The perspective and organization of this book

The theoretical perspective that we adopt in this book is that writing academically is less a generic skill that can operate autonomously, and more a social act situated in a particular context, aimed at a particular audience for a particular purpose (for more on the academic literacies perspective on writing, see Barton & Hamilton, 1998; Lea & Street, 1998; Lillis & Scott, 2007; Street, 1984). In our view, the seemingly contradictory messages that students get, the different traditions arising in different institutional contexts, and the lack of consensus about what a thesis by publication should look like are the result of some very real tensions in higher education that do not simply play out at the policy level, but also have direct impacts on the way students understand how they are to approach this task - and how examiners evaluate them (see Chapter 2). This means that learning to write a good thesis by publication is at least as much about understanding the context, the purpose, and the audience as it is about understanding the formal requirements. For this reason, we do not offer a generic recipe for success, but rather aim to give you a better idea about how to understand your own context, your own audience, and your own purpose in writing your thesis by publication.

Our setting is higher education in Scandinavia, where the thesis by publication has eclipsed the monograph as the most common type of thesis in the social sciences, and disciplines in the humanities are rapidly following suit. In our context, the two-part model - where one cohesive body of text of about 50-70 pages precedes the articles, and the articles are not integrated into the narrative - is the most common. This book is informed by the work we have done with PhD students at our institutions, where we have run workshops and courses for several years, with students from a variety of different disciplines within the social sciences and humanities. With a point of departure in the kinds of dilemmas our students face, we have organized the book as follows.

The thesis by publication as an emerging genre

We trace the main underlying debates about the changing nature of the doctorate to help explain not only how the thesis by publication is becoming increasingly common in the social sciences and humanities, but to also explain the different constellations of pressures you might be feeling as a student. We outline how structural changes in higher education and research more broadly have transformed doctoral education over the last several decades. These changes, in turn, have sparked discussions about whether the monograph is the most suitable genre as the crowning achievement of a doctoral degree. We present some of the main reasons for why the thesis by publication has become the most popular alternative to the monograph. Moreover, we highlight that not all stakeholders in doctoral training feel comfortable with these changes and, because of these tensions, students who choose to write a thesis by publication might face a different set of challenges and pressures than those who write monographs. This chapter discusses how these different and changing views of what the purpose of doctoral education is have affected what universities expect from their doctoral students and from the thesis by publication.

The writing process -learning to juggle

Writing a thesis by publication puts a variety of different demands on you from the very beginning. Unlike writing a traditional monograph, you will have to engage with multiple writing projects (the individual articles plus the narrative) and multiple audiences (the readers of the journals and the evaluators on your committee). The writing process can thus entail unexpected challenges that you might feel ill-equipped to deal with. This chapter describes some of the challenges you might face both when writing the individual articles and when writing the narrative, and offers advice about how to handle some of the ups and downs of writing a thesis by publication. We focus on developing healthy, everyday writing habits that are realistic, as well as different ways you can expand your writer’s toolbox and augment your daily routine.

Demonstrating doctorateness through the narrative

While Chapter 3 focuses on how to approach writing as a process, this chapter goes into more detail about understanding the purpose of writing the narrative as a distinctly different text than the articles themselves. The articles demonstrate your ability to publish and engage in scholarly conversations. In contrast, the narrative offers a way to demonstrate how you understand your own contribution to a larger field and discuss, reflect, and assess the strengths and weaknesses of your own work. We argue that the term ‘doctorateness’ captures the qualities you need to demonstrate through your narrative, and that it encompasses five different dimensions: publishability, cohesiveness, disciplinary belonging, originality, and independence. Because the individual publications are not written for the purpose of demonstrating this doctorateness (but to report on research to peers in the scholarly community), the purpose of the narrative is to argue for aspects of doctorateness that might not be entirely evident in the individual articles themselves. We discuss some specific challenges of demonstrating doctor-ateness in the thesis by publication and suggest some strategies for addressing them.

Finding out what is expected from you - rules, conventions, and guidelines

The unsettled nature of the genre has left in its wake a wide range of both implicit and explicit rules, conventions, and guidelines for writing a thesis by publication. In this chapter, we discuss the kinds of questions you as a thesis writer should seek clarification on as early as possible: the questions you should ask about requirements for the articles themselves, such as the expected publication status; which format your thesis by publication should take (the two-part model or the sandwich model); and expectations for your narrative. Universities also often have specific requirements for front matter (such as the table of contents) and other formalities (including formatting), and we conclude the chapter by reviewing the kinds of things you should think about in this respect.

The structural elements of the narrative

Given that the overall purpose of the narrative is to demonstrate doctorateness, and given the local expectations of your institution, how might you structure andorganize your narrative? What exactly should you talk about? This chapter discusses some of the main structural elements of the narrative and their main functions: the introduction and literature review as a way to position the thesis in the field; the theory and method discussion to shed light on the approaches the candidate has taken, and why; and the presentation of the main findings, and a discussion of what they contribute to the field. We discuss how you can think through different ways of organizing this narrative, depending on the type of research you have done and whether you use the two-part or sandwich format.

Making your doctorate your own - developing your academic identity

We end the book with a discussion of how you can approach making both your doctoral journey and your thesis your own. The doctoral journey is about more than producing a document to please the committee. It is about embarking on a process of constructing your identity as an academic, at the same time as you are bombarded by different kinds of advice from your supervisor, peer reviewers, and other well-meaning individuals. You will face a battery of choices you have to make, and a growing feeling that there are sometimes no clear answers for the questions you want to ask. This chapter looks at some of the choices you might have to face in the writing process, in the writing itself, and your own development as a scholar. We also discuss the challenges related to knowing when something is ‘good enough’ to submit.

Throughout this book, you will find exercises that you can explore to help clarify your thinking about some of the key elements of a thesis by publication. We hope that both the discussion in the chapters and these concrete exercises will help you to put the pieces together so that you - as well as your supervisors and examiners - can better understand the significance of your work as a whole.


  • 1 In this book, we use the terms ‘publication’, ‘paper’, and 'article' interchangeably to mean the individual texts that comprise the ’publication’ part of the thesis by publication.
  • 2 We know of one other book that deals with the thesis by publication in the social sciences and humanities. It is written in Norwegian and intended specifically for the Norwegian context (Krumsvik, 2016).
  • 3 Note that we use the terms ‘thesis’ and ’dissertation' interchangeably even though we are aware that UK and US usages differ on this point.


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Thomson, P., & Kamler, B. (2013). Writing for peer reviewed journals: Strategies for getting published. London: Routledge.

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