Six Misconceptions about the Three-Paper Route

Monograph dissertations are still the norm for many PhD students, but some disciplines allow a collection of papers to be submitted instead. We talked to a PhD student taking this route to learn more about it…


Majority of texts about the three(or more)-paper thesis compare it favourably against the traditional monograph format, and students report it is less stressful, more time-efficient, and enjoyable to write… Not to forget it is likely to result in shiny new entries under ‘Publications’ section of your CV.

But how does it work in practice? How does it differ from traditional dissertation format?

Simone Griesser (Warwick Business School), who chose the three-paper route to thesis, kindly agreed to share her experience. Our conversation made me realise how little I really knew about this thesis format. Here are some misconceptions I had…

  • “You need to choose to route when applying for PhD.”

This depends on your supervisor and the nature of your research approach. Sometimes the decision is made prior to the entry in the PhD program, sometimes in the first year, after considering the . If you are unsure, your supervisors and senior colleagues might offer some guidance.

  • “All of the papers need to be on the same topic.”

Ideally yes, because it will be easier to present them as a thesis, and explain how they relate. Just like with the monograph route, the plans you have for papers might change along the way.

  • “Your thesis will consist only of bound papers.”

You will still need to write and introduction and conclusion, and in some cases, a literature review or a wider background of your study. This will help your readers see the connections between your papers.

  • “All the papers need to be published or accepted by the time you submit the thesis.”

The truth is they need to be presented in a publishable format, rather than be published. This seems sensible give that the publishing process can take over a year or even two in many disciplines, and due to research design particularities, many PhD students would not be able to produce papers for the most of their PhD. However, it is great if you can submit at least one of the papers to get some external feedback on your work.

  • “Co-authored papers cannot be included in the thesis.”

Students publish papers with their colleagues, and this route does not prohibit it. Authorship is usually addressed in the ethics forms and should, of course, be indicated in the thesis, so make sure to check the official university guidelines regarding this.

  • “No all-nighters, no stress, no dramas.”

Unfortunately, the three-paper route does not erase deadlines and stress. You will still need to collect your data, do the analysis, and write, write, write, just like when completing a monograph thesis.


If you are considering a career in academia or anywhere where your publication track might matter, Simone would recommend the three paper route if your research topic is suitable for this, as it encourages you to start thinking about your research in terms of publishable findings. Even if none of your papers is published by the end of your PhD, it will probably be easier to adapt your papers into submissions, rather than dissecting an 80,000 words book.

Finally, having the project split into several smaller chunks might seem less overwhelming and more feasible, especially in the periods when you struggle.

Are you taking this route yourself? Or would you consider choosing it over the monograph? Share your thoughts in comments section! 🙂

We are grateful to Simone for sharing her experience.

Simone’s research interests include experiential consumption and how digitalisation influences luxury consumption. Her methods of investigation have been as varied as her leisure activities. You can learn more about Simone’s research in her portfolio and LinkedIn page.

Image credits: Martin Fisch / CC BY-SA 2.0

4 thoughts on “Six Misconceptions about the Three-Paper Route

  1. I did this route for my thesis. I’d really recommend it, especially if your thesis is on a topic/field that’s changing quite rapidly as it means you can ‘lock in’ chapters (and just deal with updates in the conclusion). It’s also great if you suffer from imposter syndrome as getting to see your work in print is a nice bit of reassurance that your work is original and of a good standard (which is no bad thing to have up your sleeve for the viva as well!)

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Sarah. I can definitely see how it would help combat the imposter syndrome, with massive one-piece dissertation it is hard to get a sense of progress or achievement.

      Well done on completing your thesis! 🙂

      Ana (PhD Life)

  2. Would you suggest this route for a Ph.D in Trade Finance ?
    Trade Finance is a banking related topic

    1. Hi Brijesh,

      Thanks for your comment. It is hard to give a general advice, but I think that would depend on
      a) what your career plans are – is it academia or a professional role in banking business? Would having publications be helpful for the latter?

      b) How do you prefer to plan your projects and do the analysis? If a monograph seems overwhelming, perhaps the paper route might be a more suitable option?

      c) Does your institution allow this format? How does your supervisor feel about this?

      I hope this helps,

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