Volume 13, 2018
Accepted by Editor Peter John Sandiford│ Received: December 5, 2017│ Revised: February 21, 2018 │
Accepted: March 8, 2018.
Cite as: Mason, S., & Merga, M. (2018). A current view of the thesis by publication in the humanities and social
sciences. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 13, 139-154. https://doi.org/10.28945/3983
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A CURRENT VIEW OF THE THESIS BY PUBLICATION IN
THE HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
University of Nagasaki, Nagasaki, Japan
Curtin University, Perth, Australia
* Corresponding author
Recent times have seen an increasing pressure for publication during candi-
dature in Australian universities for a range of strategic goals that are re-
sponsive to the current academic environment. Completing a thesis by publi-
cation (TBP) can further these goals, and, while this approach is no longer
new, relatively little is known about its application in the context of the Hu-
manities and Social Sciences (HSS).
We performed an analysis of recently conferred TBPs to gain insights into
the prevalence of the model in HSS, and to identify the number and nature
of publications typically included in this context.
Our findings can further our collective understanding of the practicalities
and possibilities of the thesis by publication in this disciplinary context,
providing valuable insights for current and prospective research candidates in
An average of 4.5 papers are included in TBPs, although there is wide range
in the number and nature of papers. Of interest is the inclusion of scholarly
works that are unpublished, or where the candidate is not the first author.
There appears to be a heavy reliance on traditional types of scholarly publi-
cations, namely journal articles and conference proceedings.
Impact on Society
This paper illustrates the current status of the relatively new TBP in the HSS
context and makes a contribution to a range of pertinent contemporary aca-
demic debates such as authorship during candidature.
This paper presents a range of opportunities for further research, including
investigating the characteristics of universities that effectively foster the in-
clusion of publications in the HSS doctoral thesis.
Thesis by Publication in Humanities and Social Sciences
thesis by publication, publication during candidature, thesis structure, hu-
manities, social sciences
The phrase “publish or perish” was coined in 1942 (Garfield, 1996), but it is a mantra that has be-
come even more relevant in recent times in Australia, where cuts to higher education have led univer-
sities to rely more on income derived from research outputs and competitive funding grants. In Aus-
tralia, “how much money universities receive from government has depended in part on how many
publications their academics produce” (Norton, 2016, p. 39), and research outputs are seen not only
“as an indicator of research excellence” for institutions (Australian Research Council [ARC], 2016, p.
22), but are also used to measure individual success and are necessary for job applications, internal
promotions, and research funding (Brien, 2008; Dinham & Scott, 2010). While this “publish or per-
ish” culture has faced heavy criticism in recent times for encouraging “quantity over quality” (Nor-
ton, 2016, p. 39), in the current climate, the most prominent and powerful indicator of success in
academia is the ability to write high quality academic papers that hold up to the scrutiny of peer-
review for publication in scholarly journals. This reality is becoming more intensified, and there has
been a steady increase in the number of research outputs produced in Australia (ARC, 2016; Norton,
Success in scholarly writing and publishing requires “a constellation of skills, understandings, and
dispositions too important to be left to chance” (Jalongo, Boyer, & Ebbeck, 2014, p. 241). This can
include selecting where to publish, writing for a specific journal audience, dealing with both positive
and negative responses from journal reviewers and editors (Wilkinson, 2015), and navigating the poli-
tics of publishing (Lawrence, 2003). While there have been calls for “issues of writing and publica-
tion to be systematically addressed within doctoral pedagogy” (Lee & Kamler, 2008, p. 511), many of
the traditional models of supervision, in terms of time and approach, do not sufficiently facilitate the
development of such skills (Poyatos Matas, 2012).
International studies have shown that beginning researchers who publish during their doctoral candi-
dature are more likely to have greater research productivity throughout their careers (Horta & Santos,
2015). In addition, publishing during candidature can also help research students to develop an iden-
tity as a researcher, leading to them to view their “research skills in a positive light” (Hemmings,
2012, p. 178). Publishing during candidature can be a valuable opportunity for developing a range of
transferable research skills. Mastering academic journal writing has greater transferability than thesis
writing, and engaging in the publication process can support research students to develop their au-
thorial voice, receive a broad range of valuable feedback through the peer review process, and dis-
seminate findings in a timely manner, as well as being responsive to the contemporary academic cul-
ture (Merga, 2015).
While the common element of all approaches to doctoral study is the requirement for candidates to
make a significant and original contribution to knowledge in a particular field of study, there are
some major differences in approaches that have been favoured in different fields, countries, and peri-
ods of time. Since the introduction of the PhD award in 1948, the most commonly adopted ap-
proach in Australia follows the United Kingdom model. This involves candidates working under the
guidance of a research supervisor to plan and conduct a major research study, and to develop a
monograph, or thesis, reporting on that study (Group of Eight, 2013; Louw & Muller, 2014). The
thesis is generally divided into chapters, most often an introduction, literature review, research meth-
odology, findings and discussions, and conclusion chapters. Unique to Australia and New Zealand is
the absence of an oral defence, or viva, common in most other parts of the world, though this is
recently changing, as some Australian universities have just adopted or are considering inclusion of
an oral defence as part of the doctoral examination process (University of Western Australia, 2017).
A product of their geographic isolation and historically inhibitive costs for external assessors to visit,
a doctoral thesis in these countries is generally sent to a number of academics for assessment. This
Mason & Merga
has meant that the awarding of a doctoral degree in Australia is a result of an assessment of the the-
sis, and not of the candidate, though this may change in the near future.
A model common in the United States and originating in Germany also requires a student to conduct
original research and produce a written thesis, but it differs due to its inclusion of a significant
coursework load. The coursework aims to provide students with a range of knowledge and skills that
will help them not only through their research training, but into their academic careers. While
coursework components are becoming more common in Australian doctoral education (e.g., Edith
Cowan University, 2016), unlike the United States model, coursework does not always form part of
the assessment of the award (Kiley, 2014).
The PhD by prior publication is awarded to experienced researchers based on their retrospective
contributions to a field of study (Davies & Rolfe, 2009; Peacock, 2017). This was an award much
more prevalent in the past, when it was common to enter an academic career without already having
completed a doctorate. In the current competitive environment, completion of a doctorate is often a
minimum requirement even for entry-level ongoing academic positions. Thus, the necessity for this
award has waned in recent years, and in 2012 only nine Australian universities offered avenues for
established academics to gain a retrospective PhD (Jackson, 2013).
In some countries, including Australia, an exegesis is a popular component of the doctorate in some
disciplines within the Humanities, particularly art and design (Arnold, 2005), creative writing (Krauth,
2011), and music (Reiner & Fox, 2003). Sometimes called a creative PhD, this model involves the de-
velopment of a creative artefact, and an accompanying exegesis that places the artefact within the
research literature to bring theory and practice together (Arnold, 2005).
In European countries, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Sweden, there has been
a long tradition of scholarly publications forming a critical role in the assessment of the PhD award
(Davies & Rolfe, 2009). In Switzerland, The Graduate Institute Geneva (n.d.), considered one of the
world’s most prestigious institutions, offers a “paper-based thesis,” which requires a minimum of
three papers “accepted or acceptable for publication in journals ranked A or B in the department’s
list,” of which at least two must be authored solely by the candidate (p. 1). This model is often re-
ferred to as a ‘three paper PhD’, although this is not accurate as three papers is generally a minimum
guideline. In Norway and the United Kingdom, similar theses based on papers typically include four
and eight papers respectively (Smith, 2015, p. 22).
With publications being the “currency of academia” (Starrs, 2008, p. 1), tertiary institutions in Aus-
tralia and across the world are increasingly placing emphasis on the importance of candidates pub-
lishing during candidature, both for the candidate and the institution. For instance, Griffith Universi-
ty in Brisbane state their position as follows:
Under the Higher Degree Research Policy, doctoral candidates admitted to candidature from
1 January 2011 are expected to have at least one peer reviewed output accepted for publica-
tion during candidature. Students who commenced prior to this date are encouraged to pub-
lish during candidature.... Higher degree research students are expected to publish during
candidature as a means of disseminating their findings and developing their writing skills. In
addition, published outputs of research are important records of research activity and are
used by the government and the University to measure the intensity and quality of research
performance at Griffith. (Griffith University, 2017)
Within this context, new models have emerged in Australia that require (or allow) doctoral candidates
to publish during their candidature and to include them as part of their final thesis submission. This
is becoming increasingly recognised as a desirable and legitimate research option for higher degree by
research students; a review of the guidelines and policies of Australian universities found that the
vast majority offered such doctoral programs (Jackson, 2013). There is no consistent application of
terminology, so to avoid confusion this paper will adopt the most commonly used term, Thesis by
Thesis by Publication in Humanities and Social Sciences
Publication (TBP), to describe all theses that include within the thesis scholarly works developed dur-
ing the candidature period.
The TBP model is relatively new in Australia, and as such guidelines vary between and even within
institutions. It appears that in Australia there are two options available to candidates. In some univer-
sities, candidates are able to include publications within their thesis, but the assessment of the thesis
remains the same as those which do not include publications. In other universities, a distinct degree is
offered with publication being a key criterion of assessment. In some universities, both options are
available. This is the case at the University of Newcastle (2015), where new candidates are asked:
to consider if your publications will form a sufficient body of cohesive work to meet the re-
quirements of thesis by publication. You may like to consider the other option of including pub-
lications within a standard thesis format. (p. 2)
Publishing during candidature has a longer tradition in STEM and Medicine and is less common in
the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS). This reflects the academic community in general, where
researchers in the often-termed hard sciences have a higher rate of publishing than those in the soft
sciences (Curado, Henriques, Oliveira, & Matos, 2016). This is, at least in part, due to persistent be-
lief in some parts of the academy that the quantitative methods of study more common in Science
and Medicine are “hard, objective and rigorous,” while qualitative methods are “soft, subjective and
tentative” (Smit, 2003, para. 7). The result is that certain types of studies are marginalised in some
research communities, posing a challenge for successful publication (Gagliardi & Dobrow, 2011;
Shuval et al., 2011). Furthermore, HSS studies are often defined by ontological positions which reject
the idea that there is one single truth, viewing social phenomena and their meanings as socially con-
structed and context dependent (Bryman, 2001). Thus, studies in HSS may be more likely to be
broad research inquiries and less likely to produce clear and concise answers to research problems.
This may present challenges for HSS candidates in compartmentalising their research into smaller,
Despite these challenges, HSS doctoral students are adopting the TBP approach in Australia, and
several recent graduates have reported and published their experiences as a means to expand the dis-
cussion in this space and to inform and support the approach of subsequent students, including the
authors of this study (Merga, 2015; Mason, 2016, in press). Due to the limited available models in
this area and the lack of robust inquiry in this space, common challenges are still being identified by
Among the key debates currently explored in the literature concerning the TBP model is the issue of
authorship and contribution to published papers. It is common for candidates to publish with co-
authors, often their supervisors, and concerns have been raised about the ability of assessors to de-
termine the contribution made by the candidate (Jackson, 2013). As tertiary institutions develop their
policies regarding publications in a TBP, consensus is yet to be reached on what position the candi-
date should take in the authorship of papers. Whether candidates must be the sole author of publica-
tions, or whether they should always be lead author, are questions that candidates and institutions
currently grapple with, but for which there is often not always a clear answer articulated in explicit
policy or institutional norms.
The status of publications allowed for inclusion in a TBP is also a point of contention. It is interest-
ing to note that, while the award often explicitly refers to ‘publications’, not all universities require
works included in a TBP to actually be published. Some guidelines allow the inclusion of scholarly
works that have been accepted for publication, others that have been submitted for review, and oth-
ers that have been prepared in the form of a scholarly paper, but have not undergone any formal
review process. This presents a dilemma about the role that publishing plays in the TBP, particularly
because engaging in the publication process and developing a research portfolio is one of the key
benefits of the TBP.
Mason & Merga
Other questions are raised about the number and quality of papers that make up a TBP. Indeed, most
institutions place emphasis on quality over quantity, and university guidelines regularly warn candi-
dates that publication does not guarantee conferral, nor does it preclude requests from examiners to
make amendments to published materials (Jackson, 2013). Additionally, in Australia, particular em-
phasis is placed on the TBP being more than just a collection of papers. The thesis should present as
a single and cohesive work, which presents challenges for candidates, because each publication has its
own audience and aims (Merga, 2015).
What constitutes a TBP in HSS is still fluid, and so the authors aim to further illuminate the TBP for
prospective research students in HSS by making visible the prevalence of the mode and the disci-
plines and institutional contexts in which it has found traction. Because it is still in a nascent phase,
our study attempts to highlight the nature of the TBP model and the approaches to publications
within doctoral theses. Importantly, our study aims to contribute to key scholarly debates by identify-
ing common practice in recently conferred TBPs. Specifically, we seek to answer the following re-
1. How many publications make a TBP?
2. What types of publications are included in TBPs?
3. What is the status of scholarly works included in TBPs?
4. What is the author credit of scholarly works included in TBPs?
The answers to these questions can help prospective and current research students better understand
the current typical shapes of the TBP, as well as contextual factors which can help them to justify a
TBP approach in their rationale, which is significant as there can still be a degree of supervisory re-
sistance in this field (e.g., Merga, 2015; Nethsinghe & Southcott, 2015). As such, we undertook this
study in order to further our collective understanding of the practicalities and possibilities of the
TBP in this disciplinary context.
We aimed to investigate these research questions using Content Analysis as the best-fit method in this
instance. We analysed manifest content, “that which is on the surface and easily observable” (Potter
& Levine-Donnerstein, 1999, p. 259), subscribing to Downe-Wamboldt’s (1992) contention that
“content analysis is more than a counting game; it is concerned with meanings, intentions, conse-
quences, and context” (p. 314), and we used the manifest content to provide insights beyond mere
quantification, as we sought to “enhance the inferential quality of the results by relating the catego-
ries to the context or environment that produced the data” (p. 314).
In order to identify our sample, we established key parameters for eligibility for inclusion. We sought
to garner a body of doctoral theses from Australian universities, recently conferred, and with full-text
availability to researchers. The desire for currency needed to be balanced with the unique constraints
of TBP embargoes: to ensure that they have had time to complete any embargo period that they may
be placed under (often two years), we confined our sample to theses published from January 2014,
with our sample identification taking place in October 2017. Searches were conducted of three major
online databases and repositories: Proquest Dissertations and Theses, Google Scholar, and Trove, the data-
base of the National Library of Australia. Search terms used included ‘by publication’, ‘with publica-
tions’, ‘with papers’, ‘as a series of papers’, and ‘published works’, which are commonly used terms
for TBPs in Australian universities.
The database searches identified 639 doctoral theses that included publications within the thesis and
that met the inclusion criteria presented above. Upon review, three were removed from the corpus
because they were each found to be retrospectively awarded doctorates. Thus, 636 TBPs were includ-
ed in the initial corpus.
Thesis by Publication in Humanities and Social Sciences
The first step in the analysis was to review each thesis and identify those which belong to the Hu-
manities and Socials Sciences. This information was obtained in the title of the award, and, if not
available, then by the candidate’s affiliated department or faculty, and, if not available, then by the
affiliation of the supervisory team. Disciplines within the broad HSS fields were taken from lists
provided by the Australian Academy of the Humanities (2017) and the Academy of the Social Sci-
ences in Australia (ASSA, 2016). One exception that was made for this study was in the discipline of
Statistics, of which three TBPs were identified. While Statistics is listed as a Social Science by the AS-
SA, they were situated in all cases in this sample within faculties related to Science, Technology, En-
gineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and thus were deemed to be more appropriate in this context to
fit under the umbrella of STEM.
Next, each thesis identified as coming from HSS fields was analysed, and data were collected using
predetermined coding instructions that were developed after a review of the literature and a deter-
mination of the research aims. Using an Excel spreadsheet, theses were coded for a range of biblio-
graphic information including year of submission, hosting institution, discipline area, and the num-
ber of publications included in the thesis. Publications included in each thesis were also coded ac-
cording to their type (including, but not limited to the journal article, book chapter, and conference
proceedings), publication status (published, under review, or prepared for publication), and author-
ship (candidate as sole author, lead author, or co-author). Chi square tests were then performed on
contingency tables to determine any relationships between these nine publication characteristics
(within parentheses above) with the hosting institution and research field. The small size and lack of
representativeness of the sample means that the results are not generalizable, but they help to identi-
fy trends in the sample, which may aide in understanding the role that institutional and disciplinary
policies and guidelines play in doctoral candidates’ inclusion of certain types of publication.
There are several limitations of the data collection procedures that need to be considered when in-
terpreting the results. While the three databases selected are major repositories of doctoral theses in
Australia, indexation policies differ from one university to the next, and it is possible that some insti-
tutions do not utilise these repositories. Further, to enable accurate identification of each paper and
its characteristics, searches were limited only to those for which full-text download was available.
Those TBPs under lengthy or permanent embargo were not included in the analysis. While the num-
ber cannot be determined, it is possible that this number is considerable, as TBPs are likely to contain
copyright materials that may preclude their wider distribution. As a result, the sample analysed in this
study is not representative of all TBPs in Australia. Therefore, the results provide a snapshot of cur-
rent practice, rather than a definitive account. Further research in this area could delve deeper into
the theses at a content and composition level, exploring issues of organisation and selection of mate-
rials; to attempt this level of deep analysis in this paper went beyond the scope of our research ques-
tions, however, this remains an area of keen interest for future inquiry. It would also be useful to ex-
plore any potential issues that may arise from the legitimacy of claiming academic credit for the pub-
lication of an article, and then its subsequent incorporation into a thesis.
Our data collection procedures resulted in the identification of 636 TBPs. Of these, just over a quar-
ter were from HSS fields. This was less than those in both medicine-related fields and STEM fields
(Table 1). The results discussed in this study all relate to the 165 TBPs from the HSS.
Tab le 1 . Thesis by Publications, by broad research field, n=636
Broad research field
Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM)
Medicine, Allied Health, Biomedical Science
Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS)
Mason & Merga
The sample consists of TBPs from 12 groups of HSS discipline areas, with almost half related to
Psychology (Table 2). The four most prominent disciplines – Psychology, Business, Education, and
Design – make up 85% of all of the TBPs in the sample.
Table 2. Thesis by Publications in the Humanities and Social sciences (n=165), by discipline
Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive
Business, Economics, Accounting, Management
Design, Urban Design, Architecture
Political Science, Law
Creative Arts, Performing Arts
The sample includes TBPs hosted by 23 Australian universities (Table 3). The largest contributor of
TBPs in the sample is Macquarie University in Melbourne, followed by Queensland University of
Technology in Brisbane.
Table 3. Thesis by Publications in the Humanities and Social Sciences (n=165), by university
Queensland University of Technology
Newcastle University of Newcastle
La Trobe University
University of Adelaide*
Australian National University*
University of Sydney*
University of Western Australia*
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
University of Melbourne*
Australian Catholic University
Edith Cowan University
University of Canberra
University of New England
University of Notre Dame Australia
University of Queensland*
University of Tasmania
University of Wollongong
*Group of Eight universities.
Thesis by Publication in Humanities and Social Sciences
In response to our first research question concerning the number of the publications included in the
TBPs, within our sample of 165 TBPs, a total of 750 publications were identified, ranging from one
to 12 publications, and an average of 4.5 publications per thesis, and a mode of 4 publications.
In response to our second research question, the majority of the publications were journal articles,
with almost 99% of all candidates including at least one journal article. Other featured publications
included conference proceedings and book chapters (Table 4).
Table 4. Type of publications
Of all 750 publications
Of 165 doctoral theses
1Conference proceedings and conference papers. 2Two books and one working paper.
In response to research question three, the majority of publications included in the TBPs were pub-
lished or accepted for publication at the time of submission of the thesis, with about 87% of all
candidates including at least one published research output (Table 5). In total, 16% of papers were
prepared for publication, with a view to submit at a later date, and a third of candidates had included
at least one paper that was prepared in manuscript format, but which had not yet been submitted for
Table 5. Publication status of publications
Of all 750 publications
Of 165 doctoral theses
1Published, in-press, or accepted for publication. 2Under review or submitted for review.
In response to our fourth research question regarding the authorship of publications, the majority of
the papers saw the candidate as the lead author, with the support of co-authors, generally acknowl-
edged as members of the supervisory team (Table 6). Just under 40% of candidates included a paper
where they were the sole author. Publications where the candidate was not the first or lead author
were also included, and these made up 6% of all publications.
Table 6. Authorship of publications
Of all 750 publications
Of 165 doctoral theses
The Chi square tests identified a small number of trends in publication characteristics across the uni-
versities in this sample. Firstly, TBPs at University of Newcastle and Queensland University of Tech-
nology included more published outputs while Macquarie University included fewer published out-
puts than would be expected by chance. Similarly, the inclusion of outputs where the candidate is the
co-author was more common in TBPs at University of Newcastle and less common at Macquarie
In terms of the disciplinary field, there were no trends identified with regard to the inclusion of pub-
lished outputs or the inclusion of journal articles, meaning that these publications were spread evenly
across all of the fields. However, a number of trends did emerge. In terms of publication status,
Mason & Merga
more publications submitted or prepared for submission were seen in Business and Psychology
fields. Design and Education fields saw less inclusion of publications prepared for submission than
would otherwise be expected. In terms of the type of publication, more conference proceedings
were seen in Business, Design, and Political Science, and fewer were seen in Psychology. Book chap-
ters were more common in Design fields and less common in Psychology. In terms of authorship,
sole-authored publications were seen more in Business and Design and less in Politics and Psycholo-
gy. Lead authored publications were more common in Psychology but less represented in Business
and Design. Finally, publications where candidates were a second or subsequent author were seen
more in Design and Education and less in Psychology.
The first aim of our paper was to look at the prevalence of the TBP model in HSS. TBPs in this
sample are more common in STEM and medicine, reflecting reports in the literature, but there is a
considerable number, one quarter, from HSS, suggesting a shift in policy and practice toward em-
bracing this mode. While our finding that TBPs were in greater number in the STEM category and
the Medicine, Allied Health, Biomedical Science category than in the HSS category, we are aware that
this could be reflective of a greater volume of research submissions in these fields. These findings
also add weight to HSS research student complaints about the relative paucity of TBP models,
though this issue appears to be being rectified in HSS in general.
However, not all students in HSS will have ready access to appropriate TBP models to inform their
own structural decisions, as within HSS, there are clearly some fields gaining more traction than oth-
ers, with Psychology and Business at 60% of the sample. The relative paucity of TBP in the Humani-
ties is of great interest and worth further investigation. This could be a result of the popularity of
the exegesis as a key component of the doctorate in creative sub disciplines, as discussed earlier.
It is also noteworthy that some universities dominate TBPs in HSS in this sample. While this could
be a result of the indexing practices of the institutions, or the data collection procedures of this
study, it might also be reflective of policies, school cultures, and/or supervisory approaches that
thrive in these particular contexts. There is merit in further investigating institutional requirements
and incentives to publish in these contexts, potentially communicated through explicit policy and,
also, through implicit cultural transmission. Of interest is the finding that the Group of Eight uni-
versities were not significant contributors to the TBP volume in this sample, as the Group of Eight
are well-established, large, and also the highest ranked institutions in Australia (Times Higher Educa-
tion, 2017). This suggests that university ranking may have little influence on volume of TBPs. This
emerges as an area warranting closer research investigation to further explore the characteristics of
universities which effectively foster this approach.
The distribution of TBPs across institutions and disciplines could also be a result of greater enrol-
ments in HSS at these institutions, and the figures are likely impacted by research completions and
institutional size on these figures. While we were unable to obtain statistical data reporting the num-
ber of higher degree by research student graduates from each Australian university, we note that this
may be possible in the future due to new indicators for reporting higher degree by research students
to be launched in 2018 (Australian Government Department of Education and Training, 2017).
While it appears in this study that some universities and some research fields are actively encouraging
doctoral candidates to include publications within their thesis, there may also be issues with the visi-
bility of such theses. Firstly, because TBPs may include copyright material, they may be more likely to
be placed under extended or permanent embargo. Secondly, there may be issues with the ways in
which TBPs are indexed. It may be the case that TBPs are not uniquely distinguished, which is possi-
ble as many institutions do not refer to the TBP as a separate degree, but as one mode of delivery. To
illustrate, in our sample of 165 theses only nine had reference to the approach on the cover page,
noted in seven different ways:
Thesis by Publication in Humanities and Social Sciences
● Doctor of Philosophy (Presentation of the PhD thesis by published papers)
● Doctor of Philosophy (Research) by Publication
● Doctor of Philosophy by Publication (x2)
● Doctor or Philosophy by Published Work
● Thesis by Papers
● Thesis by Publication (x2)
● Thesis by Published Papers
The majority of the TBPs were identifiable as such only by virtue of their inclusion of papers, which
requires a review of the thesis content. While the TBPs in this sample must have been marked as
such in some way to be listed in search results, this was often not visible to the database user. This
means that there were potentially more TBPs available, which is a limitation of this study, but it also
presents a challenge for candidates who may be looking for examples in their field to assist in their
decisions about what to include and how to best structure the thesis. Candidates may also underesti-
mate the prominence of the model in the field, which may influence their decision to adopt the
Our first research question aimed to understand the quantity of publications which constitute the
TBP. The average of 4.5 papers may be indicative of the number of publications possible during the
limited candidature period, considering considerable publication turnaround times in many HSS
journals. It also suggests flexibility for candidates in decisions regarding the number of papers to be
included. This also makes application of the already flawed term ‘three paper thesis’ a misnomer in
the Australian context.
The wide range of number of publications, anywhere from one to 12, suggests that perhaps less em-
phasis is placed on quantity than on other factors. As discussed earlier, universities place emphasis on
quality over quantity of publications. While it is not within the scope of this paper to investigate the
quality of papers, we do note that, unlike some European universities that provide guidelines on the
quality of publication required (for example, in journal ranking), this does not appear common in
Australian guidelines. This is something that should be considered further in subsequent research,
particularly in the common publishing environment with a proliferation of poor quality predatory
publishers that forego “business ethics, research ethics, and publishing ethics” for profit (Beall, 2017,
Our second research question focused on the type of publications commonly included in the TBP.
Journal articles are the dominant mode of research communication in the TBP, reflective of its privi-
leged position in academia. There was a considerable proportion of candidates, almost one fifth, who
included conference proceedings and conference papers in the TBP. This suggests an acknowledge-
ment of the importance of dissemination of research findings to wider audiences. Merga (2015) sug-
gests that researchers should have a “broader translation strategy ... that considers how to best reach
target stakeholders”, including beyond peer-reviewed journals which may not reach those outside of
academia (p. 294).
The inclusion of other less-traditional outputs, however, is still rare, and it is unclear if this is a con-
sidered choice by candidates or an adherence to publication eligibility guidelines or institutional
norms. In recent times the Australian Research Council (ARC) has moved toward a more inclusive
and broad conceptualisation of what can constitute a research output, allowing the submission of
“non-traditional research output” (ARC, 2017), so it is possible that if this analysis is repeated in the
future, an increasing array of research text types could be captured. However, at this stage the strong
adherence to the traditional journal article is striking.
It is interesting to note the field-related differences in publication characteristics, which suggest that
students may be strongly influenced by norms in their fields. Results suggest that some universities
may have regulations (or unspecified norms) allowing the inclusion of unsubmitted outputs, and of
the inclusion of publications where the candidate is not the first author, while others do not.
Mason & Merga
Our third research question concerned the status of publications in the TBP. Publications that were
already published at the time of submission make up the majority of the publications included in the
TBPs. There was also a significant proportion of scholarly works that were still under review at the
time of submission, and this is probably a result of the lengthy turnaround times for the peer-review
process. There has been much concern in recent years about notoriously long waiting times for peer
review and publication in some disciplines (Powell, 2016), and this would explain some of the field-
related differences in terms of publication status. This finding does suggest that the majority of can-
didates are engaging actively in the publication process, which is one of the main advantages of the
TBP approach, and the high rate of already published papers suggests that this engagement is likely
to begin relatively early in candidature.
It is interesting to consider the motivations for the inclusion of papers which are prepared for publi-
cation, but which have yet to undergo a peer-review process. While this could simply be a matter of
timing, with unreviewed papers potentially the last to be written from data collected later in the can-
didature, other factors could be at play. There may have been concerns about rejection of the paper,
or the decision may have been strategic, particularly for publications completed later in the candida-
ture, to avoid the potential challenges of reconciling different reviewer and assessor perspectives, that
may occur if a paper is under review at the same time as the thesis examination process (Robins &
Kanowski, 2008). The findings here present several areas of further investigation, including what
university guidelines are regarding the inclusion of unsubmitted manuscripts, the reasons candidates
choose to include unsubmitted manuscripts in the thesis, and the extent to which these manuscripts
are submitted and accepted for publication after completion of the degree. Our findings suggests
that, at this stage, overall there may be relatively wide acceptance of this practice as a necessary as-
pect of what can realistically be achieved within the time and resourcing limitations of candidature.
In addition, one common question that supervisors often receive from their postgraduate students
intending to undertake a TBP is, “How will I get them all published in time?” Regardless of institu-
tional policy allowing unpublished papers, there is typically anxiety around the competing desire to
present the highest volume of published papers possible and the time and resourcing constraints of
candidature. This paper can provide some relief, as less than two-thirds of papers were published at
the time of submission in our review. As such, this paper not only illuminates the current field, it can
contribute to recognising important patterns and norms within this space which can make students’
journey easier to negotiate.
Our fourth and final research question concerned one of the key debates surrounding this model,
that of authorship of publications. The predominant mode of authorship in this sample is the can-
didate as lead author, with the support of one or more co-authors, who are generally acknowledged
as members of the supervisory team. While issues of authorship are often raised in criticism of the
TBP model, candidates are generally required to state explicitly the details of their contribution to
each publication. This level of transparency is not seen in a traditional thesis, even though supervi-
sors have always provided assistance in the development of candidate’s chapter-based theses. The
TBP model better reflects the reality of most research, which is not conducted completely inde-
pendently. Following a study of the social networks of doctoral candidates in the United Kingdom,
Pilbeam and Denyer (2009) advocate a move away from the perception of doctoral students as “lone
scholars” to a collaborative model of collective shared learning. The TBP not only acknowledges the
contribution of others in their shared learning, but also makes visible this contribution and provides
attribution in publications. This is important as publication incentives in academia operate at every
level, from research students to professors. Workloads for established academics are increasing, with
expectations placed on them to publish more frequently. In addition, while workload is given for su-
pervision in Australian academic institutions, it can be meagre and not typically reflective of the
amount of time supervisors spend supporting their students, and workload may not always be clearly
defined, with Melrose (2002) finding that in the Australian context, “some universities had policy or
procedures about postgraduate supervision workload, which apply at the level of the department or
Thesis by Publication in Humanities and Social Sciences
school but not at the level of the whole organisation. Many have no formal policy at all” (p. 90).
Though we believe that this contention could be outdated now, as there is a trend toward universities
increasing clarity in this area, there is little current research to support our contention, so this remains
speculative. The opportunity to have their work recognised in co-authored publications can provide
additional incentive for supervision.
The presence of a notable body of work in the TBP on which the student was not the first author
also brings into question the issue of fair authorship attribution. Many institutional guidelines for
TBP in Australia clearly state that on all included papers the student must have made the most signif-
icant contribution of all contributing authors. For example, the University of Melbourne (n.d.) states
Your co-authors and principal supervisor must declare that you are the primary author
and that you contributed more than 50 per cent of the work by completing the Co-author
authorisation and Declaration for a thesis with publication form, respectively. The prima-
ry author is primarily responsible for the planning, execution and preparation of work for
publication. The primary author may not [necessarily] be the first named author.
The contemporary justification for students appearing as secondary authors on work where they have
made the bulk of the contribution is of concern. While this appropriation of students’ work may sit
comfortably with those who hold a more traditional view toward authorship, in recent times this view
is increasingly contested, with the first author being seen as the person who performed the greatest
volume of work on a paper. In addition, the extent of contribution to constitute authorship has
grown, as stipulated by the Vancouver Protocol:
Authorship credit should be based only on substantial contributions to 1) conception and
design, or analysis and interpretation of data; and to 2) drafting the article or revising it criti-
cally for important intellectual content; and on 3) final approval of the version to be pub-
lished. Conditions 1, 2, and 3 must all be met. (International Committee of Medical Journal
Editors, 1997, p. 4)
The fact that guidelines such as the aforementioned include the stipulation that “the primary author
may not be the first named author” challenge current notions of fairness around academic intellectu-
al property and potentially put at risk correct attribution for students. It also places supervisors who
insist on being first author in an odd position; on one hand, they are accepting credit for being the
greatest contributor on the paper, and on the other, they are signing a document to declare that this
was not the case. The unequal power relationships between supervisors and their students may place
the students in a vulnerable position to negotiate recognition of their contribution, with Morse
(2009) contending that compounding this very subjective system is the delicate matter of power.
“The student, as candidate for a degree, is obviously in the most powerless position; the supervisor,
as judge, is the most powerful” (p. 3). As such, where institutional guidelines insist that the student
must be the primary author on all papers, but that in such cases they are not necessarily required to
be the first author, a unique opportunity for exposure of what is arguably dishonest authorial prac-
tice exists. While we recognise that this system also allows for the contribution of supervisors to be
understated, the concern is heightened for students due to the relative imbalance in power in the su-
This study has shown that the TBP is finding traction in the HSS field, and in light of the paucity of
research examining TBPs in the HSS field, this paper constitutes a valuable starting point for both
longitudinal research in this area and research that further investigates some of the pertinent issues
raised. While our paper presents an analysis of a non-representative sample of TBPs, it does suggest
some trends in the number and nature of scholarly works included in TBPs in Australia that reflect
not only common practice but also institutional guidelines and disciplinary norms. Diversity within
Mason & Merga
this space raises questions about the appropriateness of the TBP approach across all contexts and
the degree of support provided across disciplinary areas and institutions.
While journal articles and conference proceedings are the favoured text modes for inclusion in TBPs,
we see validity in a broader range of text types and encourage institutions to allow flexibility regard-
ing the inclusion of non-traditional outputs in TBPs. Similarly, while the publication of papers
should remain a cornerstone of the TBP model, guidelines should continue to allow the inclusion of
papers which are under review or prepared for publication, given the realities of what can be
achieved in a limited candidature period.
With our research suggesting that it is not uncommon for students to be secondary authors on the
papers that constitute their thesis, further research is warranted into how these decisions are shaped
by institutional policy and justified by the parties concerned. We also strongly advocate for increasing
the visibility of this thesis type in thesis collections so that current and prospective students can draw
upon them for key structural insights to inform their approach. We have acknowledged limitations
constraining our study, and we anticipate future innovations, such as greater clarity around institu-
tional completions, holding the potential to increase the rigour of research conducted in this space.
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Thesis by Publication in Humanities and Social Sciences
Dr. Shannon Mason is a Lecturer in the Department of Global Studies,
University of Nagasaki. She spent more than 10 years teaching in primary
and high schools in Australia, and now conducts research on a variety of
educational issues, including teacher attrition and retention, and language
education pedagogy and policy. She recently completed a PhD including
publications at Griffith University, and through that process developed an
interest in emerging approaches to doctoral education.
Dr. Margaret Kristin Merga is a Senior Lecturer at Curtin University in
Western Australia. She is keenly interested in higher education, peer men-
toring and the doctoral journey. Her research also explores the social in-
fluences on literacy acquisition and the position of reading and books in
the contemporary world. Her research findings in literacy explore the role
that teachers and parents can play in supporting children, teenagers and
adults to become life-long readers.