PhD Structure


======= Date Modified 11 Jul 2012 09:46:10 =======
Hi all,

After reading Patrick Dunleavy's (2003) 'Authoring a PhD', I'm keen to adopt his 8 x 10/12,000 word chapter approach, which in my case, would look like the following: introduction, literature review, methodology, results and discussion x 4, and conclusion.

I have discussed this layout with my supervisor, yet they seem certain on me writing a 20,000 word review of literature chapter than the suggested 10/12,000 word limit proposed by Dunleavy. Their response was not to get too hung up on what Dunleavy has proposed.

I agree with my supervisor in that an extensive review of the literature is required, but also appreciate Dunleavy's comment in that examiners do not want to wait until the 50-100th page for the discussion of empirical data.

I just wondered whether people had any thoughts on the two approaches, and how I'd go about trying to get my supervisor to adopt Dunleavy's approach? ,-)

Cheers in advance!


Avatar for Batfink27

I'd say it really depends on your discipline, and the nature of the research you're doing - some will require more focus on the literature, while others will be better if they get more quickly to the meat of the data. Have you managed to find any recent PhD theses in your field/area that you can look at? This can be a good way to understand what works well and what is really required in your own discipline.


Thanks Batfink27, that's a really good point. Will definitely look into that to get some ideas on the norm approach.

Calling all social science PhD'ers - out of interest, how many chapters/words did you devote to your review of literature?


Quote From RLD1984:

======= Date Modified 11 Jul 2012 09:46:10 =======
Their response was not to get too hung up on what Dunleavy has proposed.

Mine was ~18,000 which really was too long but I got away with it - just! If I had to do it again I would drop one theme entirely which would have allowed me develop the remaining two more thoroughly.

Have to say that I would agree with your supvs in not getting too hung up on a particular structure - better to go with what works for your particular thesis. Mine had nine chapters, pretty trad format: Intro / Lit review / Meth / four [short] thematic findings chapters / analysis-discussion / conclusion. With the benefit of hindsight I would probably do it a bit differently but then hindsight is a great thing. My advice is to work with your supvs and do what works best for your study.


======= Date Modified 14 Jul 2012 22:29:28 =======
I'm trying to (loosely) follow Dunleavy's 8 X 10k layout too, because I imagine examiners do appreciate consistent chunks, but naturally this won't work for every thesis.

20k for a lit review sounds fairly big alright, but maybe you are researching a particularly crowded area? I'm not sure what stage you're at, but initial chapters tend to be less dense than the finished product. So if you write 20k words early on, you may be able to condense it down to <15k later on. Also, maybe you can split your lit review in two at a later date; people have mentioned doing that on the forum before.

Good luck negotiating with your supervisor. They may well know what's in your best interest, so I'm not sure I'd put up much of a fight. :-)


Thanks guys!


I'm about to submit (10 days!) and my literature review has shrunk drastically in the last few months - but only because, as the thesis developed, it made more sense to put a mini lit review in each of the chapters dealing with that particular theme. My thesis definitely wouldn't work with Dunleavy's approach - I actually found it to be counter-productive in my case. I have 7 chapters with word counts (rounded to the nearestk k) 10k, 12k, 15k, 12k, 13k, 19k, 3k. The 19k should, ideally, be 2 chapters, but that wouldn't work, we tried it and it wasn't right. The first two are intro/lit review and sources and methods - they were originally one massive chapter and I was advised to split it. The next 4 are thematic and the last baby one is the conclusion.

By all means use him as a guide, but don't get too bogged down with it - do what works for you and the chapters will naturally fall to the correct length for your thesis.


I see a chapter as 12k words. However, my chapters are something along the lines of 10k (first lit review/problem construction/this may end up being the intro), 13k (lit review) 6k (methodology) 3x14k (empirical chapters and discussion) and probably about 4-5k for conclusion. If a chapter needs to be long, it needs to be long. If it needs to be short (like my methodology) then I'm not going to witter on for more words. That said, Dunleavy's ordering of chapters seems spot on.


My thesis (in the sciences) ended up as follows:

Intro/lit review 10k
Results 1 6k
Results 2 13k
Results 3 8k
Results 4 8k
Results 5 9k
Conclusion 2k

My results chapters were each written like a separate study, ie. intro, methods, results, discussion.

I would tend to agree with your supervisor and not get too hung up on exact chapter lengths. All that is important, in my opinion, is that the thesis has a good flow and the structure makes logical sense. For my thesis, I had to do experiment 1 to be able to do experiment 2, then experiment 3 etc. Therefore, my first results chapter is short because the work wasn't exactly groundbreaking, but had to be done (and explained) for the rest of the thesis to make sense. My second results chapter is huge because it was the most long-winded part of my work, and was essential before I could move on to the next section, so the chapter had to be really long to get all the necessary information in. Results 4 and Results 5 are essentially one long chapter of 17k, but I broke it into 2 as they are two slightly different versions of the same experiment so I wanted to make a clear distinction between them.

I didn't worry about the unbalanced word counts of my chapters at all, because I knew that the thesis as a whole 'told a story' and each chapter followed on neatly to the next. Each thesis is different, so if yours has identical chapter lengths or massively different ones, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Take each chapter on its own merit and ensure it contains everything it needs to; if it does, then it is long enough! I wouldn't try and artificially force a chapter to be longer or shorter than I naturally felt was necessary. If the overall word count is hugely under/over then I would go back and make adjustments, but if overall it is about right then I don't think the size of each chapter is that vital.

I should add as a caveat that I did pass, and no-one (supervisors or examiners) ever commented on my chapter lengths!!