Applying for a PhD

a PORT for Modern Languages tutorial

3. The research topic

3.4 evaluating the evidence

You will need sufficient evidence to support your question. What is your evidence? What primary and secondary material? Finding the evidence to start and finish your dissertation is critical. Evidence leads to an understanding of the problem(s), casts and puts parameters around the questions, leads to the definition of hypotheses or research questions and allows you to fill a space in the field.

The relationship between your research question and the evidence is ongoing and iterative. Here keep in mind that you are currently considering evidence to support your choice of question. What you do at this stage will also be determined by your practical circumstances - if you are preparing for final exams in which it is important to do well, then you will be able to spend far less time on this than if you are in the middle of a gap year. Later you will extend your search to look for the evidence in full. Be aware that you need to remain flexible. Your topic choice and framing of questions in the light of evidence found, evidence unobtainable, or evidence surprises, may change.

Always review evidence that could be used as counter-arguments to your main idea or investigation. Be aware of the data that can undermine your project. Try to anticipate answers to potential objections.


  • Have you considered the types of evidence you might use to support your topic and research question?
  • How are you going to identify the right type of evidence?
  • What sorts of primary materials? Texts? Films? Interviews? Photographs?
  • What secondary material might be useful or relevant? 
  • Have you identified any theories relevant to your topic?
  • How have you related these theories to your topic so far?
  • Do you think you may need to draw from more than one discipline?
  • Have you collected the right information to make an informed choice? 

Availability and Access

  • Is it possible to collect the evidence you have identified above? How will you gather this material?
  • What sources can or will you use?
  • Are there networks of colleagues, librarians or specialists you can ask for help and advice?
  • Do you have to search in another country?
  • Have you considered the pros and cons?Have you considered whether the resources and other materials are available, or still in print?
  • Are there any legal considerations for the acquisition of the material?
  • Have you earmarked evidence too precious to be used? 

Quality and relevance

  • How would you test the quality of your evidence? What sort of criteria do you need to develop?
  • Have you made a good match between topic and evidence? Do you have the right / relevant material?
  • Is the evidence you have identified reliable? Consistent? Valid? Not too biased?
  • Is the evidence you have in mind authoritative? Who has written or published it?
  • Have you made a decision about the amount you might need?