University Of Sheffield Dissertation Guidance

Alternative Format Thesis

This guidance sets out how students may submit a thesis which contains sections which are in a format suitable for
submission for publication in a peer-reviewed journal or other appropriate outlet for academic research, alongside more
traditional thesis chapters. Those sections will be presented in the format of ‘scientific’ (in the widest possible sense of the word) papers, book chapters or other appropriate published formats. The papers or chapters may have been published, be accepted for publication, or planned for submission for publication where a specific format is expected. There may be no intention of submitting them for publication because of the nature of the results, but the purpose is to prepare the candidate for academic publishing and to familiarise them with the conventions and formats.

The aims of making this format available are to: (a) reduce the time spent rewriting publications into thesis chapters;
(b) enhance the writing for publication skills of early career researchers; (c) encourage students aiming for an academic research career to consider their publication aims early.

This guidance does not aim to provide a ‘PhD by Publication’ route for student candidates. It rather aims to allow students to interlace traditional thesis chapters with material suitable for publication, or which has been published.

The University does not have a preference for either the traditional thesis or alternative format. Students should discuss with their supervisory team which option would be most beneficial to their learning and career path.

Existing requirements for research degree programmes

Before the award of a higher degree by research, each candidate is required to complete a prescribed period of training and research, and:

(i) Present a thesis containing the results of the candidate’s research and showing the sources from which the information it contains is derived and the extent to which the candidate has made use of the work of others; and

(ii) Pass an oral examination in matters relevant to the subject of the thesis.

Candidates must satisfy the examiners that his or her thesis:

(i) Is original work which forms an addition to knowledge; and

(ii) Shows evidence of systematic study and of the ability to relate the results of such study to the general body of knowledge in the subject; and

(iii) Is worthy of publication either in full or in an abridged form.

The form of the thesis should be such that it is demonstrably a coherent body of work. Depending on the number of papers used as chapters, additional chapters will be required to ensure that the coherence is demonstrated. There will at least be sections for a summary, an introduction and discussion and conclusions which set the whole work in context. In addition, and depending on the content of any papers or other alternative format material, there may need to be: a description of the aims of the research, an analytical discussion of the related findings to date, a description of the methods deployed and the theoretical basis underpinning them.

Additional requirements for presentation of an alternative format thesis

In addition to the requirements above, candidates who wish to present an alternative format thesis must:

(i) Obtain the support of their supervisory team and seek permission from the relevant Faculty Officer, by their third
year of study (or pro-rata for part-time candidates). This could be linked to the submission review process and the formal request must be made by the end of month 36 by the very latest. The Faculty Officer will consider the supervisory team’s case for support, whether the proposed format fits with the existing expectations of a research degree and whether the proposed submission is achievable within the student’s time limit.

(ii) Use the introductory section of the thesis to explain how the constituent papers form a coherent body of work
and to justify in full the nature and extent of their own contribution to sections which have multiple authors and
which have either already been published, submitted for publication, accepted for publication or which are planned
to be submitted for publication. A significant majority of the materials contained in the thesis should be the outcome of original research undertaken by the student since their date of registration with the University.

Where co-authored works are included, the candidate must also provide a written statement alongside each paper, signed by the candidate and by the major contributory co-authors, specifying the candidate’s individual contribution. The normal expectation is that the candidate should be the primary contributor to the writing of each of the papers, including the design and conduct of the reported research. It is relatively commonplace in some disciplines for students to co-author journal papers with their supervisory team or wider research group. Contributions such as to individual experiments within a larger piece of research would not be considered sufficient for the student to be considered the ‘primary contributor’. In many disciplines, ‘primary contributor’ would be denoted by the student being the first or last author. This is not, however, the case in all disciplines and it may be necessary for this to be covered in the case for support to submit an alternative format thesis.

If there is any doubt as to the specific contribution of the student to material with multiple authors, the University
retains the right to contact other authors to seek assurance about the student’s contribution.

(iii) If an alternative format thesis contains published material the length of which has been determined by a particular publisher’s requirements, candidates must ensure that additional explanatory text pertaining to methodology or detailed and critical analysis of the work or supplementary statistical data or other aspects are included to ensure the thesis is a coherent whole.

(iv) Confirmation that permission has been obtained where appropriate to include material which has been published
or accepted for publication in the thesis.


Since the alternative format thesis may include published material which already have their own pagination, the pages of those publications will not normally be part of the pagination sequence of the thesis (except where it makes sense for the examination process for all pages to be consecutively numbered). An A4 sheet should be included before each publication, with the publication number, title and page number of the thesis. The pagination sequence of the thesis will then resume at the end of the publication.


A paper which has been published or accepted for publication may have involved the candidate signing a copyright transfer agreement, transferring the copyright to the publisher. Some publishers allow the retention of certain rights, sometimes including reprinting a whole paper or parts of it in a thesis.  Candidates must confirm this with the publisher at the time of publication. If not confirmed at the time of publication, retrospective permission must be sought.

Candidates should deposit the author accepted manuscript (post peer review) version of journal articles accepted for
publication in the University repository, White Rose Research Online, via myPublications at the point of its acceptance by a publisher. The University Library will then offer assistance managing adherence with any embargo periods. Publishers may permit the inclusion of the author accepted manuscript in the e-thesis under embargo for the relevant period.

Preparation of theses

Students are advised to familiarise themselves with the following sections before commencing work on the preparation of their thesis. They are also advised to consult their supervisor regarding any subject-specific aspects of the thesis, for example the inclusion of photographs or diagrams or the presentation of supplementary information such as CDs or DVDs. Permission to submit non-standard material should be gained by the student's supervisor from Faculty prior to the thesis being submitted to Research Services.

A doctoral candidate must satisfy the examiners that the thesis forms an addition to knowledge, shows evidence of systematic study and of the ability to relate the results of such study to the general body of knowledge in the subject, and is worthy of publication either in full or in an abridged form.  The format of the thesis must also demonstrate that it is a coherent body of work. 

Language of the thesis

The thesis should normally be written in English. Exceptionally, and with the permission of the Faculty, a student may present a thesis that is written in another language where this is of demonstrable significance to the impact and dissemination of the research.

Writing the thesis

The main source of advice and information for students beginning to write their thesis is the supervisor. It is important that students discuss the structure of the thesis with their supervisor at an early stage in their research programme, together with the schedule for its production, and the role of the supervisor in checking drafts.  The supervisor will also advise on such matters as undertaking a literature review, referencing and formatting the thesis, and generally on what should or should not be included in the thesis.

A number of University courses are available that might prove helpful to students, e.g. academic writing courses run by the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC). There are also units in the DDP on thesis production.

Many students have found it helpful to meet with people who have recently submitted their thesis and can therefore pass on their experience first-hand. Academic departments may be able to facilitate this. It is normally also possible to consult recently submitted theses in the University Library or online.

Preparation for including in the thesis material owned by another person should be considered at an early stage of the research and should not wait until the final stages of completing the thesis.  The correct use of third-party copyright material and the avoidance of unfair means are taken very seriously by the University and attendance at a copyright training session offered by the Library is strongly encouraged (see 'Use of copyright material').

Early familiarity with the software packages a student will use to produce the thesis will prove helpful. The University´s Managed computing network hosts a whole range of software that may be of help to research students, over and above the Microsoft Office suite.

Acceptable support in writing the thesis

It is acceptable for a student to receive the following support in writing the thesis from the supervisory team (that is additional to the advice and/or information outlined above, if the supervisory team has considered that this support is necessary:

  1. Where the meaning of text is not clear the student should be asked to re-write the text in question in order to clarify the meaning;
  2. English language: If the meaning of text is unclear, the supervisory team can provide support in correcting grammar and sentence construction in order to ensure that the meaning of text is clear (if a student requires significant support with written English above what is considered to be correcting grammar and sentence construction, the supervisory team will, at the earliest opportunity, require the student to obtain remedial tuition support from the University’s English Language Teaching Centre);
  3. The supervisory team cannot re-write text that changes the meaning of the text (ghost writing/ghost authorship in a thesis is unacceptable);
  4. The supervisory team can provide guidance on the structure, content and expression of writing;
  5. The supervisory team can proof-read the text.
  6. Anyone else who may be employed or engaged to proof read the text is only permitted to change spelling and grammar and must not be able to change the content of the thesis.

The Confirmation Review and the viva are the key progression milestones for testing whether a thesis is a student's own work.

A request for an extension of time limit, beyond the time limit for the research degree programme, should not be made if the request is only to allow the student more time to improve the standard of written English in the thesis.

Word limits

No University regulation exists governing the length of theses, although a number of Faculties and departments have established guidelines. Where these are not available, the student should consult the supervisor as to the length of thesis appropriate to his/her particular topic of research. It should, however, be noted that brevity achieved without sacrifice of clarity is a virtue much appreciated by examiners. The following Faculties have guidelines on thesis length:

  • Arts & Humanities - 40,000 words (MPhil) 75,000 words (PhD)
  • Medicine, Dentistry & Health - 40,000 words (MPhil) 75,000 words (PhD, MD)
  • Science – 40,000 words (MPhil) 80,000 words (PhD)
  • Social Sciences - 40,000 words (MPhil) 75,000-100,000 words (PhD)

The above word limits exclude footnotes, bibliography and appendices.


Accurate and consistent referencing is an essential part of your thesis. In the first instance, students are advised to consult with their supervisor regarding acceptable methods of referencing in their discipline (i.e. the presentation of footnotes, bibliography, appendices, etc).  Online referencing tutorials are also available.

Online referencing tutorials

Please contact the librarian for your subject for further help.

List of subject specialist librarians

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