Dissertation Formats: Five Chapter Format vs. Three Article Format

by | Mar 17, 2021 | Dissertation Writing | 0 comments

The two most common dissertation formats are the traditional format (sometimes referred to as the five-chapter format) and the three-article format (sometimes referred to as the manuscript format). The same quality of work and effort is required for both formats, but they are valued differently across programs and disciplines. If your discipline values peer-reviewed journal articles over books/monographs, you might want to consider the three-article format. This will prepare you to submit your dissertation as multiple manuscripts in preparation for or after your final defense. If your discipline places more value on books/monographs, sticking with the traditional five-chapter format might be your best option. This blog goes through the basic differences between these two options, but we recommend you discuss which might be best for you with your committee.

Traditional Format

Three-Article Format

Introduction      Introduction
Literature Review     Article 1
Methods     Article 2
Results/Findings     Article 3
Conclusion     Conclusion


In the traditional format, you would start with the introduction that gives the reader an idea of the problem being addressed, the literature around this problem, the background of the problem, why it is significant to address this problem, and a brief introduction to the framework and approach to addressing the problem.  Both formats generally include these elements.  For the traditional format, the second chapter is a comprehensive review of the literature to give the reader an idea of what is currently known about the problem.  The third chapter them presents the methods of data collection and analysis to tell the reader how you will empirically study the problem.  Chapter four presents the findings or results and chapter five concludes with a discussion of these findings/results, as well their implications, limitations, and recommendations.  

For the three-article format, you most often would still have five chapters, but they don’t follow the sample outline as the traditional format.  Typically, they go something like this: Introduction, Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Conclusion.  The first chapter introduces the common thread.  What is the issue that connects the three articles?  What is the gap in the literature related to this issue?  This chapter commonly presents an overarching question and three sub-questions.  The overarching question represents their collective contribution.  That is, if all three sub-questions are answered, what is the combined contribution of your work? Each of the sub-questions will be addressed in the aligning article.  Then the final chapter brings the results of all three articles back together to discuss their implications for the overarching question and what the research has contributed to the extant literature.  

Each article in the three-article format is a stand-alone manuscript — a cohesive presentation of study.  This format generally consists of three articles, but I have seen some with two, four, and even five articles.  Schools have different policies on if the manuscripts actually have to be submitted to a journal or accepted by a journal.  I mostly see that the student has to have the journal identified, but does not have to submit the manuscripts to the journals until after the dissertation defense.  This, of course, would mean that there is not an expectation that the manuscripts are actually accepted by the journals, but just that they are determined by the committee to be suitable for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.  Some schools simply refer to this as “publishable quality.” If you are doing the three-article format, consider that there will inevitably be overlap between the articles.  This means they will likely share common literature and/or methods.  However, it is important that it is re-written for each of the three articles to avoid self-plagiarism.  Finally, the three articles often have to be written to the formatting of the target journal.  As you will find in the journal’s submission guidelines, there are different preferred article lengths, citation styles, sections, etc.  Students will often write the dissertation all in one common citation style and the reformat articles for submission to their target journals.  

From these brief introductions, you can see there are a lot of similarities between the two formats.  You are still doing the same amount of work, but presenting it in different ways.  For example, in the five-article format, you will still present the methods in each of the three manuscripts and introduce your approach in the introduction, but you won’t have a stand-alone chapter for the methods.  Similarly, the traditional format has a stand-alone chapter for literature, while in the three-article format, each article has its own literature section.  Thus, the chapters in both formats are logically linked, but to different ends.  

For additional information on comparing these formats, check out these resources:

University of Houston Three Article Dissertation Guidance: https://www.bauer.uh.edu/doctoral/mis/three-article-dissertation.php

Baylor University Dissertation/Thesis Formatting Options: https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/185171.pdf

Indiana University Guidelines for the Dissertation: https://fsph.iupui.edu/doc/student-portal/Guidelines_for_Dissertation_of_Three_Papers.pdf



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