reader in understanding the text. Secondly, we selected and analysed eight completed theses in relation to three of these critical research components that play a pivotal role in creating coherence and cohesiveness in a study: conceptual frameworks, research questions and theoretical perspectives. Our primary sources were eight completed doctoral theses in education from different universities.  The analysis of the selected theses identified signposting with varied measures of success: while in some studies the signposting was most helpful, in others it seemed vague, handled clumsily or over-used. The paper should alert candidates and supervisors to ways and means of making their writing more reader-friendly and thus promote their chances of positive examiner impressions.   


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Author Biographies

Shosh Leshem
Shosh Leshem is a professor in education at Kibbutzim College of Education in Israel and Middlebury College, Vermont, USA. She is also a research associate at Stellenbosch University.  Her fields of research are doctoral education, supervision, teacher education and second language acquisition.
Eli Bitzer, Professor, Faculty of Education, Stellenbosch University
Eli Bitzer is emeritus professor in higher education studies at the Centre for Higher and Adult Education, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He publishes in the field of postgraduate supervision and doctoral education and promotes senior degree studies.