Dissertation Guidelines

Guidelines for the Doctoral Thesis/Dissertation in Political Science

The doctoral thesis is the culmination of advanced studies and rigorous research in political science. As specified in the SGS guidelines (coming soon), all doctoral theses must meet the fundamental requirements of demonstrating academic rigour and making a distinct and original contribution to knowledge in the field.

The following guidelines are designed to help students, supervisors, and thesis committee members identify the required academic criteria of the doctoral dissertation. Supervising faculty members are encouraged to clearly communicate the required academic criteria of the doctoral thesis early in the student’s doctoral program to facilitate the process of thesis writing.

Key Criteria of the Doctoral Thesis

Students and faculty should consult guidelines provided by SGS (coming soon).  For political science students, it is essential that criteria of a doctoral thesis be equivalent across different formats and structures. For the thesis to be acceptable, the student must do the following:

  • Show a thorough familiarity with the field and an ability to critically analyze the relevant literature
  • Display a mastery of relevant research approaches and/or methods and their application
  • Offer a complete and systematic account of their scholarly work
  • Present the results and analysis of their original research
  • Document sources and support claims
  • Locate their work within the broader field or discipline
  • Write in a style that respects the norms of academic and scholarly communication
  • Demonstrate how the research makes an original contribution by advancing knowledge in the field. For example, empirically based theses, regardless of the approach and methods employed, should draw on a rigorous and clearly articulated research strategy and some combination of original theory, original analysis, and primary evidence, whether interview data, ethnographic observation, development and coding of new datasets, or archival work. Theses in political theory should develop an original or novel interpretation or framework based in normative, historical and/or textual analysis.

The student should be the sole author of all, or a significant majority of the dissertation. In cases where some part of the dissertation can be justifiably co-authored, the student must be the primary author of any co-authored section.  Contributions by others (e.g., co-authorship of chapters/articles) must be acknowledged and explained at the beginning of the thesis. No more than one chapter or article can be co-authored, and the student must be the primary author of that chapter or article.

Formats of the Doctoral Thesis

Monograph-Style (adapted from SGS guidelines)
The monograph-style format reflects the original conception of a thesis as a “book” presenting the candidate’s research project. This format is organized as a single narrative describing the research problem, the argument, the context of the research, the methods used, the findings, and the conclusions. The organization of a monograph-style thesis is generally organic. If the thesis deals with empirical research, it may be structured with an introductory chapter, a theory chapter with literature review, a methods chapter, chapters presenting research findings, and a discussion/concluding chapter. A thesis in political theory typically develops a new framework or interpretation that engages and analyzes the work of political theorists within a normative or historical context. After doctoral studies are complete, a monograph-style thesis will often be revised into a scholarly book or several research articles, but the form in which it is presented for the final oral exam is not necessarily intended for publication. This style of thesis remains the norm in political science.

Article-Based Thesis (adapted and expanded from SGS guidelines)
Although the Monograph-Style is the standard in all subfields of political science, an Article-Based Thesis (ABT) may be more appropriate in some cases. The article-based thesis (ABT) is a coherent work consisting of several ready-to-publish articles focusing on the same research problem. The ABT includes an introductory section, the publishable/published manuscripts, and a cumulative discussion or conclusion chapter. The ABT format should meet the following criteria:

  • The rationale and justification for an article-based thesis must be made at the outset, at the proposal stage. It should be based on careful assessment of the character of the research being undertaken and the need for this format. Students who decide to change the format of their theses during the course of their research – whether from a monograph to ABT or vice-versa – will be required to submit a new thesis proposal outlining the rationale and strong justification for the change in format. The proposal will require approval from the supervisory committee and the Director of Graduate Studies.
  • To promote coherence, the introduction and cumulative concluding chapters must clearly explain how these separate manuscripts fit together into a unified body of research. The opening and closing chapters—which act as bookends to the publishable articles—are integral to the purpose of these theses. In these sections, the writer will set out the broad contours of the problem and its significance, review the relevant literature and contextualizing material, and draw the ultimate conclusions about the implications of the whole research project. Introductory and concluding chapters are therefore expected to be a very extensive elaboration of the rationale, scope, and justification of the thesis in relation to the broader literature in the field, as well as of the originality of the findings.
  • The number of articles required for inclusion is usually three (at a minimum), although the number may depend on the articles’ scope, scientific quality and significance.
  • The standard in several disciplines is for such a format to include published articles in highly respected journals. Although publication is not necessary, it should be the judgement of the committee that the papers are of a sufficient quality to be published in a highly respected journal. It should be noted that although students regularly publish articles based on coursework or analysis of secondary sources, they do not necessarily meet the standards of original contribution as specified in the guidelines for a doctoral thesis. As specified in SGS guidelines (coming soon), publication of manuscripts, or acceptance for publication by a peer-reviewed journal, does not guarantee that the thesis will be found acceptable for the degree sought. In order to promote overall coherence, the article-based thesis should adapt the articles into a form more suitable for inclusion in the thesis.