PhD thesis

There are very few formal guidelines to a dissertation. Please see the formal guidelines at the Ministry of Higher Education and Science. This means that the assessment committee has very free guidelines when assessing a dissertation. Nevertheless, from the legal documents we can see that a dissertation must meet “the international standards for PhD degrees within the field in question”. Another formal requirement is that if the dissertation includes co-authored work a written co-author declaration must be submitted along with the dissertation. A co-author declaration is a written document signed by all authors of a work stating their contribution to the work. Get the declaration at the faculty. For rules concerning co-authorship, see the Vancouver convention.

A dissertation can be a monograph or a number of publishable articles with a longer introduction that summarises and ties the articles together. Again from the legal document very few guidelines can be found and it is basically up to any assessment committee to judge the quality of a monograph or article-based dissertation. Even though it is up to the assessment committee there are a few discussions that are worth mentioning to provide some tentative guidelines on how a dissertation is assessed (see below). It is important to understand that the guidelines below are by no means binding and they vary between the sub-fields of sociology. Please discuss this with your supervisor.

The monograph dissertation

The monograph is assessed as a coherent work, thus much effort must be put into providing a natural flow and structure to the dissertation. A strong literature review, strong theoretical chapters, a methodology chapter and analytical chapters are natural elements of any monograph. The length varies, typically between 200 and 300 pages. It is quality, not length, which really matters. One of the advantages of the monograph is that it is one coherent research project that gives the possibility for a detailed literature review and for developing a systematic theoretical framework, consistent methodological reflections and in-depth empirical analyses, which can be hard to achieve within the word limits for articles (often 7,000-8,000 words).

Article-based dissertation

Article-based dissertations consist typically of four publishable articles. However again it is the quality and not the quantity of articles that really matters. Defining a publishable article is not easy, but basically we should expect that it can be published in international peer-reviewed journals.

We expect that the articles have a connection – i.e. that they are related to the same topic, are relevant to each other and show theoretical and methodological progress. On the other hand they must not be too overlapping. Common critiques of article-based dissertations are that they are too diffuse and that they lack cohesion. Hence, it is important that much effort is put into tying the articles together, both when deciding which articles to include in the dissertation and when writing the introduction.

The introduction relates the study to previous research and highlights the contribution of the dissertation to its field of research. It describes the theoretical and thematic frame for the articles, discusses the methodological and analytical choices made and summarises the individual articles (theoretically as well as empirically). Importantly, it provides the general framework that ties the articles together into a coherent whole. Usually the length of the introduction is between 30 and 50 pages – some of the content may be taken directly from the various articles. The introduction must be single-authored.

We encourage PhD students to co-author articles with faculty members or other PhD students during their studies. If these articles are part of the dissertation a co-author declaration must be attached to the dissertation. If co-authored articles are included the number of articles to include in a dissertation may increase. This should be discussed with the supervisor. Remember again that assessment committees usually focus more on quality and less on the number of articles. At least one significant article in an article-based dissertation must be single-authored.