Responding to examiners' reports

The process at UC

Examiners send their reports to the Research Students’ Office, who then forwards a copy of the reports to the primary supervisor and to you – the Higher Degree Researcher – (but only when all reports have been returned). You and your supervisor will then need to review the reports and respond according to examiners’ recommendations.

Your responses, together with the examiners’ recommendations are then sent to the faculty.research institute ADR, or delegate, who will decide on final changes to be made. If one of the examiners recommended a D or an E, the Examination Outcome Committee will make the final recommendation.

This process is set up in more detail in the HDR Examinations Policy.

Tip

When you first get to read your thesis examiners’ reports, you are likely to react emotionally – this is not surprising after the many years of work and passion.

At this stage it is important to be able to dissociate from your emotions and have a look at comments with an outsider’s mind. You may need to put them aside for a night and go back to them with a calm mind.

readDoing your amendments without losing heart (or your mind)

The examiners’ reports

Each report has two parts.

In part one, each examiner recommends a result and provides a summary assessment of the thesis examined. Examiners are to choose one of the following five recommendations:

  • A: that the candidate be awarded the degree
  • B: that the candidate be awarded the degree subject to amendments of an editorial nature only
  • C: that the candidate be awarded the degree subject to revisions to the thesis as specified
  • D: that the candidate be required to revise and resubmit the thesis for examination
  • E: that the candidate not be awarded the degree

(Source: HDR Examinations Policy).

Part two consists of in-depth comments and recommends changes to be made to the thesis.

Note that examiners make recommendations; they do not provide the final say. The final recommendation, based on a review of the reports and your responses, will be made by your faculty’s Associate Dean Research (ADR) or Dierctor. More information on recommendations that can be made by the ADR is available from Schedule Four (S4.2) of the HDR Examinations Policy.

Responding to the reports

If one of your examiners’ recommendations was not a Recommendation A, you will need to respond to the examiners’ reports. Get advice from your supervisor. You have three weeks to finalise these responses, which have to be submitted to the Research Students’ Office no later than three weeks after you received the reports.

You will need to carefully:

  1. Discuss the examiners’ comments with your supervisor
  2. Look at each comment made in the reports and ask yourself how the comment could be addressed, why it should be addressed
  3. List the changes that you both agree should be made.
  4. List changes you do not think you should make. You don’t have to make all the corrections suggested, but if not you need to justify this.

The Associate Dean Research (ADR) of your faculty will consider the examiners’ reports, your responses and, if relevant, responses from your supervisor and recommend a final outcome.

You will need to make the changes as per the following time-frames:

 

  • If final outcome is to make changes at B level, you have two months to finalise changes
  • If final outcome is to make changes at C level, you have six months to finalise changes
  • If final outcome is a  revise and resubmit (D) this has to be finalised within 12 months and requires re-enrolling.

Writing the response

Your response should be an argued defence of your thesis. In this defense you are to systematically deal with each of the examiners’ comments and recommendations. You need to address each comment one by one. For each comment, you are to indicate the action you propose to take and outline the:

  • changes you make
  • changes you are not prepared to make because you disagree. You can do this, but you have to provide a logical justification

The format of your response is not important as long as the document you develop is clear.

For each comment:

  • explain whether you accept a criticism made
  • why you think the criticism is valid
  • what changes you have made accordingly and where they are in the thesis. Small changes can be included in the response, longer changes may need to go in an appendix, or refer to a copy of thesis showing these changes (e.g. in track changes).

Rejecting an examiner’s recommendation

You are allowed to disagree with an examiner’s recommendation. If you do, you still need to address it and explain, in academic language and logically, why you disagree.

  • Do not criticise an examiner, suggesting s/he is incompetent, or does not have the required knowledge. Examiners were chosen for their expertise in the subject area.
  • Do not argue that a criticism made by one examiner is not valid because other examiners have not made the same criticism.
  • Do not dismiss a comment arguing that this is addressed somewhere else in the thesis. Such a comment may show that you haven’t presented your ideas clearly and that needs to be addressed.

How to set out your response

First provide an introductory overview of the reports, then lists all comments one by one.

For students in the Faculty of Health this overall introductory response to the examiners’ reports is mandatory. It may typically be 1 – 3 pages depending on the recommendations made. The overall response should provide a summary of the recommendations, pointing out common themes and disparities between the examiners. This is also an opportunity to provide an argued defence for themes that are common in the examiners reports, or important in terms of the overall context of the thesis. The response should also include an overall discussion of the changes proposed, providing a reflection on how these changes add to the quality of the thesis and the learning experienced.

A simple way to set out changes made is using a matrix or a table, which can be organised as follows.

Example 1

Chapter, page number, paragraph Examiner 1’s comments /suggestions Examiner 2’s comments / suggestions Your response – agreement, modification, defence of views Primary supervisor’s response

Example 2

Examiner 1’s comment Response Page number in thesis Primary supervisor’s comment

Then repeat for each examiner… the first table may be more appropriate if examiners have made comments on the same issues and sections of the thesis.

Example of an examiner’s response

This example shows a response to examiners’ recommendations which were A, B and D. Responses include an overall introductory response, followed by three tables, one for each examiner. Note that this version summarises responses to make the table easier to read.

Thesis Title

Thesis author name

Date

Response to examiners reports and account of changes and revisions proposed

I carefully examined the examiners’ reports for my PhD thesis titled ….. Two of these reports were very positive. The first examiner notes that ‘the literary and presentational aspects of this thesis are of high standard’ and recommends the award of the degree without any corrections. The second examiner notes that ‘apart from a large number of typos, this thesis is very well written and well argued and advances knowledge’, recommending changes of an editorial nature only. Recommended changes were made as detailed in the table that follows.

The third examiner, while recognising there are ‘many good aspects in this thesis’ is more critical, particularly concerning aspects of the research methodology. While the first examiner comments that the thesis’ ‘method is well conceived and executed’ and the second finds it ‘very clearly explained and systematically applied according to an appropriate rationale’, the third examiner refers to ‘some flaws in the research design and construction of the data’. This last examiner also suggests that if the other examiners take on a favourable view, he ‘would not object to his criticisms being addressed through emendations’.  I believe that my explanation of the methodology was not clear enough, allowing the third examiner to make assumptions about how I proceeded, which were not correct.  I have addressed these points by adding more detail in the methodology section, as set out in the table that follows.

Account of changes made

Examiner 1 recommended the degree be awarded without any corrections (A)
Examiner’s comments Response Page Supervisor’s comment
The literary and presentational aspects of this thesis are of high standard’. It’s hard even to find literals. But there are a few errors negociation p4. Thompson instead of Thomson, p50, guaranties, p50, rigourous p205. These errors have been corrected Pages 4, 50 and 205
It is a pity translations of titles peter out after page 140 Yes, the idea was to only translate titles whose meaning was directly relevant to the discussion. But I agree that it may have been useful to understand other titles and have included a translation of all article titles mentioned. Pages 140 – 234 (could be provided in detail if needed)

 

Examiner 2 recommended corrections of an editorial nature (B)
Comments Response Page Supervisor’s comment
Apart from a large number of typos, this thesis is very well written and well argued and it advances knowledge, but some citation and typographical errors may be corrected:

pages 294 and 295 are missing from the bibliography

some in text references use a colon (1996:5), others a comma (1996,5)

numbers are inconsistent: sometimes 200 000 is used and sometimes 200,000

Citation and typographical errors were corrected as follows

pages 294 and 295 were added to the bibliography

in text references were modified to ensure consistency: all colons used in in text references were replaced by a comma

all numbers were verified and changed to ensure consistency: whenever applicable three digits were separate by a comma.

Pages 294 and 295

 

 

Pages 132, 165, 187, 231, 234

 

Under general comments and suggested corrections, page 2 of the report, the examiner notes ‘that Adam Smith also recommended government regulation when monopoly emerged. This is most frequently NOT cited when people quote his ideas. Chomsky raises this issue in several of his books’. To address this comment I looked at some of Chomsky’s writings and added a footnote indicating that Smith thought that equality was a necessary condition for an efficient market Page 12 footnote
Pages 2 and 3 of this examiner’s report list a series of spelling mistakes. They have all been corrected. Pages 36, 78, 85, 96

 

Examiner 3 recommended the thesis be revised and resubmitted (D) indicating that there are many good individual aspects in the thesis but that he has three major criticism, however he also writes that if ‘the other examiners take on a favourable view, he would not object to his criticisms being addressed through emendations’
Comments Response Page Supervisor’s comment
Data collection: ‘The constructed weeks method (…) is not good for looking at the development of individual stories’…’the constructed weeks method is the best for exploring representative patterns of coverage’ (see report page 1, paragraph 5). To address this potential issue I added a few lines in the methodology section of my thesis to acknowledge this and make clear that my research only examines individual stories insofar as they are part of and indicative of a larger picture, of patterns of coverage. Page 86
A distinction needs to be made between normal news stories, features, comments and analysis pieces, editorial and others (e.g. cartoons to allow to speak more precisely about the papers’ editorial attitudes (report page 1, paragraph 6). The section on categorisation was clarified to eliminate possible confusion on how articles were categorised.

I classified articles according to sources of stories, and not as is done more traditionally – and as suggested by the examiner – according to story type.

The categorisation according to news sources follows clear criteria. Articles categorised as ‘editorials’ for example only contain articles written by journalists employed by a paper. When politicians are the source of an article, such an article was classified in the source category ‘government and politicians’ and not editorials. This way of categorising does allow me to distinguish clearly between what is an editorial view and what is not.

By clarifying the section on categorisation I have elaborated on choices made for developing the list of categories as well as for the categorization of articles. I hope thereby to have eliminated some confusion about the categorisation process.

Page 88
Not enough attention was paid attention to the ‘placement of different stories’ (see report page 1, last paragraph). I added some information in the methodology section to indicate more clearly that the qualitative analysis and discussion carried out did entail looking at the prominence of articles and the place in which they appeared. Pages 92 (prominence) and 95 (place)
No attention was paid to ‘who gets quoted unopposed’ (report page 2, paragraph 1).

 

This aspect is not part of the quantitative analysis. The quantitative analysis does include a list of secondary sources of information. Those sources sometimes oppose, sometimes confirm the position taken by the main sources of information; but they are, in the quantitative analysis, not directly linked with a main source of information.

Those links were made in the qualitative discussion, which them pays attention to who gets quoted unopposed.

I have amended the methodology to clarify this aspect.

Page 89
Grouping all politicians together obscures ‘the crucial issue of how much opposition politicians rather than government politicians figure in the news, and when’ (see page 2, paragraph 1 of the report).

 

I addressed this issue by adding in my methodology that ‘No attempt has been made to classify politicians according to whether they were in government or in opposition’ because such a categorisation would have been difficult to carry out for a country like Belgium which has proportional representation. In such a system politicians cannot simply be grouped as part of the government or of the opposition. I also indicated that the qualitative framing analysis does take into account the position and the orientation of the politicians mentioned. Page 89
The use of economic, political and social categories does not in itself constitute the dominance of one political prescription (see report page 2, paragraph 3).

 

 

To address any possible confusion, I clearly indicated that the categorisation according to whether articles where mainly about economic, political or social issues is certainly not indicative of orientations and that this aspect is the object of a more profound analysis when the content of the articles is discussed. Page 94
X should be careful when she comments that “….The Times was not able to ignore…”, since she has no ‘independent evidence for knowing what went through the minds of the editorial decision-makers’. (report page 2, last paragraph) To address this problem I changed the wording to “…The Times did not ignore…”. Page 223, paragraph 3
In the same paragraph the examiner indicates that I construct a public of my invention. I indicated more clearly that this ‘public increasingly bridling at neo-liberal attitudes’ is not a public constructed by me, but refers to observations made by Ignacio Ramonet in his work Page 268, paragraph 1
The history of newspapers is rather sketchy. This part of the thesis aimed to provide brief background information and not an exhaustive history of each newspaper used in the research. I agree that I may have put more emphasis on non-Australian newspapers assuming that Australian readers may have less knowledge about these. But I took comments into consideration and added information about The Age, using Martin Walker’s book which was recommended by examiner 3. Page 45

In the case illustrated here, the responses were accepted, the student amended the thesis accordingly, this was confirmed by the supervisor and accepted by ADR and the student was awarded a PhD degree.

More examples of responses

Report of PhD thesis corrections in the field of Electrical Engineering.

Example of responses for a thesis in the humanities.

A template in four columns (comments, response, changes made, page numbers) was developed by Charles Darwin University.