How to position the article-format master and doctorate in the Modern-day Research culture and environment of South Africa (1): Part 1

Title: How to position the article-format-master and-doctorate in the Modern-day
Research-culture and -environment of South Africa (1): Part 1

Gabriel P Louw


Extraordinary Professor, Focus Area Social Transformation, Faculty of Humanities, Potchefstroom Campus, North-West University, South Africa (Author and Researcher: Healthcare, Higher Education, History and Politics).

Corresponding Author:

Prof. Dr GP Louw; MA (UNISA), PhD (PU for CHE), DPhil (PU for CHE), PhD (NWU)


Keywords: Article-format-doctorate, article-format-masters, modern-day, position, research-culture, research-environment, South Africa.

Ensovoort, volume 42 (2021), number 3: 1

1. Background

Four years ago, in August 2016, the internationally acclaimed researcher, Professor Lilian Nassi-Calo, wrote as follows on the pros and cons of the alternative formatted dissertations and theses versus those of the traditional dissertations and theses, and the dynamic incoming of the alternative formats in present-day academics and research1:1:

Scholarly communication undergoes changes and evolves as science itself. The scientific article, its format and publication mode, dissemination and sharing has undergone significant changes since the emergence of the first scientific journals in the seventeenth century. The Internet, in the 1990s, dramatically changed the paradigm of science communication, an event comparable only to the invention of printing by Gutenberg in 1440, which enabled the dissemination of articles and journals to other instances, beyond the academy.

Dissertations and theses are monographs that constitute elements of scientific communication, but their primary role is to demonstrate that the candidate of an academic title is able to drive and communicate independent and original research.

An historical overview of advanced research worldwide shows that the scientific-journal article and the traditional master (dissertation) and doctorate (thesis) did in the past and are still today playing important roles in the collecting of scientific data and the reporting and communication of it to academics, researchers and the public. But, since the 1990s the format and publication mode, together with the dissemination and sharing of collected scientific data, underwent a significant change with the introducing of the article-format dissertation and thesis. It forces to the foreground a serious rethinking and replanning on how research should be addressed in the future: what is the most appropriate way to write a master (dissertation) and a doctorate (thesis), and what are the pros and cons of the article-format dissertation and thesis. The main intention of this article – the first of a series of four articles – is exactly to start a discussion in this context.

1.1. Introduction

In the present research setup on the delivery types of the post-graduate master and doctoral qualifications, the research language reflects various descriptions, definitions and meanings, like dissertation, thesis, supervisor, promoter, journal format, manuscript, monograph, article, essay, scientific article, alternative format, scientific communication, academic title, thesis defence, graduate program, collection of articles and essays, article style, etc. In this context many times different concepts are emphasised and indeed consistently offered in the various writings, but in many cases some of the descriptions are conflicting with their traditional meanings, while in other cases the same is being said seemingly for different descriptions and definitions, as for instance the meanings of thesis and dissertation, supervisor and promoter, article and essays, etc. This diverse nomenclature undoubtedly contributes to the confusion for post-graduate students, supervisors, examiners and readers in their quest for the knowhow on how to compile, write, supervise and examine the increasingly popular present-day article-format dissertation and thesis.1-8

1.1.1. Definitions and descriptions

The above diversity in descriptions and policies of the various Graduate Schools and Faculties of Universities as to their article-format postgraduate programmes and qualifications, and the positioning of the article-thesis and dissertation in modern-day research, thus needs thus some analysis.

The descriptions of thesis and dissertation refer to long essays on a particular subject, especially one written for a university degree or diploma. The biggest difference between a thesis and dissertation is the intended purpose, with the thesis being a more comprehensive and independent research format. It must be noted that the literature often refers to the dissertation which is also applicable to the doctorate and the thesis which is again applicable to the masters. For this article the description dissertation is applicable only to the research project of the master’s degree (also referred to as masters in the singular form and used also as such in the research) and the Honours degree, while the description thesis is only applicable to the research of the doctoral or doctorate study. (A prominent deviation on the position of the article-format dissertation (master) from the overall accepted research customs and rules, that represents something of an anomaly among the modern-day progressive academics and researchers, is the decision by the University of Alabama (UA)6 not to permit the article-style thesis to be presented there for a master’s degree. This limitation is absent at South African institutions and is mostly also globally absent at universities: The UA’s6 ruling is therefore ignored in this research project).6

With reference to the rules and regulations of masters and doctorates, my writing will further reflect on the rules of the thesis as equal to those of the dissertation (as mentioned, most universities regularly use the term thesis as a synonym for the term dissertation). This means that the rules, traditions and customs applicable to the thesis, are also fully applicable to the dissertation. Because there is very little difference between the rules of the dissertation and thesis, and to avoid unnecessary repetition every time, both the terms thesis and dissertation are respectively used in the research, but with “dissertation” identified with the masters and “thesis” with the doctorate.

In the above context the words article, paper, essay, conference paper, or book chapter, are seen as equal elements in the research culture, depending on the kind of presentation of research outcomes/products, as guided by the field or discipline (and faculty) of master’s and doctoral degrees. As such, article will be used as synonym for paper, essay, conference paper, or book chapter, in references where it forms part of the contents of the article thesis.

Although this series of four articles is especially focused on two outcomes, namely on how to write and supervise the article-format masters and doctorate, and how to supervise and examine the article-format masters and doctorate, it is of utmost importance that the so-called monograph or traditional masters and doctorate are also described, seeing that it still forms an essential part of the greater unity of postgraduate study and of the research foundation. The traditional masters and doctorate are still dynamic players in the distribution of research by way of the article-format masters and doctorate, the writing of journal articles and of books, contributing to the Complete Cycle of Research. In this context, the rules and the methods of compiling and writing the journal article, as well as that of the book (that reflects attaining a final stage total research), will thus also be illumined in the series of four articles.

1.1.2. The history of the entities master and doctorate

In this series of four articles the concepts master’s degree and doctorate (and also described as dissertation and thesis) take a central role. It is thus at this early stage a priority to define or describe the meaning of the two.

From the late Middle Ages the pattern of degrees for teaching at universities were the bachelor and masters in the lower faculties, and the doctor in the higher faculties. This system was strengthened by the Bologna declaration in 1999, which started the Bologna Process that led to the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). It confirmed the continuation of the three-integrated-cycle degrees: the bachelor-masters-doctorate. In this context there are already in some countries a kind of deviation appearing in their hierarchies: associate-bachelor>bachelor>honours-bachelor>masters>doctorate>post-doctorate). 9-14

The master’s degree is awarded to a student by a college or university usually after one or two years of additional study following a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent. The naming master of the degree comes from the Latin word magister and its original meaning refers to someone who had been admitted to the rank or degree of master. The master’s degree dated back to the origin of European universities, founded by a Papal bull of 1233, decreeing that anyone admitted to the mastership in the University of Toulouse (UT), should be allowed to teach freely at any other university. This right on an exclusive work occupation (to teach) became finalised over the years as the licentia docendi (licence to teach), making the master’s degree a prerequisite to be able to teach at a university. Originally masters and doctors were not to be distinguished, but this has changed over the years and by the 15th century it had become customary in the English universities to refer to the teachers/instructors (lecturers) in the so-called lower faculties (such as Arts) as master/masters (the plural term masters is also used in the literature to refer to the single titling of master) and those in the higher faculties as doctors.  The outcome was that the more advanced doctoral degree (like for instance the PhD) is mostly needed to be a professor. Since the Middle Ages the master’s degree, that was initially the MA, started to expand so as to include varies fields and disciplines of study (and rooted in research and coursework master degrees), leading to the equal expansion of the degree’s use in titles such as M.Sc., M.Ed., etc.9-14

The doctorate is the highest degree awarded by a university faculty or other approved educational organisation (that can be a college or another type of higher-education institution that has legally been awarded the power to confirm degrees). As the highest level of university training and education, it is usually given after an individual accomplishes both a master’s degree and a bachelor degree. The two terms doctorate and doctor, meaning respectively in Latin doctoratus and docere, are derived from the ancient formalism licentia docendi, that means “licence to teach or to instruct”. The word doctorate is an umbrella term for a degree or rank, reflecting a program that can result in either an academic or a professional doctor’s degree. Inside the umbrella rank specific kinds of doctorates are awarded. The following abbreviations of doctorates awarded worldwide, are for instance the Dr. phil., Dr. rer nat. (natural sciences), Dr. rer pol. (social /political studies), D.A. (Doctor of Art), D.Ed., Ph.D., D.Sc., D.Ed., D.Phil., etc. These degrees can be obtained in different areas of study and specializations such as law, education, medicine, engineering, business, etc. Of all the numbers of doctoral degrees the most common is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) which is awarded in many different fields, ranging from the humanities to scientific disciplines. In addition there are also some types of technical or professional degrees that include the titling of doctor in their names and are classified as doctorates.9-14

Holders of a doctoral degree are considered scholars and experts in their field of study. Any kind of doctoral degree includes years of coursework, immense studies and fieldwork. The final requirement for the doctoral degree is a thesis, an original and documented paper, that tackles a particular issue or problem in the discipline as part of a research undertaking by the student. Doctorates can also be classified as traditional doctorate degrees (the student accomplishes all the requirements of the degree upon graduation) and the honorary doctorate degree (a person who is given the title of doctor due to their contribution to the field, study or profession, but is not necessarily capable of conducting research or contributing knowledge to a particular field). In this context the honorary masters and all its privileges, etc. must be seen as equal to that of the honorary doctorate. For this research the focus will be only on the traditional master and doctorate degrees.9-14

A doctorate is in most countries an advanced research qualification that enables the holder to teach at universities in the degree’s field or to work in a specific profession. Its roots can be traced to the early church in which the term doctor referred to the apostles, church fathers and other Christian-church officials who taught and interpreted the Bible. In this context the right to grant a doctorate (the licentia docende, or the “licence to teach”) was originally reserved for the Catholic Church which required the applicants for the doctorate to pass a test, to take an oath of allegiance and to pay a fee. This Catholic Church licence and titling exclusivity led to conflict between the church and universities, and in 1213 the Pope granted the right to the University of Paris (UP) to issue the licence too. After initially awarding the right to issue doctorates or “licences to teach” to universities, it became through custom and tradition a universal licence (Latin:  licentia ubique docende) at all universities to issue licences to candidates who had passed the evaluation prerequisites of the licentia ubique docende to teach and thus to use the title doctor. [It is alleged that the Catholic Church’s exclusive  privilege and right to issue doctorates was already side-stepped in the late 1100s by some European universities and that the UP indeed in 1150 awarded Europe’s first doctorate. Note also the Papal bull of 1233 that decreed that anyone admitted to the mastership in the University of Toulouse (UT) could use the title of master (magister)]. 9-14

In countries such as the UK and Ireland there developed over the years a tier or hierarchy of research doctorates: a higher level that reflects a high standard of research through the D.Sc. (Doctor of Science) and D.Litt. (Doctor of Letters), etc. On the middle level in the tier of doctorates is the Ph.D., while on the lower level of the hierarchy stands the junior-class doctorates, wherein the article-format doctorate is presently placed. It must be noted that although some of the North American universities issue degrees with “doctor” in their names, as the M.D., J.D. and the D.Pharm., they are professional undergraduate degrees. They are not doctorates, making the American M.D. and D.Pharm. Equal in academic/professional status as the South African degrees of M.B., Ch.B.- and B.Pharm.9-14

1.2. Aims of article (Continued in Article 2)

The purpose of this article, titled: “How to position the article-format masters and doctorate in the Modern-day Research culture and environment of South Africa: Part 1, as part one of two intertwined articles, is to provide a general understanding and grounding for the aspirant student who is planning to write an article-format master (dissertation) or doctorate (thesis), as well as for the aspirant supervisor who intends to oversee this alternative research format and the aspirant examiner who wants to assess the article thesis. The next intertwined article, entitled: “How to position the article-format masters and doctorate in the Modern-day Research culture and environment of South Africa: Part 2”,  will continue to provide a general understanding and grounding for the aspirant student who is planning to write an article-format master (dissertation) or doctorate (thesis), as well as for the aspirant supervisor who intends to oversee this alternative research-format and the aspirant examiner who wants to assess the article thesis.

 The intention of these two intertwined articles are not to supply a single, rigid framework or guideline, or to underwrite a specific university’s guideline on how to write an article master (dissertation) or a doctorate (thesis), but to offer a focused, broad informative guide on most of the important regulations and rules of the various local and global universities in their prescriptions on the delivery of the article-format masters and doctorate.5-8

This article, titled: How to position the article-format masters and doctorate in the Modern-day Research-culture and environment of South Africa: Part 1, is the first part of a series of seven articles under the project entitled: “How to write, supervise and examine the article-format master and doctorate: A South African perspective”.

1.2.1. Scope of article (Continues Article 2)

The information applies to aspirant students, supervisors and examiners for article masters and doctorates, presented as a collection of essays or articles.

2. Method (Continues Article 2)

The research was done by means of a literature review. This method aims to construct a viewpoint from the available evidence as the research develops. This approach is being used in modern research where there is often not an established body of research, as is the case with the writing and publishing of the article-format dissertation and thesis. By means of this method the focus is on being informative as to the various local and global approaches to the delivery of article-format theses or dissertations. The sources consulted cover the period 2006 to 2021.

The research findings are being presented in narrative format.

3. Results and discussion (Continues Article 2)

Two clear types of theses (doctorates) and dissertations (masters) are practised today: the monograph thesis and dissertation and the article-format thesis and dissertation. Firstly, the description of the monograph thesis and dissertation will in short be reflected on in subdivision 3.1. The Monograph Masters and Doctorate, while the comprehensive description of the article-format thesis and dissertation will be reflected on in subdivision 3.2. The Article-Format Masters and Doctorate.

3.1.The Monograph Masters and Doctorate

3.1.1. Overview

In their arguing for the exclusive continuation of the Monograph Masters and Doctorate by various seasoned academics and salted researchers as the only future way to go, it is opinined by them that this approach is the only one that demonstrates the candidate’s full ability to frame the historical context of a problem, to describe in detail the purpose of the study and how it is executed, and finally to arrive at a credible conclusion.  Others argue that the doing away with the monograph approach would limit the focus of the doctorate to a mere paper factory. Furthermore, it is felt that the monograph avoids the rigid deadline for examination presentation, which has been argued to be the negative characteristic of the article-format theses: In this case an exclusively time-based deadline is rigidly locked in and fixed into the thesis in order to regulate the undisturbed delivery of published journal articles.1

Further boosting the putative strong stand of the traditional masters and doctorate in present-day research, is the unstoppable growth in the output of these kinds of research instruments since the early days. In this context Nassi-Calo1 for instance, reports that  the database of an agency of the Ministry of Education of Brazil, the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES), registered 901 096 traditional dissertations and theses between 1987 to 2016 (meaning in 29 years an average yearly delivery of 31 079 research-documents for Brazil alone). A further positive characteristic, argued by the proponents of the traditional thesis, is that that the average number of pages comprising it has increased from about 100 pages in the 1950s to around 200 pages today, reflecting the rise of a more comprehensive study approach and evidence of an acceptable instrument which is providing the mass delivery of constructive and reliable research.1-4

Looking critically at the above prolific output of the traditional thesis in Brazil as an example, it will be a mistake to attribute it exclusively to a preference for these kinds of research documents there or worldwide. The above comprehensive graduations seem to be partly the outcome of  the personal and professional needs of researchers and academics to obtain the higher  qualifications of masters and doctorate: the traditional approach seems to be the only option available. and not as a preference ranking above the article thesis as many propagandists of the traditional thesis try to posit. On this practice of forcing most students into doing the traditional thesis without a real option, Nassi-Cola reflects1:2: “The volume of theses, however, will continue to increase, since thousands of masters and PhD candidates in the world will face this rite of passage that is the gateway to the academic world or the professional market”.

To provide an adequate description of article-format research later on, it is absolutely necessary to place the traditional thesis in perspective, seeing that there is still an immense base deriving from it cemented into the article-format thesis and the knowhow brought by it in the doing of quality research in general. It is undoubtedly a prerequisite for the advanced academic researcher to first master the principles and requirements of the traditional thesis, and to only move from there into the writing of the various journal articles – so-called “mini-dissertations or -theses” — that are to form the basic elements of the article-format thesis. Only then the path of the article thesis may be explored.

3.1.2. Defining the identity of the monograph thesis

The naming and description monograph thesis need also some illumination and description: It is also known by names such as the traditional thesis, standard thesis, conventional thesis, regular thesis, long piece of academic writing, canonical form of a thesis, a comprehensive manuscript based on original research or the traditional British format of one long monograph.1-4,15

For this article the name traditional thesis or doctorate (synonym for dissertation or masters) will be mostly used.15

3.1.3. Breakdown of contents of the traditional thesis

The traditional or monograph thesis is classed into two research-types, namely the empirical-model and theoretical-model. Although the two models differ in some way in construction, their contents and research approach are mostly similar. Their construction mostly varies broadly between four and five elements (chapters): (1) Theoretical context with references and Introduction, (2) Review of literature, (3) Aims, Objectives, Hypotheses, Methodology and Research plan, (4) Findings, Results and Discussion, (5) Conclusion and Considerations. (In some cases the literature review is, for the sake of uniformity and a better description, integrated into the Introduction, making it four chapters).15-19

Various descriptions, specifically as to the contents of the traditional or monograph thesis, are offered by universities. The University of Texas Arlington (UTA)20 describes the traditional thesis’s contents as follows20:2: “…containing a series of related chapters written principally to satisfy degree requirements. Early chapters typically provide an extensive literature review which is the basis of and rationale for a research problem that is analysed in subsequent chapters. A final chapter summarizes the work and explores its broader meanings and interpretations. The elements of a monograph style dissertation cohere because the content of each chapter exists expressly to provide the background and basis of later chapters”.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)21 describes the traditional or monograph thesis as follows21:1-2: “A monograph is a unified text describing a specialist topic in detail written by a single author. A doctoral thesis written as a monograph is structured in various chapters with an introduction and a conclusion, and the PhD-candidate is the sole author. Historically a monograph was the preferred form of doctoral thesis, and it still is in some academic fields”. Antioch University Breakdown15

As a more specific breakdown of the contents of the traditional thesis, specifically in five parts, and making provision at the same time for the empirical and theoretical models, the undermentioned comprehensive description by the Antioch University (AU)15 is very applicable and informative. It reads as follows15:1: General Introductory Introduction Background on the problem Statement of the problem Purpose of the study Research questions Significance of the study Definition of terms Assumptions, limitations, and delimitations Conclusion Review of the literature Introduction Review of the research (organised by variables or themes) Conclusion Methodology (Qualitative) Introduction Research design Research questions Setting Participants Data collection Data analysis, or Methodology (Quantitative) Introduction Research design Research questions and hypotheses Population and sample Instrumentation Data collection Data analysis Conclusion, or Methodology (Mixed) Introduction Research design Research questions and hypotheses Setting and sample Data collection Data analysis Conclusion Research findings Introduction Findings (Organized by research questions or hypotheses) Conclusion Conclusions, discussion, and suggestions for future research Introduction Summary of findings Conclusions (Organized by research questions or hypotheses) Discussion Suggestions for future research Conclusion

The above presentation must be read in the context of the earlier polarisation of the two types of thesis: Today a less rigid classification is observed with the adapting and intertwining by both sides’ elements.

To provide another breakdown, underneath is the one offered by the UNB’s18,19 on the content structures of the traditional thesis and the article-thesis and presence of so-called “irreconcilable” characteristics between the two types, with the two types in Figure 122:1 being compared. Figure 1 reflects a picture of the most opposing elements. This apparently shows that there is a minimum of similarities between the two types of theses: It is this kind of radical juxtaposion that the antagonists of the traditional thesis are using to emphasise why the article-thesis must replace the traditional thesis and as sound evidence to argue for the absolute impossibility of mixing the two.

Figure 1: Comparing the contents structure of the Traditional Thesis and Article-format thesis.22:1

1 Introduction and Outline of the Problem Short overview, descriptions fully in three papers: see also 4-7
2 Introduction to the Overall Topic Include the logical link between the three papers
3 Conceptual or Theoretical Framework
4 Literature Review Included in three papers
5 Methodology Included in three papers
6 Results (Research Findings) Included in three papers
7 Three separate, publishable papers of normal journal article length related to the overall theme

• First Paper

• Second Paper

• Third Paper

8 Summary, Interpretations, Conclusions, Recommendations for Policy and/or Further Research Concluding scholarly discussion of the implications of the integrated findings
9 Resources  Included in three papers
10 Appendices Optional; where applicable: on overall thesis Optional ; where applicable: mostly limited to papers only

 The above descriptions and illustration in Figure 1 may serve as a guide for the aspirant student, aspirant supervisor and aspirant examiner of the article-thesis when they need to make comparisons between the article-thesis and the traditional thesis in order to do the planning of the writing of the article-thesis, but with some prerequisites. Notwithstanding the summary clear, precise differences, it must be emphasised that there is much intertwining and compromising in the present-day research environment and the moderate supporters of the article-thesis have adapted more and more of a mixed model, which seems to be finding approval with the proponents of the traditional thesis, and is playing a strong role in the recruiting of even the hard-line traditionalists to practise the article-thesis in their academic writing and research.15-22

The existence of an intertwining of the two models is already in some way established. It has undoubtedly become a habit to overemphasise the theoretical framework of the article-thesis as a radical deviation from the traditional thesis and its research setup. The practical implications of adopting the article-thesis requires a much more watered-down and easy-going or moderate approach, as opposed to that of many of the antagonists of the article-thesis as well as those of the traditional thesis who claim  in their research that it is absolutely impossible mix the two models.

3.2. The Article-Format Masters and Doctorate

Opposite in some way to the traditional thesis and dissertation, is the article-format thesis and dissertation. From the above overview it is clear that the primary guidelines of the traditional thesis give the aspirant article-format candidate firstly an excellent base as to how he/she must address research in general and specifically; secondly how he/she may selectively  collect research data, analyses and transfer it to various associated journal articles; and thirdly may accomplish the compiling and completion of the article-format thesis.

3.2.1. Other terms for the concept ‘article-format thesis’, as well as the concept ‘article’

As was done with the introduction earlier of the traditional thesis’s various other names that have commonly been used in the academic and research community, it is also necessary to offer here a short introduction to the various other terms for the article-format thesis. These other terms, published mostly in scholarly journals, refer to the article-format thesis as follows: article-based thesis, three-article-thesis, thesis based on the collection or a compendium of articles, thesis of published manuscripts, thesis by publishing, alternative-format thesis, journal-, compilation-, sandwich-, or stapler-thesis and thesis by publishing, publication or manuscripts.5,15,16,20,22-24

Closely related to the article-format thesis is its exclusively built-in entity, namely the article. This research element is also known by other names in scholarly journals as to the compendium of articles, such as the article-thesis. In this research setup the term article  is often replaced by descriptions such as paper, essay, conference paper, or book chapter, depending on the type of handling/process/outcome that is examined or is seen as an evaluation tool.5,15,16,20,22-24

Implicit in the term article-format thesis is the concept article firstly as a description for a published article in an accredited journal; and secondly as a description for a sub-unit or -part that forms with other published journal articles the contents of the article-format thesis. (The term article-format thesis will play a prominent role in the further discussion of this research project of four articles). Going with the two above descriptions article and article-format thesis (although less often used) is the unpublished manuscript that may also, together with other unpublished manuscripts, form the contents of an article-thesis.5,15,16,20,22-24

3.2.2. Overview

The strong research impact and hold of the traditional thesis on the research community at the moment, is often alleged to delay the adoption of any dynamic and constructive research outside the traditional setup. Also is it alleged that the traditional thesis’s workload and research requirements at times overpower the aspirant PhD candidate’s senses and enthusiasm for research, leading to a high dropout of students as well the activation of psychological problems among students. This alleged negative outcome put forward by many supporters of the article-format, is totally avoided by their research style.  Nassi-Cola1 in this context reflects1:3: “…students in the process of writing a thesis [instead of the much-more focused article] is in a very dark place indeed: lost in information, overwhelmed by literature, stuck for the next sentence, seduced by procrastination and wondering why on earth they signed up to this torture at all”.

It is further argued by some of the proponents of the article-format thesis that the lack of being research-orientated and publications later in life, as well as the disappearance from the academic and research radar of Masters and PhD graduates who had obtained their degrees through the traditional approach, can and must be read in terms of this early so-called “academic/research torture” during their traditionally-styled post-graduate studies. Strongly  associated herewith, is the so-called conditioning of “hardships to be suffered” in the traditional-training mindset, that will be rooted in the life-history of the traditional Masters and PhD graduates and block their academic and personal development and progress lifelong.22, 24-25

A retrospective evaluation in terms of the present and the past on the benefits versus the drawbacks of the traditional thesis, is seen not to be done (or even possible) by supervisors of the traditional thesis regarding the later successes versus failures of their students. In practice it means that the public conclusion of the proponents of the traditional thesis as to the “benefits” of this kind of thesis, as well as the successes of these types of graduates in later life, may be false and even outright untested. As said before, no trustworthy research has been done so far to support or to reject the above postulation (but this research has so far not been done on the article-format thesis either). But, the possibility of such an insecure “career-and performance-outcome” of the traditional thesis graduates in the long term — as a direct result of a fatalistic inclination internalised in the mindset of the supporters and the fathers of the traditional thesis – is of “no concern to the consequences of their research-model”, has in some way been projected by Tilghman1 when he posits, that, to later determine the status/excellence of the graduate in terms of his academic title, it is1:4: “…only possible to really evaluate a student at the 25 years reunion. In the end, [it is] the only way you can assess whether the graduates of the program became successful scientists: If they do, you’ve done a good job [with your traditional PhD training]. If they haven’t, you haven’t [done a good job with your program and the program was a failure]”.

Notwithstanding that universities worldwide today allow the option of the alternative thesis format in their norms of post-graduate programmes, the alternative format is not always everywhere easily accepted and practised. Prominent here is the counter-argument by the proponents of the traditional thesis that the article-thesis is of limited usability and only applicable and appropriate for certain kinds of research. The specific argument for this “closed door” policy is based on the alleged significant differences between the areas of knowledge that are being captured in specific faculties of universities with regard to research, the production of journal articles and the publication of such in scientific journals. This cognition is strongly contested by supporters of the article-format thesis: They argue that the outright reason for the hostile stance by proponents of the traditional thesis is coming from their outdated and rigid thinking as to only the disadvantages of the article-thesis. It seems a significant portion of so-called “old-world academics and researchers” are implicated here because of their utter lack of knowledge regarding new developments in research methodology that are turning into imperatives on daily basis as a result of new research needs and demands. These “old-world academics and researchers” have become captivated by rigid, outdated thinking and practices meant to hold the traditional thesis in esteem as an absolutely different entity to the article-thesis which should be rejected outright as lacking in academic, research and scientific foundation. From a critical analysis, it is clear that they base their rejection of the article-thesis only on the few dissimilarities instead of differentiating the two as to their real differences and limitations (or clear pros versus cons).

For many proponents of the article-format thesis, opposing the dominance of the traditional thesis, there is no coherent policy inside many universities regarding alternative research approaches. Firstly, there are: academic bias, lack of knowledge, fear to change to a new way of thinking and doing. Secondly, there is an immense power struggle between a large sector of muchempowered academics and researchers from the so-called old age that are bullying the less-empowered researchers and academics of the new research age. Nassi-Cola1 is of the opinion that this conflict between the new-age researchers versus the old researchers (although she is less outspoken than many of her colleagues) is the primary reason for this  contradictory approach. She also feels that the opposition to the use of the article-format thesis lies in the greater power that  “discretion allowed”  would confer upon certain faculties of universities (with the emphasis again on the power wielded by the older researchers and their associates in these faculties) to decide for themselves: a) if the publishing of journal articles will be allowed; and b) if the article-format thesis may be instituted. Referring to this “discretion” (but undoubtedly the ongoing power enjoyed at faculties by their “conservative” leaderships), she writes1:2-3: “It is known that the areas of Natural Sciences generate more publications than the Social Sciences and Humanities, where the publication of books and book chapters often exceeds that of journal articles. The areas of Computer Science and Engineering have as an important dissemination channel of research results conference proceedings and technical manuals”.

There is no doubt that academics, researchers and the public had positively gained over the years from the traditional-thesis programmes when their study approaches were concise and objective. But today, in light of the inexorably new scientific-research developments, demands and needs, the fact is that these traditional-research instruments are not so popular any more as has been so often argued by their supporters. It is the opinion of many academics and researchers that the traditional theses are less consulted already and are going to be less consulted in the future for information or used as a way to disperse new information than a decade ago. Although this opinion is counter-evidenced by some propenents of the traditional theses — arguing that these kinds of research products are still intensively being read and consulted by students and newly-entered researchers – it seems as if journal articles and article-format theses are independently more read and cited than the traditional theses. In this context of contradiction – and a lack of enthusiasm by most students, researchers and academics to read in-depth published traditional theses – Nassi-Calo1 quoted the following from an editorial of the journal Nature, dated the 7th July 2016, when she posits1:1:“According to one of these often-quoted statistics that should be true but probably isn’t, the average number of people who read a [traditional] PhD thesis all the way through is 1.6. And that includes the author.” Nassi-Calo1 goes further1:1: “The text goes further on questioning what would be the number of [traditional] theses that the typical researcher – and reader of Nature –  has read in full. According to the same editorial, it possibly would not reach the 1.6 benchmark.”

In this context the decline in the reading of the traditional thesis has been confirmed by the fact that the traditional British psychology thesis (a large and thorough document) is rarely read by more than three people after it has been awarded. The traditional dissertation and thesis has indeed become more and more shelved and gathering dust on libraries’ racks.22,24-25

One of the main criticisms against the article-format thesis is its alleged condensed contents, as seemingly reflected in its limited number of pages and words. This clearly moves the in-depth internalised cognition of length to the foreground as a criterion for examiners to evaluate a thesis. (A lack of page and word length for some examiners usually equates to the presence of a so-called “sub-standard” regarding the thesis). It is argued that the unlimited pages of the traditional thesis allow the candidate per se the best opportunity to demonstrate comprehensively his/her research abilities and skills within the historical context of the problem researched, to describe in-depth and in detail the purpose of the study, and thus to  give a comprehensive account of the material in focus so as to reach a credible conclusion. This opinion falls flat fast when it has become clear that the average length of the traditional thesis (most prominently in the USA) is not very long: more or less 200 pages (some proponents of the traditional thesis mentioned themselves that the length may be just 100 pages, and possible another hundred or more).1 This internally condensed page and word form of the traditional thesis, very similar to the article-format thesis in length, is also putting a question mark behind the applicable, comprehensive and true content of the research topic of the traditional thesis and its capacity to lead to a full, trustworthy conclusion and thus to make a significant contribution to modern-day science. In the context of the “length in pages and large numbers of words” as an evidently false criterion to appraise the standard and quality of the traditional thesis as “excellent/passed” or “sub-standard/failed”, Nassi-Cola1 specifically points to the presence of a possible research inability by candidates of the traditional thesis to reduce their theses’ volume and to cut out inapplicable material (just to give it body). About this negative outcome she posits1:2: “…it is difficult to educate students to reduce the theses’ volume, which would make them easier to write, read and appraise”. On their misuse of “fillers” to lengthen the traditional theses, Nassi-Cola1 reflects1:2: “Obviously, the number of pages is not proportional to the quality and originality of the work…”

The above description summarises clearly for many proponents of the article-thesis why this type of thesis is with good reason not only shorter than the traditional thesis, but enunciates for them also its alleged effectiveness and applicability, and why it is growing in preference as a research instrument above the traditional thesis.3

In light of the above seemingly good outcome, it is for the supporters of the article-thesis thus no surprise why some universities worldwide are moving more and more to the article-format modality, to be able to award and to deliver masters and doctorates. Elaborating on this positive development, Nassi-Cola1 writes1:3:

This modality is favourably viewed by researchers and students, as it stimulates the publication of articles, and is less laborious than writing a 200-page thesis. Not that publishing journal articles is an easy task, far from it. The academic community, particularly from developing countries, makes a significant effort to write and publish articles – especially in English – in quality journals. But if the papers are published during the masters or doctorate research, it avoids employing valuable time in writing a traditional style thesis; and

The importance of the topic was evidenced by a workshop organized by the Australian Council of Learned Academics (ACOLA) in Melbourne in January 2016. The meeting, aimed at the reform of the thesis format as part of the review process of research training which is the main purpose of the master’s and doctoral programs.

Since 2016 there has undoubtedly been global growth in the utilisation of the article-format thesis, together with an immense strengthening of efforts to “reform” the traditional master’s and doctoral programmes in various ways. This outcome is seen by many of the proponents of the traditional thesis as a deliberate and orchestrated attack on the traditional masters and doctorate and indeed a steered effort to phase it out. In South Africa it seems at this stage that the status of the traditional thesis is not much negatively affected. The practice of the article-format thesis here mostly still seems to be seen by most academics and researchers as so-called “sub-standard research and as a kind of general contamination of the thesis’s integrity”. In this context, as already stated, the universities in several oversees countries, in order to expedite the phasing-out of the traditional thesis, are opting more and more to allow candidates who have (already) published journal articles during their incoming masters or doctorate research, to place directly and in original form some of the traditional thesis’s chapters with these published articles. (Note: At this stage it seems as if the intent to publish later on some risky unpublished manuscripts, or to replace directly and in original form some of the traditional thesis’s chapters with such unpublished manuscripts, does not attract much attention).

In practice these (already) published articles are (as a stamp of approval) each one essentially a complete kind of mini-dissertation or -thesis: each headed by an introduction, a review of the scientific literature, conclusions and references, etc. In this context of adapting information to a new form or format (as a published article) for presentation in a thesis (article-thesis), Nassi-Cola1 – specifically on the guidelines of being ablo or allowed to do it, together with the official sanctioning of it as acceptable and correct – writes1:3: “The criteria to judge which articles can replace the wording of the thesis is in charge of the graduate programs coordination. CAPES, the body that assesses graduate courses throughout Brazil, recognizes this modality of theses, as well as FAPESP and Research Foundations from other states, for scholarship and grant purposes.”

An excellent example favouring the article-format thesis, is the situation at the Karolinska Institute (KI) (an institute with university status), in Stockholm, Sweden. There, since 2016, most of the theses have comprised the compilation of articles published by students into article-theses. After the compilation of these articles it is supplemented by a discussion by a 50-page-volume with the aim to lend credence to it as a good research-instrument.1 Nassi-Calo posits:1:3 “In the view of the leaders of this institution, the [article-format] publication should be an important part of master’s and doctorate academic training, since it enables candidates to enter the research career.”

In supporting the advent of the article-format thesis, the NTNU21 states that the collection or compendium of articles is the most common type of thesis for the masters and doctorate in Nordic countries today. Evidence is further there that the choice of the article-format is becoming increasingly common in fields that have previously been dominated by the monograph masters and doctorate. Although the UA6 and the University of South Alabama (USA)7 state that the option of the article-format thesis is only available to students in certain fields whose graduate faculty have determined it to be an appropriate option, the UAin reality allows an ongoing broad right of registration for it. These fields are manifold at the UA,6:2 spreading out to most of its faculties, like Architecture, Fine Arts, Humanities, Accountancy, Applied Statistics, Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, Chemical, Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Computer, Social, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering,  Agricultural, Bio-, Biology, Environment, Nutrition, Medical, Health, Physical-Education and Dentistry Sciences, Geodynamics and Geophysics, Chemistry, Ecology, Physics, Management, Marketing, Finance, Economics, Psychology, etc.1,6,7

3.2.3. Prerequisites, rules, discretions and traditions guiding the writing of the article-format thesis

Two approaches may be followed to impart information on how you can or may write an article-format masters and doctorate (or as some universities said in the enforcement of their rules: Should instead of can and may) to the aspirant student, to supervise an article-thesis by the aspirant supervisor and how to assess an article-thesis by the examiner. The one is the Open-guide Approach (See under subdivision and the other is the Closed-guide Approach that will be discussed in depth in the next article, tilted: “How to write and supervise the article-masters and -doctorate”.

In this article the Open-guide Approach reflects a collection of various universities’ expert-advices, rules, regulations and stipulations as locked into their writing guidelines of article-theses. A general, broad extraction was done by me for this article from the various frameworks of these universities to put together the consecutive steps prescribed by the various universities on how the writing of the article-thesis, as embedded in their guidelines, may, can or should be done. The important elements that are driving the consecutive steps to be followed in the compiling and writing of the article-thesis, were selected and focussed on. Similarities and differences in advices, rules and stipulations in the various guidelines were described in depth. In this way it was attempted to offer, in general, the aspirant student and aspirant supervisor of the article-thesis, besides preparing them in the writing of the article-thesis, different views on what is going on at present in the research culture around the article-thesis and the possibilities as to what is possible and permitted in executing the compiling and writing of the article-thesis.

Regarding specifically the contents of the Open-guide Approach, it, as has been said, reflects various clear prerequisites, rules discretions and traditions that are in place to direct the compiling and the writing of the article-format thesis. These guidelines, mostly focussing on the structure of the contents of the article-format thesis, spells out clearly the various and possible paths to follow pertaining to the aspirant student. Included in such guidelines is a juxtaposition of the differences as well as the similarities between the article-format and traditional thesis. These university guidelines are not uniform: what is absolute for the one university, is not essential for another university. For the aspirant student, aspirant supervisor and aspirant examiner it is very important to note these prerequisites, rules, discretions and traditions in general as well as specifically to make them well-educated on the various models of the article-thesis, as well as to prepare students on how to evaluate the universities they are considering to enrol at and how their needs and demands in their intention to do the article-thesis, are being met or not. As mentioned, in this way it was assured that they would be informed in a very constructive way of how universities are seeing the the article-thesis and the clear rules put in place by them on how the article-thesis can, may and should be executed.

To define the Structure of the article-format thesis, as guided later in Article Two of the series by the framework of the Closed-guide Approach, the Open-guide Approach needed the following: Firstly, to be described as an inclusive introduction that offers comprehensive information and guidance; and, secondly, to lay a sound foundation on how to compile and to write the article-thesis as required by the Closed-guide Approach.

The second approach, the Closed-guide Approach — which lacks the comprehensive description and analysis of the manifold prerequisites, rules, discretions and traditions of the Open-guide Approach — will be reflected as said, later on in a summary, based on eighteen universities’ guidelines that will primarily describe the consecutive steps to be followed in the writing of the article-thesis. It will be done in the next article, entitled: “How to write and supervise the article-masters and -doctorate”. Open-guide Approach

In this division the manifold prerequisites, rules, discretions and traditions unique to the article-format thesis, as well as the elements and/or concepts associated with it, are comprehensively elaborated. They are offered under the following ten subdivisions: 1. Formatting; 2. The concepts of recognized international peer-reviewed, accredited or listed journals and the appropriateness and selectiveness of journals; 3. Coherence and sequence-connection of a thesis’s selective articles; 4. Authorship; 5. Approaches to and prerequisites for the examination of a thesis; 6. Enrolment for the thesis program as a prerequisite for title and topics registration and writing outputs; 7. Number of articles published before final examination; 8. Enrolment deadlines and the formal duration of thesis studies; 9. Word and page-length of the article-thesis; and 10. Minimum and maximum number of articles prescribed for the article-thesis.

  1. Formatting

One of the key differences between a monograph-based and article-based thesis is in the formatting, as posited by the University of Texas Arlington (UTA)20. The UTA20, in this context, reflects20:3:

An article-based document may contain manuscripts written to conform to the standards of their intended publishers.  With few exceptions these formats can be preserved in the thesis or dissertation, even if the format varies somewhat between the manuscripts. In contrast, monograph-based theses or dissertations are required to follow a University-defined format throughout. With few exceptions, the UT Arlington’s format requirement for monograph-style theses and dissertations is they must be formatted in a consistent manner that follows the standards of the writer’s field of study.

On the formatting element, the University of Johannesburg (UJ)8 describes the theses, offered in article- or essay-format, as follows8:208: “A dissertation or thesis by collection of articles or essays consists of a collection of a number of pieces of work which (a) may exhibit some degree of independence or stand-alone viability, while (b) contributing to a central theme, and (c) are presented as a coherent whole in one volume, with introductory, conclusory and connective material as necessary.”

The UA6:1 defines the format of their “article style” thesis which is offered, as follows6:1: “At the doctoral level, “article-style” dissertations are unified works that include several distinct but closely related studies of research or creative activity, each of which is of publishable quality.

The NTNU’s21 description of the article-format thesis’s contents, as reflected in its structure, reads21:1-2:

Collection of articles is the most common type of thesis at NTNU today and it is becoming increasingly common in fields that have previously been dominated by the monograph. There are few absolute requirements in the PhD regulations as concerns this kind of thesis and a lot will therefore depend on the individual thesis and the norms in the field as concerns number of articles, length of summary-article, etc.


When a thesis consists of several shorter papers [other than the traditional “long paper” of the traditional thesis], the thesis must include clarification concerning how they are interrelated. Such a clarification is often called a summary article.

Specifying further the meaning of the so-called “journal format” that their theses are rooted in, the UA6 states6:1:

“A “journal-format” dissertation or thesis is acceptable. Such a dissertation or thesis follows the format of a particular journal in which the student and advisor want to publish the manuscript. To prepare a journal-format dissertation or thesis, the student uses the journal’s “information for authors” or similarly titled guidelines in conjunction with the [UA] Graduate School’s Student Guide to prepare Electronic Theses and Dissertations”.

The UTA20, in a more comprehensive approach on the formatting issue, describes the article-based thesis as follows20:2-3

The article-based thesis or dissertation contains chapters that contain complete manuscripts which may be in preparation for publication, in press, or published. The original purpose for writing these manuscripts may or may not have been to satisfy current master’s or doctoral degree requirements. Nonetheless, they may be used to demonstrate the author’s capacity for independent scholarship and his or her contribution to knowledge.

Coherence across the chapters of article-based theses or dissertations is of mayor concern because the thesis/dissertation must not be a collection of unrelated manuscripts. The manuscripts must address related issues. Careful selection of manuscripts and convincing, incisive introductory and concluding chapters are required in order to show readers how the articles relate to each other and contribute to the central theme of the thesis/dissertation. The common theme or problem that the manuscripts address is identified and discussed in an introductory chapter. A final concluding chapter discusses the theme or problem in light of the information contained in the manuscripts and provides an opportunity for the writer to explore the broader implications of the work. In the article-based option the chapters are entire research papers as prepared or accepted for publication.

With specific further reference to the formatting styles of the  article-based and monograph-based thesis as prescribed by the UTA20, and the key differences between the two models, its guidelines read that, in additional to the formatting style provided by its electronic template, the detailed style choices for the article-format thesis also include the formatting styles of the  article-based and monograph-based thesis as required by well-known journals in the major field or a style described in one of several different style guides. The examples offered by the UTA20 of widely-used style guides which are included in this ruling, are20:4:

  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
  • MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses and Dissertations.
  • Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.
  • The ACS Style Guide.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style.
  • Scientific Style and Format: The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors and Publishers.

To assist and further support the execution of the above outcomes, the formatting of the article-based thesis should for the UTA20 contain manuscripts written to:20:4 “…conform to the standards of the intended publishers, and that with few exceptions these formats can be preserved in the thesis even if the format varies somewhat between manuscripts”. The only change required to be made by rules of the UTA20 on the initial writing contents of the journal articles, is that the page numbers of the manuscript must be changed so that the paging continues consecutively throughout the article-based thesis: starting up with page one for the first page of chapter one and running consecutively on till the last page of the final chapter. (In contrast to this, the students enrolled for the monograph-based theses, must follow a very rigid UTA20-defined format throughout, meaning the theses had to be20:4: “… formatted in a consistent manner that follows the standards writer’s field/faculty of study”). Note here again the earlier description of the manuscript and article, and the significant difference between the use of the manuscript and the use of the published article in article-theses.

The UNCC5 is far less rigid and strict on the style in which to format the article(s) and the article-format dissertation or thesis. It states clearly that the student is allowed to follow the format of the particular journal in which the student and his advisor have or want to publish the article(s).

Also, the University of New Brunswick (UNB)18,19 which is less restrictive on the writing style as prescribed by other universities, states19:3: “Reflecting the desire to construct a “coherent’ thesis document, the writing style of the Introductory Chapter, the Bridging Sections, and Final Chapter should reflect as much as is possible the compact writing style associated with journal publications. In no way does this mean that completeness should be compromised for compactness. However, the entire thesis should be a concise, coherent development of an argument.”

On the formatting of the article-thesis and -dissertation, the UA6 further guides the aspirant student and supervisor on the style to be used, as follows6:2:

As with regular dissertations, students must select a prominent style guide appropriate to their field of study and whose provisions must be applied to the manuscript as a whole. When individual articles have been prepared for or accepted by journals for publication, and the articles have been prepared using the author and style guide issued by the journal(s), the articles must be revised as appropriate to conform with the overall style of “A Student Guide to Preparing Theses and Dissertations” before submission to the Graduate School as a dissertation. The chosen style must be applied consistently across all articles with reference to any exceptions from the specific provisions of “A Student Guide to Preparing Theses and Dissertations”.

Hereto the UJ 8, on the style of referencing in the individual essays or articles, states otherwise, namely that it will be determined by the requirements of the identified journal where the essay or article will be submitted for publication. At UJ8 it is only the style of referencing in the introduction and conclusions that must follow standard guidelines, as set by the university’s individual faculties.

At the North-West University (NWU)26-31, South Africa, the style of reference of Harvard, American Psychological Association (APA) and the Legal References Styles are underwritten but not prescribed, while various other reference styles are also commonly used, like that of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) or the Ottawa Style, etc. in all its types of publications, especially the theses. The ICMJE is preferred by many authors/students of medical publications and is prescribed by many medical/science journals worldwide. Many medical journals specifically underwrite the reference style of the ICMJE because of its “streamlining” and “easing” of the reading of the contents of publications by only reflecting the sources in small numbers at the top of the page.26-31

1.1. Two examples of universities with comprehensive requirements and prescriptions on style and formatting

Some universities have long lists of requirements and specifications regarding the style and formatting to be followed strictly by the aspirant candidates for the article-format thesis or dissertation. The same policy is followed by many accredited journals for publishing articles. This technical layout and formatting can be complicated, even for the seasoned supervisor. Although many private publishers today are taking care of the technical preparation of journals and theses regarding the implementing of the correct styling and formatting, for a fee, it is still the primary duty of students to set the basic framework and data collection, interpretation and writing of their research-projects on their own in the concept-thesis. This urgency and independence in research knowhow makes it imperative for every student and supervisor to have an in-depth understanding of the styles and formats as practised and followed by universities as well as journals.

On what is needed to make a thesis’s style and formatting compliant with universities’ requirements and prescriptions, it was decided to include here as an extra subdivision two universities’ prescriptions, because they have given much attention to the formatting aspect of the article-thesis and because their guidelines are highly informative. As examples we have selected the guidelines of two universities, namely the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN25 and UTA20. In reflecting this, comprehensive use has been made of direct quotations.

UKZN25 offers a specific set of formatting to be followed. It reads25:6-7:

  1. Font: Times New Roman 11pt should be used throughout the thesis. However, major headings may be made bigger (12pt) but using the same font type
  2. Paper size and margins: A4 (297 x 210 mm) should be used and in the final thesis both sides of the paper should be used. However, the loose bound copy submitted for examination should be printed on only one side. The recommended margins are 30mm for all the left, right, top and bottom margins.
  3. Line spacing: The copy submitted for examination should have 1.5 line-spacing but the final copy should have single line spacing. Paragraphs should be separated by a blank line. Published or submitted manuscripts should remain in their original format in all aspects as they are inserted in their published format in appropriate places.
  4. Headings: A consistent numbering system and captions should be maintained with first level being in CAPS and centred, second level being normal bold font and third level being italics bold. If there is need for 4th level it should be normal italics.
  5. Pagination: Page numbers should be centred at the bottom of the page. All preliminary pages should be numbered in lower case Roman numerals and subsequent pages should be numbered consecutively in this style. The title page should not be numbered.
  6. Body: The body of the thesis (chapter 1 onwards) should be numbered consecutively with Arabic numerals. The numbers should continue consecutively from the introduction through the through the publications or submitted manuscripts and subsequent sections. The published papers will therefore bear two numbers: a set specific to the manuscript (it is recommended to place these in the upper right-hand corner) or published paper, as well as the consecutive numbers belonging to the thesis as a whole. Care must be taken to distinguish these in terms of position and font.
  7. Referencing: Supervisors have the freedom to decide the type of citation of references but there must be consistency. This is mainly applicable to the standard type of thesis. In the case of thesis by manuscripts or publications, individual papers will maintain the reference system of the journal but the supervisor can decide on the type of referencing for the introductory and synthesis chapters.

UTA20 is more comprehensive in its description of formatting than the UKZN25. The page-spacing and page-layout of UTA20 for the article-style thesis reads as follows20:7-8:

  • Pages must be equivalent to 8½ x 11-inches (letter size). Pages with figures and tables that do not fit optimally in “portrait” position may be set in “landscape” position (11” x 8.5”.),
  • When creating the PDF file, make certain all fonts and symbols are embedded.
  • The text should be double-spaced. The same line spacing must be used throughout the document except in the following cases where writers may choose to use either a single or double spacing. The decision to single or double space must be followed every time these cases reoccur in the thesis or dissertation
  • Block quotations, lists in text and table and figure titles can be single-spaced.
  • Appendices: Spacing in appendices will depend upon the nature of the material. Line spacing in appendices may differ from the spacing in the text and may also differ across different appendices.
  • Footnotes may be single-spaced and a single space should separate each footnote on a page.
  • Endnotes may be single-spaced with single spacing of text between the notes.
  • Reference Section may use the same spacing of the text throughout or single space.
  • Figure and Table Titles: It is recommended that they be single-spaced to help differentiate them from text.

On the numbering and the placement of pages in the dissertation or thesis, the UTA20 guideline advises 20:8:

Page numbering begins with the first page of the Body of the document [Chapter One’s first page]. All pages beginning with page one and continuing to the last page of the thesis or dissertation must be numbered consecutively with Arabic s (1, 2, 3, 4, …etc.). Pages prior to the first page of the body of the text need not be numbered. However, if these pages are numbered, they should be numbered with Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, …etc.).

Page numbers must be placed in the same location on all numbered pages. Numbers may be placed at the top right corner, bottom right corner, or bottom centre. Only the appropriate Arabic (or Roman) number is to be placed in the location selected for page numbers. Page numbers must not contain text Arabic (or Roman) number is to be placed in the location selected or other symbols.

Page numbers on landscape pages must appear in the same location as portrait pages. Type “portrait page number to a landscape page” along with the name and version of the word processing program you are using into a search engine for instructions on how to do this.

The UTA20 guidelines are also very useful and informative on other technical outputs, like the use of margins, fonts and figures, illustrations, etc.

On the prescription of margins, UTA20 states that all margins must be a minimum of 1-inch, these margins must be the same size throughout the thesis or dissertation and that charts, maps, and other illustrative material must fit within the selected margins. Regarding the font chosen, the guideline states that any 10 or 12-point font, except for italic, or ornamental or script is acceptable, while Times New Roman or Arial are the preferred font styles. What is important, is that the one font size and style must be chosen and used throughout the dissertation or thesis. In the case of footnotes, end notes, figure captions, large tables, and appendices – as long as they remain legible – smaller font sizes may be used, but fonts smaller than 7 are never considered legible.20

On the use of figures, illustrations, diagrams, drawings, paintings, photographs and graphs, the guidelines of UTA20 further inform and instruct20:8-9:

Figures are also referred to as illustrations. Diagrams, drawings, paintings, photographs, graphs are labelled as figures. Tables list information in an organized array of rows and columns.

Material presented in figures or tables MUST fit within the required margins of the thesis/dissertation. They must not extend past left, right, top, or bottom margins.

Tables or figures which are too long or too wide for a single page may continue on the next page. The continued material should be labelled with the word Table or Figure, followed by the table or figure number and the abbreviation (Cont.). All column and row headings for tables must be repeated on each continued page.

Figures and tables are often inserted into the body of text of text near the text that makes reference to them. If included in the body of the text, a figure should be placed as closed as possible to the first reference made to it. However, inserting figures or tables into the body of the text is NOT required. With the approval of the supervising committee, figures and tables may be grouped at the end of each chapter or at the end of the Main Body.

Elaborating on the above requirements that must be met if Figures and Tables are presented in a grouped format, the UTA20 specifically describes the lay-out approach as follows20:9:

  • Do not insert some figures and/or tables into the text and group others at the end of chapters. Group all figures and tables or do not group any of them.
  • Do not use figures or table “call outs” (e.g., <Place Figure 1.3 about here> or <Place Table 3.2 about here>anywhere in the thesis or dissertation.
  • If figures and tables are presented at the end of the chapter, they must be grouped in the order they occur in the text. Do not group together by type. If the figure is followed by a table in the text, the figure should be followed by the table when presented at the end of the chapter.
  • When figures and tables are grouped at the end of a chapter within the main text, they are considered a section of that chapter and should be given the appropriate section heading, such as “Figures.” “Tables.” “Figures and Tables.”
  • If figures and tables are grouped at the end of the main text instead of at the end of chapters within the text, they are to be collected in a separate chapter or Appendix which is number and given an appropriate title, such as “Figures”, Tables,” or “Figures and Tables.”
  • Each figure or table may be placed on separate pages.
  • Several figures or tables may be placed on a single page as long as they remain legible.

Regarding the use of Headings, referring here to chapters’ title headings, section headings, etc., the guidelines of the UTA20:9 emphasises that it must be formatted consistently. For instance, the headings of chapters — their titles — are always presented at the top centre of a new page. Regarding the use of subheadings, is it up to the author/student to decide to use or not to use it. But when using subheadings, it can be numbered by level. During the use of headings, and where applicable subheadings, it is important to give attention to the format of it, such as bolding, capitalizing, and numbering, and to assure that these practices are followed throughout the thesis or dissertation. Note: It is not necessary to list subsections in the Table of Contents.

On the compiling of the Appendices embedded in the Back Matter, the UTA-guidelines20 state that20:10: a) Each appendix must start on a new page; and b) The appendices should be labelled alphabetically, starting as Appendix A, Appendix B, Appendix C, etc. Each of these appendices may be given a subtitle to identify its content clearly, for instance “Appendix A: Figure and Tables.” Further, on the setting out of the appendices, it provides the following guidance 20:10:

  • The label is centred on the first page of an appendix.
  • The title of the appendix should be centred and placed two lines beneath the label.
  • The title should be double spaced if it is more than one line in length.
  • Information included in the appendix begins on the second page of the appendix.
  • The next appendix begins on a new page.
  • The page number of the first page in the first Appendix follows consecutively from the last page from the body of the text and is an Arabic number.
  • Additional details on the background, methods, procedures, data, etc., may be included in appendices embedded in a chapter containing an article.

Although an appendix or a set of appendices are not required as part of the structure of a thesis/dissertation, it may well be used to present relevant material when the material is not suitable for inclusion in the body of the document. Here the items that might be included are raw data, detailed tables for presentation in the text, computer programs, technical notes on methods, schedules and forms used in the collecting of materials, the copies of documents which are not generally available to the reader of the document, case studies too long to put in the text and others. It is up to the author to choose if the appendices are placed at the end of each chapter or in the Back Matter.20:10

References, reflecting all the sources cited, can be presented in reference lists:  either at the end of each chapter separately of the Main Text, or all the references of the thesis/dissertation as a whole, can be presented in one list in the Back Matter-section of the document.  Specifically on the handling of the List of Citations at the end of the thesis/ dissertation, the UTA20:9-10 guides that it should begin on a new page with the section heading centred, and, while its heading is listed like a chapter title in the Table of Contents, the citation list should not be given a chapter number. Hereto the page numbers on the lists of citations that occur at the end of the thesis/dissertation must continue the sequence as followed in the Main Text, as well as the Appendices if there are any. The citations must be preceded by a subheading or heading, for example the common headings may include descriptions such as “Literature Cited,” “References,” or “Bibliography.”20:9-10

1.2. The concepts of recognized international peer-reviewed, accredited or listed journals and the appropriateness and selectiveness of journals

Notwithstanding a clear and precise requirement by most universities that the journal articles included in the article-format thesis must be “accredited”, “listed” or ”refereed”, some universities frequently refer to these accredited journals exclusively to be “international journals” and “recognized international peer-reviewed journals”, as specifically done by the NTNU21. For example, its requirement of “publishing” of so-called “accredited or listed journals” states that it must be of international standing. Its Faculty of Architecture and Fine Art specifically describes this requirement as21:2: “…international journal”, its Faculty of Engineering Science and Technology, as well as Faculty of Medicine describe the requirement as21:2: “…recognized international peer-reviewed journals”. Hereto most universities are vague on the so-called classification of journals in terms of location, place or country, or about the classification local versus global and the national versus international standing of journals, besides that it must be simply a listed journal.  These reflect very confusing rulings or pre-requisites: firstly, because there does not exist for instance a universal, global official registration/certification body to make a local listed American journal a so-called American or South African “international” journal without being biased or subjective. Secondly, the difference between international and national seems in practice to be embedded in the concept that a local journal is simply classed as a national journal and an overseas one as an international journal, depending on the country you are living in.

Regarding the establishment of accredited or listed journals in South Africa, there exists a well-established system under the guardianship of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in the keeping of a general list of accredited journals, nationally and internationally, which is at all times available to the public, universities and their staff to  select journals from. This DHET list is updated annually and published on the DHET’s website. Six groupings of lists exist under the DHET, namely the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), The Journal Citation Reports of ISI (the ISI Web of Social Science or WOS), consisting of Science Citation Index, Social Science Citation Index and Arts and Humanities Index, the Norwegian List, the SciELO SA List, the Scopus List, and the DHET List. In addition, all universities have their own Department of Research Support to oversee all their staff’s research done yearly and to control that all the accredited journal articles, published by their staff, are registered immediately after publication with the DHET, for the payment of subsidies to universities after two years of the publications at a fee of R120 000 for national publications and R124 000 for international publications.32-34

1.2.1. The who’s and whose in the selection of accredited journals

At most of the universities the right to select the accredited journals to publish in by the candidate is not a free process, thus often leaving the candidate not a free choice to select the journal(s). The University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC)5 for instance requires that the journals, to submit a draft article to, must be pre-approved by the UNCC’s5 advisory committee. This includes their somewhat confusing ruling that5:2: “The committee should assist in the identifying and the choosing of refereed journals that will both challenge the student as well as offer a reasonable chance of publication success.”

Research shows that the right of the supervisors to select on behalf of the aspirant student the journals he or she may publish in, is very controversial and is often one of the main reasons why article-theses failed to realise in the end. Investigation shows that for many of the journals selected by the supervisors and the members of the supervisory committee, the supervisors as well as the members of the supervisory committees often plaintively failed to publish in successfully themselves. In this respect, it is often clear that the supervisors have poor records of publishing themselves in accredited journals, while their PhDs are overwhelmingly the traditional-thesis type, stripped from published articles. Even after graduation most supervisors failed to publish in accredited journals. Also, because of their own limited publishing of articles in accredited journals, and thus their accompanying research ignorance and artlessness, many of them are very much attached to the one-by-one publishing approach of articles in different, unrelated journals, instead of steering the three or more articles that form the basis of the article-thesis through a series/project at one journal alone. These sub-standard research abilities and experience of the supervisors, especially around strategy and project planning that are essential elements for executing the article-thesis, have often created the situation where they lack the cardinal knowhow that the collection of the same kinds of articles (style, formatting, contents, etc.)  published in one journal, form the best basis for the article-thesis, as well as ensuring that the publishing time is speeded up. The doing of research in terms of the project approach, where all the articles of the planned article-thesis are published in one journal, is a new challenge to many of the supervisors as they are not at all in-time “research-matured and experienced”. Also, they lack a pre-publishing agreement with an accredited journal to ensure that presented articles, after handing in, are fast reviewed and published, making them all ready on short notice and available for incorporation into the article-thesis before the date of examination. Such a constructive and well-planned research inclination would eliminate the habit of sub-standard students and supervisors to hand in theses based on a set of manuscripts that are still not published and may fail in the end, to undermine the integrity of the article-thesis.5

No-one will object to the universities’ cautioning that candidates20:2: “…generally should be guided by disciplinary-based standards regarding academic writing and the all-time guidance of their supervising committees”; and universities’ strict warning as to their prescribed steered examination process which may still entail failing18:1: “Mere adherence to these guidelines does not infer acceptance of the thesis. Once written following these guidelines, the thesis is subject to approval and acceptance procedures set down by the School of Graduate Studies for Masters and Doctoral theses. Nothing in these guidelines limits the role of the Examining Committee as final arbitrator for the thesis.” These kinds of statements that are issued in terms of the universities’ prescribed quality-assurance-charter, which is overseen and executed at all times by the universities’ supervisors, supervising committees, faculties, etc., are understandable because it represents the interest of the universities in awarding the degree. But it may also be regarded as autocratic and undemocratic, emanating from the Middle-Age-university, and manifesting itself in the twenty-first century. Here we undoubtedly have some bullying and the violation of the academic and research rights of a student present when a university writes 20:2: “…that it is its exclusively policy and that of the student’s supervising committee to solely determine if a monograph-based or article-based format is appropriate or not for a student”, without offering a clear fact or other form of evidence to say on what grounds this decision is made. The same can be said when a university’s rules read that the general style and format of a thesis or dissertation, including footnotes, and bibliographies must20:4: “…conform to the style and format appropriate to the writer’s discipline [meaning faculty where the student is enrolled] and that the supervising committees determine the details of the format and styles that shall be followed”.

If the above kinds of statements are read with the evidence often reflecting the inexperience and under-trained academic staff who are simply unable to manage, to supervise and to successfully deliver a large contingent of article-format dissertations and theses, it becomes worrying. We also have to keep in mind – especially the older – academic and research-staff’s addiction to the the traditional dissertation and their sheltering behind the traditional dissertation’s and thesis’s writing culture to escape their duties as researchers.5-7,18-25

The fundamental problem is one of hanging on to rigid, prescribed and suppressing rules, often emanating from an outdated and dying old-academic culture that is still rigidly, blindly and foolishly used to guarantee so-called traditional, old-world academic and research standards and qualities. In this context one senior academic and a director of research at a South African university said to me that the article-thesis is not a real thesis and that he/she does not like it at all, and if he/she supervised such a thesis he/she would require that it must be styled through-out on the foundation of the traditional thesis: from the first chapter to the last chapter! Another director of a research school even said that he/she would not allow such a thesis in his/her school if it could be avoided. There is no doubt that this outdated research policy is maintained entirely at the cost of modern-day highly intelligent and innovative students, dynamic and creative persons who can think constructively and independently for themselves.

Many PhD and master students will tell you of occasions when an inexperienced academic and sub-standard researcher and a not-so-clever supervisor, consumed by self-importance and a sense of institutional power, told them: “You do it my way or you are out of the University.”

The alleged basis/reason for the failure of some students to ever obtain the PhD degree or who stall long in study before obtaining the degree because they are not “ready to undertake responsible and constructive post-graduate studies” and need “extreme, constant supervision and rules” (as is often foolishly argued by the old guard of academics), may often be traced back to the students’ defective graduate studies, the lack of exposure to advanced research and inadequate supervisors. This failure is a faculty fault and not so much a student fault: the present emphasis on Black Academic Research Economic Empowerment (BAREE) at universities is going to strength and enlarge this failure.  As already said, the outright academic and research shortcomings of many teaching academics and researchers, making them not skilled and able supervisors for both the article-format and the traditional thesis and dissertation, are mostly the grounds for this failure. For the new and young Albert Einstein there is undoubtedly not always a secure place in the South African Modern-day-Middle-Age-Academia and the incoming BAREE.20

  • The next article, titled: “How to position the article-format masters and doctorate in the Modern-day Research culture and environment of South Africa: Part 2”, will continue the description and discussion of the above section Open-guide Approach’s other eight subsections, namely: 3. Coherence and sequence connection of a thesis’s selective articles; 4. Authorship; 5. Approaches to and prerequisites for the examination of a thesis; 6. Enrolment for the thesis programme as a prerequisite for title and topics registration and writing outputs; 7. Number of articles published before final examination; 8. Enrolment deadlines and the formal duration of thesis studies; 9. Word and page-length of the article-thesis; and 10. Minimum and maximum number of articles prescribed for the article-thesis.25-44

4. Conclusions

It is clear from the article above and the research overview reflecting on the various rules and regulations regulating and managing the formatting, styles, study setting, etc., of the article-thesis and dissertation, that certain universities indeed rigidly prescribe certain stylistic and format rules to determine and to steer the writing of the article-format master/dissertation and doctorate/thesis. On the other hand, there are many alternatives, as evidenced by less rigidly-driven and rule-enslaved universities which offer candidates the opportunity to approach their studies with spontaneity and enthusiasm, free from a “bullying” research culture. This outcome leaves us thankfully with the reality that there is still worldwide no one-size-fits-all format to which all article-format theses and dissertations at must conform to.1-36

The current advent of the article-thesis and -dissertation in our research environment, seems to find itself to some extent in a “research no-man’s-land”. It seems it may sometimes be bolstered by a strong independent academic and research environment, but at the same time is not always allowed to enjoy total independence as a research entity. To really blossom, it needs the maximum support of the established old-academic and research environment to  make a dynamic breakthrough.

The next related article (Number 2), entitled: “How to position the article-format masters and doctorate in the Modern-day Research culture and environment of South Africa: Part 2”,  will continue to provide a general understanding and grounding for the aspirant student who is planning to write an article-format master (dissertation) or doctorate (thesis), as well as for the aspirant supervisor who intends to oversee this alternative research format and the aspirant examiner who wants to assess the article-thesis.

5. References


  1. Nassi-Calo L. Theses and dissertations: pros and cons of the traditional and alternative formats. [Internet]. [Cited 2020 Dec. 20]. Available from
  2. The past, present and future of the PhD thesis. Nature. 2016, vol.535. no.7610. pp.7-7. DOI: 10.1038/535007a
  3. Gold J. What’s the point of the PhD thesis? Nature. 2016, vol.535, no 7610, pp.26-28. DOI: 10.1038/535026a
  4. Burrough-Boenisch J. PhD thesis: Being more open about PhD papers. 2016, Vol. 536, no 7616, pp. 274-274. DOI: 10. 1038/536274b
  5. University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC). Three Articles Dissertation Guidelines, 2019-2020. [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Jan. 17]. Available from
  6. University of Alabama (UA). Article-style dissertations. [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Jan. 212]. Available from and Dissertations/Article-style-Dissertation.html/
  7. University of South Alabama (USA). Guide for preparing theses and dissertations. [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Jan. 10]. Available from
  8. University of Johannesburg (UJ). Guidelines on theses or dissertations in article or essay format. [Internet]. [Cited 2018 Dec. 20]. Available from
  9. Walden University (WU). What’s the difference between a PhD and a professional doctoral degree. [Internet]. [Cited 2020 Jan. 9]. Available from what-s-the-difference-between-a-phd-and-a-professional-doctoral/
  10. Discover PhDs. [Internet]. [Cited 2020 Jan. 9]. Available from–s-the-difference-between-a-dissertation-and-a-thesis/
  11. Definition of Master by Merriam-Webster. [Internet]. [Cited 2020 Jan. 9]. Available from
  12. Doctorate – Wikipedia. [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Jan. 9]. Available from
  13. [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Jan. 9]. Available from
  14. [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Jan. 9]. Available from https://en.m.
  15. Antioch University. Writers’ Exchange: The dissertation – Chapter breakdown. [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Jan. 9]. Available from
  16. European/International Joint Initiative (EIJI): PhD in Social Representation and Communication. The ‘three papers’ format of PhD thesis. [Internet]. [Cited 2018 Jan. 9]. Available from
  17. Information on article format dissertation and theses. [Internet]. [Cited 2019 Jan. 9]. Available from
  18. University of New Brunswick (UNB). Guidelines for preparation of articles format theses/dissertations. [Internet]. [Cited 2019 Jan. 9]. Available from
  19. School of Graduate Studies, University of New Brunswick (UNB). Regulations and Guidelines for the Preparation and Submission of Graduate Theses and Reports. [Internet]. [Cited 2019 Jan. 9]. Available from
  20. University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). Article-Based Theses or Dissertations. [Internet]. [Cited 2019 Dec. 20]. Available from
  21. Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Thesis types – Collection of articles and Monograph-PhD. [Internet]. {Cited 2012 June 4]. Available from
  22. Richard M Fairbanks School of Public Health, Indiana University (IU). Guidelines for the Dissertation of Three Publishable Papers. [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from
  23. Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB), Department of Social Statistics. The ‘three paper’ PhD thesis: a guide for the perplexed, February 2003 1(0). [Internet]. [Cited 2019 Jan. 13]. Available from
  24. University of Sussex (US). School of Psychology. Article Format for PhD Thesis. May 2014. [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from…/guidelines-for-article-format-theses.doxc/
  25. University of KwaZulu (UKZN). Guidelines for Presentation of Masters and PhD Dissertations/Theses by Research. [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from [See also: Guidelines for Presentation of Masters and PhD Dissertations/Theses by Research: College of Health Sciences (CHS) Handbook; and:]
  26. North West University (NWU). Calendar of the School for Postgraduate Studies, Faculty of Arts, Potchefstroom Campus; Potchefstroom: NWU; 2016.
  27. Van der Walt, EJ. Quoting Sources. Potchefstroom: North-West University; 2006.
  28. North West University (NWU). Manual for Master’s and Doctoral Studies 2016. [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from

  1. North West University (NWU). Templates for Postgraduates. [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from
  2. Australasian Medical Journal (AMJ). Author Guidelines. [Internet]. [Cited 2016 March 18]. Available from
  3. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). Author Guidelines. [Internet]. [Cited 2016 Mar 18]. Available from
  4. Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) Accredited Journals. Available from
  5. Stellenbosch University (SU). Research-Development. Available from
  6. African Journal of Educational Research (AJER). Available from
  7. University of New England (UNE). Journal-Article-Format for PhD Theses at UNE. [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from
  8. Indiana University (IU). Guidelines for the Dissertation of Three Publishable Papers. [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from
  9. How long does it take to get your paper accepted? [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from take-to-get-your-paper-accepted-?/
  10. Does it take too long to publish research? [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from long-to-publish-research-?/
  11. Does it take too long to publish research? [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from
  12. My manuscript’s been “Under Review” for 3 months. How long should I wait to contact the journal editor for an update? [Internet]. [Cited 2017 April 10]. Available from
  13. How long is a PhD thesis? [Internet]. [Cited 2016 Mar 18]. Available from
  14. Stanford University. Format requirements paper thesis. [Internet]. [Cited 2016 Mar 18]. Available from
  15. University of Stellenbosch: Some guidelines for your Thesis/Dissertation Layout. [Internet]. [Cited 2016 Mar 18]. Available from SkillUpdated Ja2019.pdf [See also: Yearbook/Current/GeneralPoliciesRules2019.pdf; and: “Some Guidelines for Your Thesis/Dissertation Layout Compiled by the SU Postgraduate Office, pp. 1-17”].
  16. Author manuscript and guidelines [Internet]. [Cited 2016 Mar 18]. Available from