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Research skills for HDR students

Developing effective and efficient research skills early in your candidature will set you up for success. These skills will help you plan your research, stay on track with your progress and write your thesis.

Overview and planning

It’s important to plan your research and your writing. This will help you stay on track with your research and ensure you meet your progress requirements.

Spending some time planning your thesis and its structure will help you to address the requirements of each section while still ensuring your thesis is cohesive as a whole. You need to be aware of the expectations of theses by publication, originality, literature reviews, writing up results and relating your findings to research literature.

Make sure you refer to our page on preparing your thesis for specific information on correct referencing and thesis presentation, including title and abstract requirements, using an editor and authorship attribution statements. In addition to the required workshops and training, the Learning Hub (Academic Language and Learning) offers workshops that can develop your research and writing skills.

Once you have written your thesis, you can follow our instructions to submit your thesis.


Before you start your research, think about your general approach. Are you engaged in theory development or theory testing? Does your discipline have a particular approach to research? What research methods are required?

Time management

Effective time management is essential when producing a thesis.

You need to create a timetable for the major steps involved in the research process. This should include:

  • compiling an early reading list
  • writing and submitting your research proposal
  • seeking ethics approval
  • writing your thesis outline
  • compiling references
  • researching and/or reading
  • planning structure of chapters
  • drafting and redrafting chapters
  • preparing your thesis using the correct style and format
  • writing your abstract, key words, table of contents and figures, acknowledgements, reference list, appendices
  • getting your supervisor's final approval
  • editing and proofreading
  • printing and binding
  • submitting your thesis.

You will also need to work out a regular schedule for meeting with your supervisor. The frequency of these meetings will vary at different stages of your thesis. They give you the opportunity to discuss your research progress, raise any issues or concerns and get feedback from your supervisor.

You may find that a 'study buddy' will help you keep on track with your timetable. You could have daily or weekly check-in meetings where you share what you’ve done since you last spoke, and list your top priorities for the day or week.

Find out more about how to manage your time.


When reading, it’s important to be systematic. Keep track of what you read with basic bibliographic information and brief notes. Try to build a comprehensive reference list as you go, for example using EndNote, rather than leaving it until the end.

You could also use strategies such as a synthesis grid to give you a ‘big picture overview’ of the readings you’re doing. Find out how to create a synthesis grid in Developing and supporting an argument (pdf 127KB). Or you could divide your readings into core works, directly related non-core readings, and indirectly related non-core readings.


This material was developed by the Learning Hub (Academic Language and Learning), which offers workshops, face-to-face consultations and resources to support your learning. Find out more about how they can help you develop your communication, research and study skills.

See our handout on Writing a thesis proposal (pdf, 341KB).

Last updated: 30 January 2024

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