I’ve love the six honest serving men – who, what, when, where, why and how. The six proto-questions are handy for finding the root of interesting questions. They’re also valuable for unpicking the logistics of your viva day…

Who? Who are your examiners? Who else is going to be at your viva?

Where? Where is the viva taking place? What is the room like and what is in there?

When? When is it taking place? How will you be sure you’ll be on time?

What? What do you need to take with you? What will help you to feel confident on the day?

How? How will your viva be? How do you feel about it?

And finally, most importantly, why? Why are you doing all of this?

Whatever else happens, whether or not you feel nervous, focus on why you’ve been doing it all.


I really like the following lines of a poem by Rudyard Kipling:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Whenever I’m trying to analyse a problem and get stuck, I think about these six starters and search for questions that will help.

They are valuable when unpicking the contribution you’ve made in your research. As your viva approaches, consider taking the following six questions as a starting point for reflecting on what you’ve done.

  • What was the result of your research?
  • Why was it worth doing?
  • When did you arrive at your main ideas?
  • How did your approach change during your PhD?
  • Where did you learn the most during your PhD?
  • Who do you think would be interested in your work?

There are many other questions you could use to reflect on your work. Start with these, see what thoughts and ideas they lead you to.