When I started my PhD, a professor gave me some advice, "publish 3 papers before your viva and no-one can fail you". I think that is the most applicable advice here. As if your work is published in peer-reviewed journals you have a lot more freedom to do what you think is appropriate.
I am not sure I understand your question. You will need to submit a thesis I think - either a traditional thesis or a thesis by publication (3 or so papers with an intro and discussion section to wrap them all up). I think there is a third option, which is PhD by publication without necessarily forming a thesis. I am not sure if that option actually exists anymore. This is for the UK anyway. May be different elsewhere.
Thanks for the replies.
I developed the pilot framework at a masters level, of which two peer reviewed conference papers were presented and published and one article. I am now upgrading to phd and busy improving and expanding this framework where by I am planning 2 articles for two core aspects of the framework. Essentially I want to use the article published about the pilot framework as proof of concept and the two articles I am planning as validation of the final framework.
I should have phrased my previous comment better. The sentiment I was trying to express was that if the PhD is composed of published material, the structure and minor details matter slightly less. The examiners during your viva will consider that your work has already been successfully peer reviewed and be less inclined to reject you over minor issues. I was not suggesting PhD by publication but suggesting that you should be confident in your own decisions. So if you think that your published work validates your framework, the examiners will unlikely to unreasonably reject it.
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