Three Manuscript Dissertation

A PhD manuscript does not need to resemble a ‘door stop’. The traditional format — divided into introduction, literature review, methods, results and discussion — is not the only option for presenting your research. In some fields of study (and at some universities) students can opt for the three (or triple) article dissertation (TAD) format, also known as the journal article format. This involves organizing your thesis into three (or more) publishable full-length articles, and joining them with an introduction that presents the general theme of the research project, as well as summarizing the main findings in the conclusion chapter.

Should I choose the TAD, journal article format?

Students should discuss format options with their advisor and Dissertation Committee to make sure it is acceptable at their place of study, as well as being appropriate for their topic. The journal article format might be difficult to execute if you have a single focal question that cannot be easily divided into three (or more) logical manuscripts. The approach is more suitable for projects that involve multiple experiments and various data sets, or for mixed methods studies where the author wishes to separate the qualitative part from the quantitative part.

This approach might be particularly pertinent to part-time students. For example, if a PhD takes six years to complete, there is a possibility that early research becomes outdated by the time the student gets ready to graduate. However, if there is a series of papers that get submitted and critiqued as the research progresses, this drawback can be managed.

TAD format strengths

Knowledge dissemination is very important in the academic world. By organizing your work into journal publications, you are learning the important skill of communicating your findings. You also increase the possibilities of getting published and cited prior to defending your thesis. Students who chose the traditional format often do not get a chance to transform their manuscripts into articles once their PhD is completed. Another benefit of the TAD format is if for any reason you do not get to finish your PhD, you still have published work from you academic efforts.

Students who opt for the TAD format also purport that this approach enables them to split their thesis into manageable chunks and set realistic goals. Moreover, these students experience more structure as their work gets continuously monitored both formally and informally by different parties – e.g. by their advisor and journal reviewers.

TAD formatweaknesses

There is a realistic possibility that the papers you submit to journals get rejected. Also, the acceptance process can often be lengthy. Nonetheless, receiving timely feedback can also be very beneficial, as it helps you improve and adjust your work sooner rather than later. You also need to consider the possibility that after the review, the framing of your papers will change, which might affect the overall alignment of your articles and your project as a whole. Some authors might struggle to write a coherent introduction that connects all the articles, especially if they become disjointed as they pass the review process.

Journals also impose word or page limitations, so it might be difficult to include all the study’s details and its full background. However, this can be overcome by including appendices to your dissertation text. One last thing to consider with the journal article format is the authorship. You usually need to be able to show that you are the sole or primary author on at least two of the published (or publishable) articles.


Article Style vs. Journal Format

Article Style.  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 University does not permit an "article-style thesis" to be presented for a master's degree. 

Journal Format.  A "journal-format” dissertation or thesisis acceptable.  Such a dissertation or thesis simply 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 Graduate School's Student Guide to Preparing Electronic Theses and Dissertations.

Article-style Dissertations

This approach is intended for doctoral students whose final, completed dissertation will consist of a number of manuscripts or articles. It is an option available only to students in certain fields whose graduate faculty have determined it to be an appropriate option. See the table below for a list of these fields.

Article-style dissertations must be based on research completed while the student is enrolled at The University of Alabama.  For each article used, the student must be the first author, or equivalent, as defined by the discipline.

The dissertation must be the student's original idea. It must be a unified work and include a sequence of articles of publishable quality around a theme, with a comprehensive review of the literature that demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the unifying framework.

There will be one introductory section to describe the studies, tell how they are related, and explain their significance. There will be connecting language to bridge each study to the next. There also will be a section that serves as a summary making clear the importance of the studies, integrating the major findings, and discussing the implications for the overall topic.

These components do not have to be separate sections or chapters.  They may be parts of the manuscripts or may be accomplished in an abstract.

All parts of the dissertation must conform to the provisions set forth in the Student Guide to Preparing Theses and Dissertations, except when the circumstances of a specific project require deviation. Students considering this approach should contact the Graduate School before beginning their work if they have any questions concerning specific problems or deviations from traditional procedures.

Doctoral Degree Programs With the Option of Writing an
Article-style Dissertation

Applied Statistics

Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics

Biological Sciences
Chemical Engineering
Civil Engineering
Computer Science
Education (all departments)
Electrical and Computer Engineering

Geological Sciences
Health Education and Promotion
Management Science
Mechanical Engineering
Metallurgical and Materials Engineering

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.”


Preliminary Pages
Copyright Information
The inclusion of any articles that are previously published or accepted for publication requires permission from the copyright holder. The sections not copyrighted by another party may be covered under the publication of the new manuscript.


Same as regular dissertation, please follow same layout and format as for a regular dissertation.

List all abbreviations as one complete list in the preliminary section of the dissertation. Do not include them with the individual articles.

Follow the same layout and format as for a regular dissertation.

Table of Contents
Each article included should be identified in the Table of Contents as a separate section by giving the complete title as it appears on each manuscript. Do not list subheadings that occur within the individual manuscripts; do list subheadings from the introductory and summary sections.

List of Tables and List of Figures
Tables and figures shall be listed for the whole document. Numbering of tables and figures will be in accordance with the chosen style and formatting guide for the document as a whole.

Main Body
The introduction should include a clear statement of the student’s purpose or hypothesis to be tested. It provides necessary background information and a broad statement summarizing the findings of the study. This section also will include a statement of the relationship between and among the various articles and parts of the research.

First Article
Subheadings/sections – e.g., Introduction, Review of Literature, Method, Results, Conclusions.
Reference List (for article 1)

Second Article
Subheadings/sections – e.g., Introduction, Review of Literature, Method, Results, Conclusions.
Reference List (for article 2)
Appendices (for article 2)

Third Article
Subheadings/sections – e.g., Introduction, Review of Literature, Method, Results, Conclusions.
Reference List (for article 3)
Appendices (for article 3)

Overall Conclusion
State the conclusions for the manuscript as a whole.

All general references from the introduction, overall conclusion, and any supplementary sections should be included here and should conform to the same style and format as the articles.

Include here only any additional appendices that relate to the manuscript as a whole.


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