Appendix 3: Three-Paper Dissertations

Three-Paper Dissertation: The core of the three-paper dissertation is the research and writing of three articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals or proceedings. There are some options for the mix of papers so students will need to review these guidelines carefully in planning the dissertation.

Manuscript Content: The alternative dissertation should be comprised of a minimum of three articles. The articles do not need to be on the same research study but should form a cohesive body of work that supports a theme that is expressed clearly in the introduction of the dissertation (Chapter 1). 

There are several options students may select to meet the three-paper requirement. The final decision about what manuscripts can be included is determined by the dissertation chair and committee and in consultation with the PhD coordinators.

Empirical Study: All three manuscripts may report an empirical research study, but a minimum of one must be a formal research report suitable for publication in a high-quality, peer-reviewed journal. The student should have the primary responsibility of designing the study, analyzing the data, and writing the article for this required empirical article. The study should represent a major research undertaking that would be typical of a standard dissertation project. 

Note that a single research project may result in more than one empirical paper but each should have an independent focus and not be merely a reworking of the same material. Differentiation may be through examination of different research questions or different data sets and analyses that present varied perspectives on the theme.

Depending on how many empirical articles you plan, the other manuscript(s) may be of the types listed below.

  1. A) Literature Review: A literature review is required. There are several options. Only one literature review may be included in the final dissertation.

If the student opts for one of the articles to be a literature review, it must be one of the types listed below.

Scoping Review

A scoping review is quite similar to a Systematic literature review. The key difference being that there are no restrictions on the materials resourced. The purpose of the scoping review is to find ALL the materials on the topic. When undertaking a scoping review it is important to systematize your search strategies to ensure you can replicate your searches and to attend to any gaps that appear in results. When reading and sorting the results, again apply some of the measures used in a systematic review so that your search results are sorted by key themes and well organized. 

Systematic Literature Review

A Systematic style literature review uses elements and methods of a systematic quantitative or Qualitative review in its research methods but is then generally written up in a more traditional form.  For example, when researching a systematic styled review you would take careful notes of what you have searched for and in which databases in the same way as you would with a more formal review type. You would also include your inclusion and exclusion criteria for papers read in your final literature review, but you do not necessarily need to gather quantitative or qualitative evidence from your reading.  This style of review is very common in social science research as recording your search and evaluation methodology adds authority to your final product. 

Systematic Quantitative Literature Review (SQLR)

The purpose of an SQLR is to find, quantify and codify all relevant literature in a spreadsheet or table for analysis. Quantifying the status and characteristics of literature relating to a research area helps to identify themes and gaps in available research to better guide your research project..  There are clear inclusion and exclusion criteria identified. The quantification process helps with evidence-based decision making and informs future research directions. The review process identifies, evaluates and summarizes the findings of all eligible studies.  SQLRs are useful for providing a comprehensive overview and interpretation of research on a topic.


Combines data from multiple independent studies addressing the same question. Requires empirical evidence in the form of randomized controlled trials, quasi-experimental or correlational studies. In meta-analysis the number of papers reviewed is very large. Meta- analyses are useful for providing a better estimate of the impact or effectiveness of an intervention=.:

  1. B) Published Conference Proceeding. One of the three papers may be a conference proceeding that is peer-reviewed. If this option is selected, it is expected that the conference proceedings will have been published prior to the final defense. Students should present the feedback received from the peer reviewers to their dissertation committee, and be able to show how they revised the final publication to meet the suggested changes.
  2. C) Non-empirical Paper: Students may develop papers that are practitioner-based, design case studies, theoretical or conceptual explorations, or other types of articles found in the LTEC field. Such articles should be publishable in a high quality, peer-reviewed journal. An example of three manuscripts that would meet these guidelines is a publishable literature review, a conceptual or theoretical exploration of a major area of interest in LTEC, and a report of an empirical study designed in terms of expanding the knowledge base related to the first two. But as noted above, more than one article may be empirical in nature.


Other Three-paper  Dissertation Content

In addition to the three publishable manuscripts, the alternative dissertation includes several elements that are required.


Chapter 1: An introduction that demonstrates the conceptual and theoretical linkages among the three manuscripts, and develops the problem being explored. This chapter also explains the plan for the three manuscripts and how they are connected as well as how empirical data will be collected and analyzed.


Literature Review (chapter 2): While a literature review is generally part of each manuscript, students must have a more comprehensive literature review chapter covering the background and conceptual framework. This is the more common form found in a traditional dissertation, usually as Chapter 2. Note that a literature review is a requirement as part of the comprehensive examination for the LTEC PhD, and thus the traditional literature review must be completed at the time of the exam.


Discussion (usually chapter 6): As in a traditional dissertation, the conclusion chapter should indicate how the three manuscripts as a whole contribute to the field, practice implications if applicable, and research imperatives or gaps remaining. 


Appendices: Because journal articles are typically limited in length, materials often found in dissertations may not be included in the manuscripts and should be included in the appendices. Students are required to include the approval letter from the University of Hawai‘i Human Studies Program showing institutional review board approval for the dissertation research involving human subjects. Other materials may include expanded method descriptions, survey instruments, qualitative codebooks, data tables, or transcriptions of written material.


References: Each manuscript will have its own reference section. However, the final dissertation should have a reference section combining those from the three papers and with additional references used in the non-manuscript chapters (introduction, conclusion, and literature review).


Timing: All articles must be researched, developed and written AFTER the student is enrolled in the LTEC PhD program, and typically after the first year. No prior research or publications may be used to fulfill the 3-paper requirement, although research within the program may build on earlier studies. While manuscripts may be developed prior to selecting a committee, final decisions on inclusion remain with the dissertation chair and committee based on the proposal defense.


Authorship: Because the LTEC field is highly collaborative, the manuscripts in the alternative dissertation may be co-authored. However, a PhD thesis should be substantially a student’s own work. Students must be first author on all included articles, and most such articles will have limited co-authors. It is expected that at least one paper will have the student as sole author. As first author, a student is responsible for conceptualization and design, conducting research and analysis, writing major portions of a manuscript, and interpreting results. The role of the coauthors must be presented and approved by the chair and members of the dissertation committee. Students may not co-author with other students for the dissertation. It is often typical for students to co-author one article or presentation about their dissertation with their dissertation chair who guided much of the work. Because the dissertation chair and committee members may work extensively with a student on one or more manuscripts, co-authorship is possible with these faculty but should reflect actual effort not just committee membership. Co-authorship credit should follow standard practices and ethics in the social sciences. Understanding that at all times the primary effort should be the student’s, the dissertation proposal must clearly delineate the role of co-authors for each proposed manuscript. In addition, committee members cannot vote on any proposed manuscripts in which they are co-authors and such manuscripts must be approved by a majority of the remaining committee. In addition, at the final dissertation phase, in determining if a manuscript meets the standards for the dissertation, a majority of the committee excluding any co-authors must approve each submission.


Publication and Copyrights: All three manuscripts should be ready for submission to peer-reviewed outlets at the time of dissertation defense, with the exception of the proceedings option, which must be published prior to the defense. 

  • Articles may have been published before the defense but prior publication is not required except in the case of the conference proceeding option. If the dissertation committee members are convinced that the manuscripts are publishable and constitute a substantial original contribution to the field which has been correctly executed and well presented, the manuscript may be part of the dissertation even if not yet submitted to a journal. 
  • If a previously published article is approved by the committee, the student will be responsible for securing necessary permissions from the copyright holder and other authors to be included in the dissertation document in order to meet Graduate Division dissertation requirements. Any previously published articles must be based on work completed during the doctoral program.


Proposal Process for the Three-Paper  Dissertation: As with the traditional dissertation proposal in the LTEC PhD program, the proposal process includes a written proposal as well as an oral defense. A successful proposal defense includes the following:

  • Approval of a draft Chapter 1 and literature review (see above for options).
  • Approval to conduct a manuscript-style dissertation instead of a traditional dissertation.
  • Approval of the manuscripts or planned manuscripts that will constitute the dissertation as well as the publications to which the student plans to submit each.
  • Review and approval of the student’s principal authorship role on each of the manuscripts.


Committee Review: Multiple publications on the alternative dissertation have noted the lack of a standard by which a dissertation committee judges the individual manuscripts and dissertation as a whole, and a perception by some faculty that the shorter article format requires less rigor. LTEC has adopted the following criteria taken from the 2004 report by the UK Council for Graduate Division (Powell, 2004) as the basis for evaluation beyond the metrics for a traditional dissertation:

  • appraise the intellectual merit of the publications;
  • review the contribution to new or existing knowledge delineated in each publication;
  • weigh up the critique of the candidate’s own ideas established in each publication; and
  • in multi-authored papers, consider the candidate’s contribution in terms of percentage and quality of the writing.

In general, the dissertation chair and committee are responsible for determining that the manuscripts are of publication-level quality and that, if submitted to a journal, would reflect positively on the student and the department. As such, revisions to the documents may be expected after a successful defense to meet these high standards.


Format: The format of the final dissertation must meet the style guidelines established by the UHM Graduate Division for theses and dissertations. All LTEC dissertations use APA style guidelines.