Thesis and dissertation guidelines

According to the Calendar, a doctoral dissertation must provide a new contribution to knowledge, demonstrate a critical understanding of works of scholars in the field, and demonstrate original thinking and research. In addition, it must be of sufficient merit to meet the standards of scholarly publication. A Master's thesis must demonstrate that appropriate research methods have been used and appropriate methods of critical analysis supplied. It provides evidence of some new contribution to the field of existing knowledge or a new perspective on existing knowledge.

There is a lot to know about the process of writing and defending a thesis (MA level) or dissertation (PhD level). The tabs below will hopefully provide you with the information that you need to understand the ins and outs of your supervisory committee and of the steps that you will take towards completing your thesis or dissertatation. This information is also available, in much more detail, on various pages of the Faculty of Graduate Studies website.

Supervisory committee

Your supervisor carries the chief responsibility for guiding you through your program of study. He or she plays the biggest role in setting your program and approving amendments to it, as well as counselling you in academic matters and providing guidance on the nature of research and graduate study, the standards expected, the adequacy of your progress, and the quality of your work. To learn more about the supervisory role, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the document Responsibilities in the Supervisory Relationship available on the Grad Studies website.

Your supervisor, in consultation with you, is responsible for nominating other members to serve on your supervisory committee (your supervisor will serve as the chair of this committee).

Committee structure

  • PhD Students: the supervisor plus at least two members approved by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, one of whom must be from outside the Department of Linguistics.
  • MA Students: the supervisor plus at least one member approved by the Faculty of Graduate Studies; both may be from the Department of Linguistics.
  • MAAL Students (thesis option): the supervisor plus at least one member approved by the Faculty of Graduate Studies; both may be from the Department of Linguistics.
  • MAAL Students (non-thesis option): the supervisor plus at least one member approved by the Faculty of Graduate Studies; both may be from the Department of Linguistics.

Thesis/dissertation proposal

Purpose of the proposal

Whether your program involves a major research paper, a thesis, or a dissertation, you will spend a lot of time thinking about and setting up your project, from contextualizing it in the existing research to planning out the steps for collecting, processing, analyzing, and interpreting the data that you will be working with.

The purpose of the research proposal is to ensure that 1) you have a solid plan for proceeding with your project, 2) your plan has been approved by your supervisory committee, and 3) you have received feedback on your plan, again by your supervisory committee.

Generally, a proposal defines the topic and goals of research and the methodology to be used in the study. A partial bibliography and a tentative table of contents for the proposed project typically accompany it, as well as a timeline for completing the project.

As linguistics is a multifaceted field of inquiry, the topics that can be researched in a thesis or dissertation are likewise quite varied. As you start to think about writing your proposal, you may find it useful to read A Guide to Completing a Thesis or Project Proposal, prepared by Marge Reitsma-Street in 2007, and discuss with your supervisor what type of proposal would be most appropriate for your research.

Timing of the proposal

  • MA and MAAL (thesis option): normally submitted early in the second year of study. 
  • MAAL (non-thesis option): there is no regulation as to when this should be done, but full-time students who wish to complete the program in 12 months typically develop a topic, find a supervisor, write a proposal, and submit it in the late spring or early summer of their second year (once their course work is complete).
  • PhD: normally submitted shortly after advancing to candidacy.

Proposal defense

Once your supervisory committee has read your written proposal, you will meet with them to discuss it. At this meeting, the "proposal defense", you will briefly introduce your proposal to your committee members and receive suggestions and comments from them on all aspects of the proposal. The committee will then decide whether the proposal has sufficient merit and is well thought-out enough for you to proceed with the next steps. If the result of the proposal defense is negative, then you may submit a revised proposal within three months. If the proposal is still unacceptable, you may be asked to withdraw from the program. Once the proposal is approved, the next step will be to prepare the necessary ethics documentation, if human participants are involved.

Research and research funding

Research support

You will be guided through your major research paper, thesis, or dissertation research by your supervisor and other members of your supervisory committee. It is the responsibility of both you and your committee members to make yourselves available to each other for discussion of the work in progress, and to give and receive advice and constructive criticism. It is recommended that you set up regular meeting times (e.g., weekly) with your supervisor, to ensure that you maintain momentum as you progress towards completion of your program.

You are encouraged to make use of the excellent resources and facilities available to you through the Linguistics department and the university:

  • The UVic Libraries
  • The Humanities Computing and Media Centre (HCMC)
  • The Centre for Academic Communications
  • The Phonetics Laboratory (CLE D345; open to all Linguistics students)
  • The Speech Research Laboratory (CLE D326; access by special permission)
  • The Sociolinguistics Research Lab (CLE D228c; access by special permission)
  • The Thom Hess reading room, which contains the Linguistics department's collection of Indigenous materials (CLE D338; bookable, open to all Linguistics students)
  • The Geoffrey O'Grady seminar room, which contains the Linguistics department's general library materials (CLE D329; open to all Linguistics students)
  • The Graduate Student research room (CLE D228a; open to all Linguistics graduate students)

Research funding

Students normally must provide for themselves the material necessities of their research. To this end, you are encouraged to apply for financial support from those bodies that fund research by graduate students. The people most knowledgeable about sources of support are specialists in the
general area of your research (e.g., your supervisor), the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and the University's Office of the Vice-President, Research. There are also notice boards in the Department where information about funding agencies and their programs is posted.

The Linguist List is another good source of information on possible funding sources.

The University of Victoria Graduate Student Society, in collaboration with the Faculty of Graduate Studies, is able to provide small travel grants of up to $600 annually to assist graduate students with travel expenses for conferences or research.

You should begin applying for grants and fellowships for research early in your graduate careers, both because these will fund your research and also because the skills you develop by writing funding proposals are essential for you to develop as part of your program.


The University of Victoria abides by the Tri-Council Policy Statement for the Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2). Graduate students and all others who conduct experiments, surveys, or fieldwork, or who access primary or secondary data (both anonymized and non-anonymized) as part of their academic work are subject to these regulations and must apply for human research ethics approval with the University’s Human Research Ethics Board. The most important elements of the ethics review are questions concerning the informed consent of research participants, their assurance of being able to leave the study at any time, and the safeguarding of their confidentiality.
The standard ethics review form requires careful preparation and attention. Fortunately, the questions are exactly the ones that every researcher must ask when designing a research project. Therefore, apart from filling in the form, little work beyond what must be done for the research itself is called for. The application form, sample consent form, and instructions can be obtained online from the Office of Research Services. An application takes four to six weeks for review, so it is important to submit the application form well in advance of beginning the research.

Most members of the Departmental faculty are familiar with procedures for ethics review and can provide guidance and assistance with the required forms.

Thesis/dissertation oral defense

Purpose of the oral defense

The purpose of the Major Research Paper, thesis, or dissertation defense is to ensure that the University’s standards have been met for the appropriate degree. The Faculty of Graduate Studies website has very comprehensive information on and guidelines for thesis and dissertation oral defenses, which you are encouraged to consult as you begin to think about your own defense.

Submitting the Request for Oral Examination

Once you complete the pre-final draft of your major research paper, thesis, or dissertation, you must submit it to your supervisory committee for their approval. When your committee has approved your paper, thesis, or dissertation, arrangements for the oral defense can be made. You must submit your "Request for Oral Examination" well in advance of your defense:

  • MA and MAAL (thesis option): at least 20 working days prior to the defence (defence date not included). Project-based Master's do not require a ROE.
  • PhD: at least 30 working days prior to the defence (defence date not included)

The request for oral examination must be signed by all members of your supervisory committee and sent to the Dean of Graduate Studies. Completion of this form constitutes notice that the student is ready for the examination and that the members of the supervisory committee have examined the thesis or dissertation and agree that it represents an examinable document. When you submit your Request for Oral Examination, you must also upload your major paper, thesis, or dissertation using CourseSpaces and provide your Research Ethics Approval (if your research involved human subjects).

The role of the external examiner

The most important member of the committee examining the thesis or dissertation is someone who has not been involved in the supervision of the work, the external examiner. External examiners are appointed by the University to provide independent evaluation of a student's thesis or dissertation.

  • MAAL (non-thesis option): there is no external examiner.
  • MA and MAAL (thesis option): the external examiner is typically someone from within the University but outside the student's department, who has an interest or expertise in the area of the thesis research.
  • PhD: the external examiner must be someone from outside the University who is an authority in the field of research being examined.

Your supervisor provides the Faculty of Graduate Studies with the names of up to two potential external examiners. The name(s) must be provided on the "Request for Oral Examination" form, but normally the supervisor will obtain the potential examiner's consent to fulfill this role ahead of time. Your supervisor must also complete a External Examiner’s Confirmation of Arm’s-Length Status form, for approval by the Dean of Graduate Studies. The Dean of Graduate Studies requires a copy of the curriculum vitae of a proposed external examiner from outside the University in order to review the scholar's suitability.

External examiners for PhD candidates must provide a written assessment of the dissertation, which must reach the Dean of Graduate Studies no later than one week prior to the date of the oral defense. A copy of this report is made available to the supervisor and the Chair of the examining committee. External examiners are instructed by the Faculty of Graduate Studies that if they have serious doubts about the acceptability of a thesis or dissertation after reading it, these doubts should be discussed with the supervisor well in advance of the oral defense. The Faculty of Graduate Studies suggests that in such a case it may be appropriate to delay the examination until some of the examiner’s doubts can be resolved.

The Dean of Graduate Studies has no funds available for bringing external examiners to the University of Victoria: If a supervisor feels that it is necessary for the external examiner to be present in person, the supervisor is responsible for obtaining adequate funding to cover the external examiner's expenses. Audio-conferencing expenses are covered by the Faculty of Graduate Studies. There are modest funds to cover expenses for teleconferencing for external examiners of PhD oral exams. Details of financial commitments that the Faculty of Graduate Studies can make for dissertation defenses can be found at on their website. Since the external examiner for a PhD defense usually will not be present on campus, he or she will not be able to sign the necessary forms immediately following the defense. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that the appropriate documents reach the external examiner and are returned signed. Faxed signatures are not acceptable.

The oral defense

The thesis or dissertation defense is chaired by the Dean of Graduate Studies or the Dean's representative. The person fulfilling this role normally is chosen by the Dean's Office, though a student's supervisor may offer suggestions. For a non-thesis defense, the Department arranges for
the chair, to be confirmed by the Dean’s Office, and this may be a member of the Department if he or she is at “arms length” from the student.

The defense begins with the candidate (you) giving a brief presentation of approximately 15-20 minutes, summarizing the most important results of the major research paper, thesis, or dissertation. In the case of a thesis or dissertation, the external examiner assumes a major responsibility in the questioning of the candidate, normally being the first among the examining committee to ask questions. The student's supervisor asks questions last. There is often a second round of questions. The examination usually focuses on the thesis or dissertation and research areas directly related to it.

At the completion of the question period, the candidate and the audience are excused in order to give the examining committee an opportunity to review the major research paper, thesis, or dissertation, as well as the student’s performance at the defense. The committee will determine whether the oral examination has been acceptable, and whether the major research paper, thesis, or dissertation is acceptable. An oral defense has five possible outcomes, ranging from acceptance of the thesis or dissertation to failure. The Faculty of Graduate Studies Calendar provides specifics on these outcomes. If minor corrections are required, the student's supervisor alone oversees these revisions. If major revisions are required, all members of the examining committee review the document before it is deemed acceptable.

Following the defense, the Chair of the examining committee makes a report to the Dean. In this report, an exceptionally good thesis or dissertation or an exceptionally poor thesis or dissertation is typically noted.

Thesis/dissertation final submission

The Faculty of Graduate Studies website provides detailed information on the final submission of your thesis or dissertation to UVicSpace, along with the necessary paperwork to complete your degree. Congratulations, you are now a Dr!