Questions often asked in a PhD viva

I am often asked ‘what questions will I be asked at my viva’? Although it it impossible to guess, I have compiled a list of common questions. The aim of the VIVA is to ascertain that it is YOUR WORK and that you are able to discuss and defend it.


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You may be asked about any part of the thesis and the examiner may not spend equal time on each section. Indeed, you may end up feeling that your examiners have missed sections which you are think are vital. This is often because they are following their own knowledge base and interests. Remember, however, that you can safely assume that your examiners have read the thesis!


Typically, You will be asked two types of questions:

  1. Those general questions which can be asked of any thesis.
  2. Those questions which are specific to your particular thesis.

This post is concerned with the former. This is not a static list but one that I will update. Please post your suggestions and comments below and I will add them to the list.


You should be prepared to summarize the focus and content of your thesis in one or two sentences – practice it – regularly. Here the examiner may ask about other approaches you may have considered. You should be able to discuss this in detail. Remember that your examiner may have worked in your field! Key aspects of scholarship:

Knowledge of the field
Positioning in relation to the contribution of others
Critical evaluation of previous work

Typical questions:

  • What is this thesis about?
  • What previous research influenced you the most?
  • What theoretical base are you working from?
  • What point of view do you have as a scholar?
  • With whom do you want a conversation?
  • What is the theoretical underpinning of your research?
  • Why did you choose the theories you did?
  • What alternative theories could you have chosen?


You will need to share your reasons for your selection of methodology and explain what other approaches you considered. What are the advantages and disadvantages? Discuss validity and reliability. The examiner may be interested in the extent to which your findings are generalizable. Key aspects of methodology:

Evidence of understanding of epistemological debates and philosophical understanding of chosen approach
Range of methodological choice
Justification of choice
Operational competence

Typical questions:

  • Why did you select your particular approach?
  • Where did your research questions originate?
  • Is the research question addressing an issue from literature or from industry?
  • Why did you choose a particular unit or level of analysis?
  • What are the reasons for selecting your method of analysis and what were the alternatives?
  • What were the methods of analysis chosen, and what alternatives were considered?
  • What are the limitations of your method?
  • How generalizable are your findings? Would you have different results if you conducted the study in different contexts?


What are the implications of your findings for both theory and practice? The “So What”question. Here the examiner is looking to place the thesis in context and to establish that it is “worth doing”. In other words, you must convince them that the research is important, as distinct from obvious or trivial. Key aspects of contribution:

Locating of personal contribution
Precision and specificity
Replication, confirmation
Further development, extension of theory
Newness, novelty, uniqueness
Limitations and critique
Opportunities for further work
Evidence of dissemination and awareness of further dissemination opportunities

Typical questions:

  • What are the main findings and the contribution to knowledge? [Again, a thesis should have a core set of findings which can be explained concisely].
  • Why was this topic worth researching and why was it of interest to you?
  • What was the accepted knowledge in the field?
  • How does the work compare with previous work/beliefs?
  • Why is the thesis important?
  • What have you added?
  • What was the major contribution?
  • What surprised you about the findings?
  • Is there originality in topic or methodology?
  • Is it worthy of publication?
  • What are the uncertainties in the knowledge added? (quality of findings)
  • To whom, and in what context, is this knowledge of value?
  • Is there an international aspect?
  • What do you hope your PhD will accomplish?
  • What areas would you suggest for future research?
  • Do you intend to carry on with this research?
  • What are the wider implications of the work – for practice? for further research?

Remember that a doctorate is intended to be the beginning of research training. The examiner will not expect your thesis to be perfect. You may be asked to comment on the limitations of your study.

  • What is the most unsatisfactory part of the study?
  • What would you have done differently, knowing what you know now?
  • What advice would you give to other researchers?



Be honest. This is intended to be a discussion as well as a defence. If you cannot remember or you don’t know, admit it. Ask to refer to your thesis. No one expects you to remember every page. Above all, DON’T BLUFF – examiners will see through it.

Beware of “over-claiming”. This is a contribution to knowledge. You will not solve the world’s problems in one thesis!

Be prepared to defend your decisions but willing to accept another point of view. Always make your comments constructive. You are aiming to add to existing knowledge, not destroy it!





Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “Questions often asked in a PhD viva

  1. The questions are very lucid but more comprehensive in their coverage of reseaech. Me being a marketing professor have been immensely convinced with this set of qyestions.