Time to tame the tome: Motivating the thesis by publication as a mode of study for a PhD in the humanities

  • I. J. L. Connoway South African Theological Seminary, Johannesburg
  • J. Malherbe South African Theological Seminary, Johannesburg
Keywords: postgraduate education, doctoral education, dissertation, PhD, thesis by publication, article-based thesis, thesis by papers, humanities


Globally the PhD is recognized as the apex of all academic qualifications. For a large part of the qualification’s history, the only way to obtain it was by taking on the arduous journey of completing a dissertation. However, some changes in postgraduate education and the job market have led to a greater emphasis on published outputs and skills that can serve a lifetime of article writing. The PhD deserves all the prestige and rigour with which it is regarded, but these changes have left some asking whether the dissertation is the best way to drive the discipline and raise up researchers.

Obtaining a PhD via the Thesis by Publication (TBP) mode is a well-established practice in the STEM fields and Medicine. In these fields, research progresses fast and needs to be disseminated speedily. Therefore, it makes sense to write articles to disseminate research and then put them together to form a thesis.

With the above-mentioned changes in postgraduate education and the job market, the TBP is gaining ground in the humanities as well. What we propose in this article does not threaten the standards of the PhD. It might even better aid students in meeting them. If the desired outcomes are published outputs and research skills, then following a format that produces these outcomes during, rather than after, the completion of the PhD is advisable. In what follows we suggest that perhaps the time to tame the tome has now come.

The article starts with a brief survey of the history of doctoral education and a look at the current status of the TBP. After that, approaching the issue from various angles, we discuss why the TBP is a good idea. Lastly, we also warn that the TBP should be approached with caution.


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How to Cite
Connoway, I. J. L., and J. Malherbe. 2024. “Time to Tame the Tome: Motivating the Thesis by Publication As a Mode of Study for a PhD in the Humanities”. South African Journal of Higher Education 38 (2), 63-80. https://doi.org/10.20853/38-2-5753.
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