What is a ‘thesis by publication’?
A thesis by publication is one where the core chapters of your thesis consist of papers you have published. This kind of thesis may be suited to certain disciplines in which your study proceeds in discrete stages or involves a sequence of related components, for example, a series of laboratory experiments. (It can also extend to other types of output, e.g. the production of several artworks.)
Check with your department/faculty to see if a thesis by publication is possible and to find out the specific requirements. Some things to consider are listed below. (NB: Requirements vary, so the following should be taken as a guide only):
Generally, only those papers researched and written after enrolment can be included and only those actually accepted for publication are allowed (i.e. not those submitted and awaiting acceptance).
Papers must be accepted by reputable, high profile journals which require full peer review of contributions.
You should be the main contributor to all of the papers you include (i.e. you have been responsible for the key ideas, the development of the study and the writing of the paper). It is possible to include papers co-written with other authors as long as you have their permission (preferably in writing).
The papers submitted must form a coherent whole – they must be linked thematically (by a consistent focus on a particular topic) and structurally (by the inclusion of an introduction, explanatory material between the chapters and a conclusion). Normal academic requirements apply: your thesis must be a substantial, original contribution to knowledge in the discipline and must observe appropriate referencing conventions, etc.
One of the benefits of doing a thesis by publication is that you will graduate with a number of publications to your credit, which will get your career as a researcher off to a good start. One of the pitfalls is the uncertainty that can be caused by delays in the publication process – some journals can take a long time before accepting your paper.