Gillian, Nancy, and Madeline share one tip each. We hope you find them useful.
How to get started with a writing genre or assignment that’s new to you
If you’ve been asked to write an “annotated bibliography,” “summary,” or “critical analysis,” and these types of assignments are unfamiliar, there are TONS of resources and samples online to guide you. Search “how do I write a…” and choose sites that end in “.edu” (American universities) or that belong to Canadian or UK universities. YouTube can also be a great “how to” resource. Another option is to ask an AI tool, like ChatGPT to show you what that type of assignment looks like. It can’t access a lot of the information and sources that you can, and doesn’t have any critical thinking skills, but it can serve as a good starting point and show you what kind of language is standard for the genre and type of assignment.
How to write the final sentence of your paper
I struggle with writing the final sentence in the conclusion of a paper. Over time, I’ve learned a few strategies from observing other writers. Strategy #1: Make a prediction: Explain what might be gained or what might happen if your argument is heard or your solution is enacted. Strategy #2: Complete the circle. Return to the first sentence of your introduction and highlight the connection or show the impact of your discussion. If you began with a question, what is the answer? If you started with a gap in knowledge, what information has emerged? Strategy #3: Briefly comment on a broad implication or next step. Who could join the conversation? What small direction might the research take? Who knows? Maybe following these strategies will work for you, too.
How to ensure your language is inclusive, empowering, and respectful
Language is constantly evolving. We are aware of how language can oppress and marginalize, and we are committed to writing in a way that is respective and inclusive. Pronoun identification, people-first language around disability, inclusive vocabulary to describe people experiencing homelessness (instead of “the homeless”): These are just a few language shifts we’ve seen in recent years. If you are writing a paper, thesis, article, or dissertation and want to check that you are writing in a conscious style, you may want to consult this guide: https://consciousstyleguide.com/
For a very long time, writing a single book-length manuscript was the only way to complete a PhD. In the past few decades, however, the traditional manuscript-style dissertation has been recognized as somewhat of a “strange” and “ungeneralizable” genre: its audience is limited, and dissertation-writing skills are minimally transferable to the real world (Duke & Beck, 1999). The possibilities for variation in dissertation structures and genres has quietly expanded, and other options are becoming more acceptable and even preferred (see, for example, Anderson et al., 2020; Anderson & Okuda, 2021; Anderson et al., 2021; Dong, 1998; Paltridge, 2002; Paltridge and Starfield, 2020; Paltridge et al., 2012; Paré, 2019; Thomas et al., 2016).
You have options! One of those is the “article-based” dissertation, also known as the “manuscript-style” dissertation, or “dissertation by publication.” In the sciences, a lot of dissertations are now completed by publication—as many as 40%—and in the field of education, around 10–15% of dissertations might contain at least some published or publishable work.
Here, I’ll weigh some pros and cons of writing your dissertation in this genre and attempt to answer some questions you may have if you’re considering this structure. As always, you should consider which format best suits your research questions, methodology, and discipline, and consult with your supervisor about how to proceed.
What is an article-based dissertation?
An article-based dissertation consists of several articles (usually three or four, but I’ve heard of there being as many as nine) that either have already been published during the course of a student’s PhD studies, or are ready to publish. The PhD candidate should be the first author or first co-author, if co-authorship is permitted (but this varies across disciplines, so check with your supervisor first if you’re considering co-writing any parts of your dissertation). Each article should be a stand-alone document that can be understood independently from the rest of the dissertation, with its own introduction, literature review, methodology, results, and discussion sections, as applicable. In order for the final product to be a cohesive “dissertation,” though, it might also need sections or chapters that introduce the overarching research questions, topic, and methods, as well as “bridging” sections to link the articles.
Reasons to write one:
You want to continue on in academia, and having publications will help you get a job.
Your supervisor wrote one and will be good at helping you navigate writing your own.
Your topic and/or discipline lend themselves well to this type of structure.
It’s super cool to see your name in print and get notifications that your work has been cited by others in your field! Publishing is a great way to assess the impact of your work and to see your research grow and be appreciated by others.
Reasons not to:
Your supervisor did not write one, or isn’t very familiar with that genre, and would therefore not be comfortable guiding you through the process.
You want to finish. A single manuscript is the shortest route to completion. It’s familiar and will encounter minimal pushback from the faculty of graduate studies or committee members.
Your topic, research questions, methodology, etc. are better suited to another format.
You’re not planning to continue in academia, and publishing won’t benefit your career.
Your discipline and/or the intended audience or end user of the work doesn’t value publishing in academic journals as highly as sharing your work in other ways.
Anderson, T., Alexander, I., & Saunders, G. (2020). An examination of education-based dissertation macrostructures. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 45, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2020.100845
Dong, Y. R. (1998). Non-native speaker graduate students’ thesis/dissertation writing in science: Self-reports by students and their advisors from two U.S. institutions. English for Specific Purposes, 17(4), 369–390. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0889-4906(97)00054-9
Paltridge, B., & Starfield., S. (2020). Change and continuity in thesis and dissertation writing: The evolution of an academic genre. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 48. 1–16, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2020.100910
Paltridge, B., Starfield, S., Ravelli, L. J., & Tuckwell, K. (2012). Change and stability: Examining the macrostructures of doctoral theses in the visual and performing arts. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 11(4), 332e344. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2012.08.003.
Thomas, R. A., West, R. E., & Rich, P. (2016). Benefits, challenges, and perceptions of the multiple article dissertation format in instructional technology. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 32(2), 82–99. https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.2573
I’ve been working at UVic as an English as an Additional Language Specialist in the Centre for Academic Communication since 2014, where I’ve helped hundreds of students in first-year academic writing and literature courses to become more skilled and confident writers. I have also taught English for academic purposes, English literature, business English, and TESOL in various contexts in Canada and abroad for many years.
I’m currently a PhD candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at UVic, writing an article-based dissertation, and my research focuses on the experiences of undergraduate students accessing and using different forms of academic writing support.