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The Thesis Format

The format for the title page, acknowledgments, abstract, and table of contents is consistent with a standard set by the University. The title page must include the following statement:

“A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy”


Traditional Dissertation

For the main body of the Traditional Dissertation, the sequencing of the chapters follows the following format set for the Thesis Proposal:

1. Introduction (includes statement of problem)
2. Review of Background Literature (theoretical and empirical)
3. Design and Methods
4. Findings
5. Discussion (includes relevance to Social Work)
6. References
7. Appendices
8. Style for Citations, References, Headings and Tables

For citing published work in the body of the thesis students are to use the format prescribed by the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA Manual). The “Expression of Ideas” and the “Editorial Style” chapters of the APA Manual will be helpful for arriving at a standard usage of terms and punctuation style. The APA Manual specifies five levels of headings which should be followed for formatting headings in the thesis. Also, students are to use the APA Manual for the format of tables and figures. Tables and figures may be included in the text or may be appended at the end of the manuscript. The reference list is to be prepared according to the APA style.

Students writing a thesis using historical research methods should follow the format recommended in The Chicago Manual of Style. In addition to following the guidelines of the specified manuals for formatting the thesis, it is essential that the student follow The School of Graduate Studies’ guidelines for submission of ETDs (Electronic Theses and Dissertations):


Three Paper Dissertation

The three paper dissertation option allows students to write three related papers in a given
topic or area of interest in which they have conducted research as required for the PhD program. While each paper is a stand-alone piece of scholarly work, containing its own literature review and associated article components, the three independent pieces, taken together, form a cohesive exploration of the specific topic area under study. Papers may use the same data set (to explore different questions or apply different methods) or different datasets. The introduction and conclusion sections of the dissertation describe how each of the papers fits together. Conclusions and implications that are common across the three papers can be described in the dissertation introduction and conclusion.


Guiding Principles for the Three Paper Dissertation

The three paper dissertation is an alternative to the traditional format for those students who would find it a benefit. The three paper option is based on the same fundamental principles of student independent work and scholarly rigor. The student’s committee has the major responsibility for maintaining the rigor of the dissertation and for negotiating issues as they arise. They are to determine the content and quality of each of the papers and the dissertation as a whole.


Overall Guidelines

1. Students should specify in their proposal that they are choosing the three paper option.

2. The three paper dissertation needs to be approved by the supervisor and committee, taking into account the kind of work the student is proposing and the best way of presenting and organizing the results that will be produced in the dissertation research.

3. The dissertation should be comprised of three papers

a. The dissertation must include an abstract that synthesizes the papers (Chapters 2, 3, 4), as well as an introduction (Chapter 1) and a conclusion (Chapter 5).

b. The papers should form a cohesive body of work that supports a theme or themes that are expressed clearly in the introduction of the dissertation.

c. The need for three papers (as opposed to just two) should be clear and approved by the dissertation committee, and not merely represent minor variations of a work that would be more appropriately reported in just one or two papers.

4. The literature review for each paper is distinct and highlights a unique aspect within a topic area. That said, a certain amount of overlap is acceptable. For example, portions of the literature review may need to be cited in the various papers because it delineates the entire historical background of the study’s focal topic. Redundancy can be carefully reduced by citing one’s own work. However, self-plagiarism – reusing one’s own previously written work or data in a ‘new’ written product without letting the reader know that this material has appeared elsewhere – is prohibited.

5. The introduction should function as the cord that weaves the three manuscripts together and briefly describes, for the reader, their ‘collective meaning’ and ‘combined contribution’ to the field. It should include:

a. A definition or statement of the problem.

b. The importance of the problem (i.e., why it is worth researching, why it matters to the field of social work).

c. The theoretical foundation(s) supporting the problem/issue.

d. An overview of the important literature (overview, because each paper will have its own unique literature review).

e. The research questions in each paper.

f. The methodology to be used to answer each question in each paper.

NOTE: The dissertation proposal should reflect these items as well, though the introduction may contain far more detail.

6. At least two of the papers should be based on data that are analyzed by the student. If the third paper is conceptual in nature, or based on a synthesis of the literature that is not a systematic review, it must be connected to the theme or themes of the dissertation without overlapping heavily with the contents of either of the other papers. Whether the extent of any overlap is excessive will be determined by the student’s dissertation committee.

7. The conclusion chapter should present/discuss research imperatives, or knowledge gaps, not visible when each manuscript is considered individually, describe in detail the 3 papers’ combined contribution’ to the field, and should articulate an agenda for future research on the issues addressed in the dissertation. The conclusion (Chapter 5) will include:

a. Summary of the dissertation’s major findings

b. Limitations

c. Discussion (including implications for social work)

d. Recommendations

The conclusion chapter ‘ties’ everything together and helps the reader see how the three manuscripts, taken together, contribute to the knowledge base regarding the problem. In both the introduction and the conclusion, the student also will present and discuss linkages (i.e., similarities and differences) among the separate manuscripts that are included in the dissertation, striving as much as possible to present the document as representative of a coherent body of work.

8. All papers must represent work undertaken while the student is enrolled in the PhD program, and each must be approved by the committee at the time of the student’s proposal defense. It is acceptable for a student to include a previously published journal article in the three paper dissertation, as long as (a) all authorship requirements in our School’s guidelines are adhered to; (b) the dissertation committee agrees to the manuscript’s inclusion as an integrated and substantial chapter of the dissertation; and (c) the article was not submitted for publication prior to the dissertation proposal.

9. As with any other dissertation, students must submit their manuscripts in accordance with the SGS guidelines. If an article is published after the dissertation proposal is accepted and prior to the dissertation defense, the student will be responsible for securing necessary permissions to use the article as part of their dissertation from the copyright holder and other authors.

10. Students should decide as early as possible, in concert with their dissertation chair,
whether to pursue the three paper format. However, they may switch from one format to the other at any time provided that their dissertation committee approves the switch.



Co-authorship of papers in a dissertation raises several serious issues that must be addressed by the dissertation committee in a manner that both protects the student’s intellectual contribution and also ensures that the student is conducting their own work.

1. Absolutely no student co-authors are allowed. A paper can be submitted for only one dissertation. Limiting authorship in this way ensures that this is the case.

2. While students are permitted to consider adding a co-author to one or more papers, they are not required or particularly encouraged to do so. For example, members of the committee should not expect to be co-authors on any of the papers. Some examples of acceptable co-authorship are:

  • Use of data generated by a Principal Investigator
  • Community members that, as part of a process of inclusion in the research, are secondary authors.

3. In the case of co-authorship on any individual paper within the dissertation, the student must indicate the percentage of effort and description of the role played by each author in the introductory chapter to the dissertation. Students must also gain prior authorization from their supervisor and committee members before pursuing the option of including a co-author in any of the three papers of their dissertation.

4. With the exception of #1 above, the Faculty will defer to the judgment of the dissertation committee as long as there is cohesiveness of the three paper dissertation with sufficient explanation as needed regarding the student’s contributions in the case of co-authorship on a given paper.