Thesis Formats

While the majority of our PhD students outside of Research Creation write traditional or monograph-format theses (a sustained argument in the form of an introduction and 3-5 chapters), others choose to present their work in the portfolio format. This format, sometimes known as “manuscript format,” is animated by calls in the Humanities and Social Sciences within the past decade to “move beyond the seminar room and the library into a potentially innumerable readership and into a space of discourse oriented toward futurity …and join with other work in ongoing conversations about matters of public concern” (White Paper on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities 2013, 12). Like a monograph thesis, the portfolio thesis comprises a coherent research project based in academic literature, but the body of original work consists of multiple components that function as standalone elements and may be diverse in format, voice, medium, method, and address. While it will be framed by an introduction explaining contexts, research questions, goals, and structure, and a final reflection or conclusion of some sort, the Portfolio PhD may or may not be linear in its organization.

The Portfolio PhD allows students to engage a diversity of audiences, publics, or counterpublics during their PhD work rather than afterwards. In foregrounding skill and judgment in research dissemination as part of the research process, it recognizes effective and deliberately-designed communication of research as itself a research outcome. Contexts engaged may include social or news media; community organizations; the arts sector; academic conferences or journals; government or other policy-making bodies; health or education providers; etc. While all material may be in written form, components might also be presented in audio, video, or other formats.

In providing opportunities to venture beyond academic discourse, the portfolio format may be especially appealing to students aiming for employment outside of academe. On the contrary, a portfolio thesis conceived of as a cluster of independent academic articles may jump-start an academic publication record.

At the proposal stage, the student is expected to explain the overall scholarly contexts and research questions, justify the research value of each component, articulate the relationship among the components, and either indicate their competence in their chosen forms and media or explain how they will achieve same.

For more information, see

What form could my dissertation take?

General Forms of Theses