Friday, 18 July 2014

Post 23: Manuscript or Monograph Style Theses?

Somewhere in this process of undertaking a master's, this conversation starter came up: to do a manuscript or monograph style thesis? What's are they, what's the difference, what are the pros and cons of doing either (as I've encountered them so far...).

Well, to some extent, your thesis supervisor will have a lot of input into which one you write. Your specific topic and research questions will also influence the form that the thesis should take. Do you have two very specific and different research questions? It might be most suitable to tackle both in an article each. Or, if you have a bigger, over-arching research questions with a few subsidiary questions, it might be easier to tackle as a monograph. OR, it might just be the legacy of your supervisor's research group that manuscript or monograph styles are preferred.

In general terms, here are the differences between the two, and good things to consider:

Monograph style: 

For this thesis, the chapters are styled similarly to a book. Chapter 1 will be an Introduction, Chapter 2 the Literature Review, Chapter 3 will cover your Methodology, Chapter 4 will cover your Results/Findings, Chapter 5 will be the Discussion/Conclusion of your findings. (Or something to that effect; the chapter numbers and contents can be shifted around with some flexibility. For example, Chapter 1 may be a combination of the introduction and literature review, and chapters 5 and 6 may take on the discussion and conclusions separately.)

The idea behind a monograph style thesis is that it's a chance for developing a long, fully fleshed out argument that provides an answer to the research questions that motivated the undertaking. As my supervisor promoted the form, he pointed out that we don't see this kind of long-form argumentation very much any more.

Benefits: This form is relatively easier to write than the manuscript style. It's also easier to transform research written in this form into a longer book-length publication.
Drawbacks: This form means that there is a bit more footwork to be done if you're turning your research into a journal article or two. More rewriting and restyling later down the road.

                              Quick break for flowers - these live on campus by the UVic Bookstore.

Manuscript style:

For a manuscript style thesis, the format will take shape something like this: Introduction, Methodology/Methods, Article 1 (with it's own Introduction, Methods, Findings, and Discussion), Article 2 (with it's own Introduction, Methods, Findings, and Discussion), and Conclusion. Each of the articles is styled like a journal article or pretty close to it, each beginning with an internal introduction, content, and conclusion.

As is covered in a different post, there are a few different kinds of journal articles, which my colleague Dr. Garrett Richards illustrated here. From what I've heard from a colleague, it's become trendier to write original research into a manuscript style thesis because this increases the chance of publication. Some of the 'chapters' in this thesis may be labelled with the monograph style headers, but the content can be quite different. So, Chapter 1 will be the general introduction, Chapter 2 will be article 1, Chapter 3, article 2, Chapter 4, the conclusion. The introduction and conclusion in this thesis style need to speak to both of the article chapters, and generally, the Introduction, Methods, and Conclusion will pull together the whole document.

Benefits: This form will relatively quickly line you up for publishing journal articles.
Drawbacks: Sometimes it can be difficult for new graduate students to translate their research into journal articles right away (hence the comment re: monograph style thesis above). Ultimately, these things seem to me to come down to time, and things you want to learn before you get out of the door.

The School of Environmental Studies, being a broad and interdisciplinary department (political ecology, ethnoecology, and ecological restoration being this department's three main pillars of research), certainly has students producing both styles of theses.

There also seems to be some departmental difference between the preference of thesis styles. In some, like biology (from what I understand) and other hard sciences, it is most common to write a manuscript style thesis. Sometimes the monograph style is said to be 'out of fashion', (and I've heard of a few stories where supervisors disparage the form that way) but again, keeping in mind what can be achieved with both styles is important, and will be helpful for deciding which will be more suitable for your work. Again, your supervisor will undoubtedly weigh in on this discussion. The goal for both forms of theses is to report your research findings; from there, it's choosing the best form. I think this is a good perspective to have: you will learn slightly different skills with either form, both of which will be valuable.

(PS: This post is not meant to be overly prescriptive: there will be differences among forms. A monograph style thesis may turn out with the results section being almost cut-and-past ready to drop into a journal article. Or, a manuscript style thesis still needs re-shifting, editing, cutting, to make the articles a better length for a target journal; depending on the journal, you may have a manuscript style thesis with two article chapters, each 10,000-12,000 words in length, but the target journals for each article have a maximum word count of 6,000-8,000 words. So, editing is still needed.)

As a graduate student, it is well worth the time to find theses from previous grads in your program. They can offer a guide and example of the kind that you'll be working towards. I've also found it extremely valuable and am grateful to the colleagues that have had long conversations with me about their process, tips, and advice. SO GOOD! :)

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