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Authoring a doctoral thesis is a challenging undertaking for anyone, even more so if English is not your first or main language. Learning to use the language of academic research is an ongoing journey, which is closely bound up with your developing knowledge of your field. 

A range of language support and resources are available during the course of your doctorate at no extra cost, including three in-depth writing programmes focused specifically on doctoral-level thesis writing. These programmes are offered by the Doctoral and Research College in conjunction with the University's International Study and Language Institute (ISLI), and are detailed below. 

Further academic language input is additionally available, including:

  • a series of one-off Language for Research sessions delivered as part of the Reading Researcher Development Programme (RRDP) in the spring term
  • the Academic English Programme's open sign-up courses
  • the Academic English Programme's Academic Language webinar series.


Programme 1 – Core Language and Skills for Research Writing

This course takes a practice-based approach to strengthening your sentence and paragraph-level research writing skills.

Using the textbook Grammar Choices for Graduate and Professional Writers by Nigel Kaplan, each week will focus on a different aspect of research language, including, for example, clause types and combinations, verb forms, language for stance and positioning, and information flow.

Classes will involve analysis of target language features within the context of authentic research texts, controlled grammar exercises, and short weekly writing tasks for which you will receive feedback in the following lesson.

This course can be useful for researchers with both lower and higher levels of academic writing proficiency, for the former to develop greater accuracy and control, and for the latter to increase linguistic range and flexibility.


Programme 2 – Doctoral Thesis Writing: Structure and Language

This course will look at all key components of a doctoral thesis with focus on the purpose, structure and key language needed for each section. Extracts from successful doctoral and published research writing are analysed to develop understanding of useful organisational patterns and important language features for introducing your work, reviewing the literature, describing methodology, discussing results, concluding and writing your abstract.

In autumn, the programme runs in two parallel subject streams, Science/Life Sciences and AHSSB (Arts, Humanities, Social Science and Business). In summer, when enrolment tends to be lower, there is one ‘All disciplines’ class, but disciplinary differentiation is still catered for within slightly longer weekly lessons (2 hours instead of 1 hour 45 minutes).

The course will be useful both to students who haven't previously studied in an English language context as well as to students who have completed an undergraduate or Master's degree in English.  [NB. this programme is very suitable to students across science and social science subjects using quantitative or qualitative methods within their project but some aspects of content may be less relevant to some styles of thesis writing used in subjects such as Law, Literature, and Film and Television.]

Course content will include the following:

  • Writing your Introduction: an organisational framework and language for establishing the relevance of your research focus, identifying your research niche, and outlining the purpose and structure of your thesis.
  • Writing your Literature Review: options for structuring your Literature Review, and language for reporting, comparing/contrasting and synthesising the ideas of other scholars, and establishing your own stance within an ongoing academic debate.
  • Writing about Methods and Results: an organisational framework and language for describing and rationalising methodological choices, and experimental and analytical procedures.
  • Discussion in your thesis: an organisational framework and language for developing arguments, and making claims from your results, including situating them within the wider research field.
  • Writing your conclusion: an organisational framework and language for identifying key research outcomes, and talking about contribution, implications, limitations, and potential future research.
  • Writing your Abstract:  an organisational framework and language for succinctly summarising your work.


Programme 3 – Writing and Editing your Thesis with Corpora

This course will equip you with computational tools and techniques to independently increase the accuracy, appropriateness and confidence of your research writing.

You will build a collection of texts – research articles in your own disciplinary field – that can be accessed electronically (a "corpus", plural "corpora") and use it to critically examine the academic language of your field.

You will also make a corpus of your own writing so that you can compare features of it with those of published writing.

You will learn how to use software to help you independently answer questions you have about grammar and usage in written discipline/field-specific academic English, and to discover how expert writers in your area of research express themselves. This programme is aimed at doctoral students who have some written work already completed, such as at least one substantial draft chapter or research article.


Booking places

Places can be requested via the RISIS web portal in the same way that you request places on RRDP courses (exceptionally, courses for autumn will be bookable via email). Look out for courses starting "ISLI –" in the listings.

For further information, contact Dr Joanna John by emailing