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The conventional thesis is a monolithic text rather like a book. It tends to be structured as follows:
Higher degree by research candidates are encouraged to publish during candidature because it significantly improves their chances of success in the examination, and the comments of reviewers can provide very useful feedback. With a conventional thesis model, it makes sense to base chapters around these publications. The chapter tends to be a more detailed version of the publication. In some disciplines, it has been traditional to turn a thesis into one or more publications after the examination.
In recent years there has been increasing interest in an alternative model, sometimes called "thesis by publications", in which the thesis comprises a series of papers, some or all of which may have been published by the time of submission. This model is perceived to have advantages for some candidates because it minimises the tension and duplicated effort between preparing papers for publication and preparing the thesis for examination. It also has the significant advantage that examiners tend to be impressed by work that has already been peer-reviewed, as previously published papers would have been.
It is important that you discuss the proposed structure of your thesis with your supervisor early in candidature. If you decide to structure your thesis as a series of publications, you must include introductory and concluding chapters that place the work in context, describe how the papers are unified, describe your contribution to each paper, and summarise the contribution to knowledge that they collectively demonstrate.
If you have a substantial publication record prior to candidature, you may be permitted to submit a thesis based primarily on this work. This is possible only if the work was not carried out as part of another program for which a degree was awarded. Applicants in this category will normally be required to enrol for a period of about one year during which time they will write a text which incorporates the published work into a coherent whole. Earlier submission may be appropriate in some cases.
The University has to approve admission to a candidature and thesis of this type. The publications must be incorporated in the body of the thesis together with a commentary which integrates them into a coherent whole.
Publications that contribute to such a thesis must all be of a very high standard and published in high level peer-reviewed journals. It is the standard of publication, not the exegesis, which forms the quality of the PhD. The contribution to knowledge that will be assessed must also be a sustained contribution. Further, it would not be appropriate to submit something which simply binds together the publications. Examiners are normally interested in the entire intellectual journey. If publications were to form the central part of your thesis (rather than simply being placed in a pocket at the back), the thesis would need to include other material not normally covered in publications. For example, the PhD should include a full literature review, a full discussion of methodology, a discussion of what might have gone wrong in the project (publications tend to cover only what went right), what the researcher learned from it and how that improved the final product. A PhD based on published work should not be seen as a fast-track PhD. The thesis needs to tell the whole story. What is considered to be a sufficient body of work to demonstrate a "substantial original contribution to knowledge" is discipline-dependent and the Faculty will appoint independent readers to assess the application.
In applying for such candidature, the supervisor and applicant should make a thorough case for acceptance, and include the following information as part of the application: