supervisorWhat do supervisors pay attention to in your text?


Writing can become easier if you use a different approach. Once you know what your readers – in this case, your supervisors – pay attention to, you know where to focus on in your text. Logical and effective don’t you think?

How do supervisors perceive your text?

Your supervisor is busy. By definition. So the clearer you are about the status of your text, the aim of your text and what kind of feedback you want, the easier it will be for your supervisor. And also you will have a bigger chance of getting the right feedback. Double bonus! Reading texts costs a lot of time, so a supervisor is hoping to find out if the text will hopefully inform him, inspire him or maybe he will learn something from it. Would be great if this hope will become a reality for your supervisor….

Reading texts takes a lot of time, most of the time it is done in between tasks, in the train for instance, or really shortly beforehand and maybe in a hurry. Take these circumstances into account.

What happens when your supervisor is reading your text?

His or her first question is: what is this text about? He will try to figure that out as quickly as possible, by reading the abstract, sometimes the bibliography, the conclusion, and the table of contents. Most of the time this is sufficient to give him a good idea. So what will happen next? He will wonder what questions spring to mind, will read the text, and will look for the answers to these questions. If he can’t find them, the writer has a problem.

How to figure out what your texts is about.


Many supervisors think they only do a good job if they make corrections. Most corrections are found in the following areas:

  • typographic en grammar corrections
  • bad presentation
  • arguments that aren’t clear
  • lack of references
  • too much text
  • lack of text
  • parts that are missing, like
    • research questions
    • critical review of literature
    • method of research
    • presentation of the results
    • discussion and conclusion

What do supervisors pay attention to?

Once you know what it is your supervisors are paying attention to, you can make sure they will find that in your texts. I found this list in the book ‘Effective teaching in higher education’, Brown and Atkins which will greatly help you.

Review of literature

  • To what extent is the review relevant to the research study?
  • Has the candidate slipped into ‘here is all I know about X?’
  • Is there evidence of critical appraisal of other work, or is the review just descriptive?
  • How well has the candidate mastered the technical or theoretical literature?
  • Does the candidate make the links between the review and his or her methodology explicit?
  • Is there a summary of the essential features of other work as it relates to this study?


  • What precautions were taken against likely sources of bias?
  • What are the limitations of the methodology? Is the candidate aware of them?
  • Is the methodology for data collection appropriate?
  • In the circumstances, has the best methodology been chosen?
  • Has the candidate given an adequate justification to the methodology?

Presentation of the results

  • Have the hypothesis in fact been tested?
  • Do the solutions obtained relate to the questions posed?
  • Is the level and form of analysis appropriate for the data?
  • Could the presentation of the results be made clearer?
  • Are patterns and trends in the results accurately identified and summarised?
  • Does the software appear to work satisfactorily?

Discussion and conclusions

  • Is the candidate aware of possible limits to confidence/reliability/validity of the work?
  • Have the main points to emerge from the results been picked up for the discussion?
  • Are there links made to the literature?
  • Is there evidence of attempts at theory building or reconceptualization of problems?
  • Are there speculations? Are they well-grounded in the results?

Hopefully, this will help you to look differently at your texts so you can write in a different way. Effective and logical, isn’t it?

Let me know your thoughts.


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