Urban Myths surrounding Thesis as a Series of Papers: PG Writing Group 14/05/12

PG Writing Group 14/05/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

Wikipedia defines an urban myth as ‘form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true. As with all folklore and mythology, the designation suggests nothing about the story’s veracity, but merely that it is in circulation, exhibits variation over time, and carries some significance that motivates the community in preserving and propagating it.’ I am not sure what motivates student’s with regard to propagating myths about thesis submission, but there seem to be plenty surrounding formatting of a thesis, particularly the thesis submitted as a ‘Series of Papers’. Hopefully this post will clarify some of these myths and Monday’s writing session will focus on this form of thesis format.

Myth 1: UWA has a separate category for examination of ‘Thesis as a Series of Papers’. FALSE. All theses at UWA are examined using the same criteria, although the criteria for a PhD differs from Masters. Regardless of whether your thesis contains published material or not, you need to know what these criteria are.

Myth 2: All papers need to be published before they can be included in a thesis. FALSE. A thesis can contain work that has been published, accepted for publication, submitted for publication, prepared as a manuscript planned for submission, or not. There are many, many benefits to including published material in your thesis but it is not a requirement.

Myth 3: A thesis submitted as a Series of Papers will pass. A little bit FALSE but not much. There is no guarantee that any thesis will pass examination but if you look at the statistics surrounding HDR examination, very, very few fail outright, irrespective of whether they contain published material or not. By submitting papers for peer review you will have presented your material for critical external review prior to examination and have been able to respond to any criticisms prior to examinaton. And if these papers have been accepted for publication the examiner is likely to consider that your research has already met the high standard required of a higher degree by research. For these two reasons, you can approach your examination with more confidence if your material contains work that has been published.

Myth 4: Three papers is enough. FALSE for most people. The differences in disciplinary standards for publication are enormous and even within a discipline area, you may have the flexibility to publish papers that can vary significantly in the amount of research work they represent. I am going to stop talking about broad benchmark numbers of required papers as this causes way too much confusion. I think it is better to think of your thesis as 3-4 years of research work divided up into an appropriate number of publications. Number does not matter here, it is all about substance & your supervisor is best placed to provide advice on this. (And remember, review articles generally don’t count here, even if they are peer reviewed).

Myth 5: UWA requires you submit your thesis as a series of papers. FALSE. UWA recognises that there is a broad range of disciplinary formats that need to be considered and therefore provide minimal guidelines in order for you to have the flexibility to format your thesis in a way that is best for you and your examiner. However, your supervisor and/or your school may have additional requirements to the general UWA guidelines, including asking students to submit their thesis as a series of papers. You may want to check with your supervisor and/or your Graduate Research Coordinator early in your candidature about what they expect from you in this regard.

Myth 6: Thesis as a Series of Papers is the easiest way to submit a thesis. TRUE and FALSE. For students whose research follows a very natural progression, whose introductions are distinct, whose methods for each paper are different and whose publications are lengthy enough that they get to justify much of their research decision making, thesis as a series of papers can be an efficient format for submission. Most students, however, when putting papers together will need to address issues of repetition, coherence, and lack of explicit reasoning. My advice is to try to publish as much as possible as it is good for your track record and therefore your future career. When putting together your thesis, try to find the most efficient way to include these publications in light of the examination criteria.

Myth 7: Thesis as a Series of Papers is just a collection of papers bound together. FALSE. The UWA formatting guidelines require a general introduction to the research and a general conclusion. In these two sections, the significance of the research as a whole needs to be addressed. In addition, the thesis needs to be formatted as a single document, so coherence in font, paragraph formatting, numbering of figures and tables, and pagination etc should be considered in the final document.

For more support regarding Thesis Formatting for UWA students see the Graduate Research School website:

UWA Guidelines for Examiners

And if you have some spare time and want to read more about funny, weird, bizarre and mystifying urban myths, see UrbanMyths.info

If you would like to know more about the Postgraduate Writing Group or receive email alerts when there is a new post, please contact Jo Edmondston (joanne.edmondston@uwa.edu.au) or post a comment.

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