Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Doing a PhD by Published Work

Sue Smith, Leeds Beckett University


More active researchers and academics than ever are now choosing to collate their accumulated published work into a PhD. As a result, more universities offer different routes to achieve a PhD by Published Work, but often it feels like there is little guidance available for potential or existing students on this route. You might already have a good range of peer-reviewed publications around a single coherent theme, in which case you should investigate whether collating them for a retrospective route award suits you. If you are an early- or mid-career academic with very few publications, enrolling for a prospective route might suit you better – for this you write a certain number of publications within a specified period (usually three to four years).

Knowing how many publications is ‘enough’ can be tricky – there are no rules on this and little consistency worldwide. Some universities might accept four papers, others might ask for eight or ten. Universities usually accept co-authored papers but normally require some of your work to be sole authored. All your outputs should be in the public domain. Book chapters don’t always count, but academics with online resources, artefacts, exhibitions and art or performance work can often count these outputs as long as they are rooted in evidence, in the public domain and have been subjected to critical peer review.

Part of any PhD by Published Work route is the writing of a synthesis – a key reflective piece which collates and analyses all your submitted work, its originality and how it has impacted on and contributed to the knowledge in your subject area.

You will usually have a viva voce examination after your synthesis has been marked, usually with two to three examiners. The feel of this viva is rather different from traditional PhD vivas – you won’t normally be asked to defend your design methodology or justify your findings. The quality assurance of the standard of your work has already been assessed by the peer-review process for each successfully published paper. However, you will have to defend your originality, discuss your research journey, your contribution to the subject area, your approach and your plans for continuing the research.

Advice to other academic colleagues

  • Seek advice from your university early in the process about the type and exact number of papers/artefacts required for your specific published works route.
  • Before enrolling for the existing published works award, make sure you have written around a coherent theme and that you have a strong sense that you have made an original contribution to the body of knowledge.
  • Write a timeline for writing, submitting, revising your papers and share this with your academic advisor or supervisor.

Useful reading

Smith, S.V. (2015) PhD by Published Work: A Practical Guide for Success, London: Palgrave.

Wisker, G. (2015) Getting Published, London: Palgrave.