PhD by Publication – Explained

Published 16 October, 2023


A PhD by publication, also known as a “publication-based PhD” or a “documentary PhD”, is a doctoral degree that is awarded on the basis of published scholarly work instead of on the completion of an original research thesis. This type of PhD is often available to mid-career researchers who have already produced a significant body of work, and it may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis.

This article provides an overview of the PhD by publication, including its benefits and drawbacks, the process of completing one, and what it can mean for your career.

What is a PhD by Publication?

Generating a PhD by Publication is becoming an increasingly popular option for doctoral candidates, particularly in disciplines where traditional research methods are less feasible or desirable. In essence, a PhD by Publication entails the compilation of a body of publication-worthy work that meets the standards set forth by one’s academic institution. 

The structure and requirements for a PhD by Publication can vary considerably from one institution to another. Some programs may require that candidates submit a traditional research thesis along with their portfolio of published work, while others may allow the thesis to be replaced entirely by the publications. In most cases, however, candidates will be expected to produce a certain amount of new, original research in addition to their published work.

The PhD by Publication is attractive to many candidates because it allows them to draw on their existing experience and expertise, rather than starting from scratch with a new research project. This can be particularly beneficial for mid-career researchers who already have a significant body of work to their credit. It can also be a good option for candidates who wish to pursue a PhD on a part-time basis, as they can work on their publications while continuing to work in their field.

However, the PhD by Publication is not without its drawbacks. Because it is a relatively new and uncommon type of degree, there is often less institutional support available for candidates pursuing this route. Additionally, the assessment criteria for a PhD by Publication can be difficult to define, which can make the process of completing one feel rather ambiguous.

What is the Application Process for PhD for Publication?

The application process for a PhD by Publication can vary depending on the institution. In most cases, candidates will need to submit a portfolio of their published work, along with a research proposal outlining their plans for any new, original research that needs to be undertaken. Candidates may also need to provide evidence of their teaching experience and other academic achievements.

It is important to note that the PhD by Publication is not an option for everyone. In order to be eligible, candidates must usually already have a significant body of work to their credit. This means that it is generally not possible to complete a PhD by Publication on a part-time basis; candidates usually need to be able to dedicate themselves full-time to their research in order to complete the degree in a reasonable timeframe.

How to Complete a PhD by Publication

If you are interested in pursuing a PhD by Publication, the first step is to check with your institution to see if they offer this type of degree. Some programs may have specific requirements or guidelines that you will need to follow.

Once you have determined that your institution does offer a PhD by Publication, the next step is to begin compiling your body of work. This will typically involve collecting together all of the papers, book chapters, and other publication-worthy materials that you have produced over the course of your career. The format typically consists of 10,000 words per paper/chapter, with a minimum of five papers required.

Once you have collected all of your published work, the next step is to write an overview or “map” of this work. This overview should discuss how your individual publications fit together to form a coherent whole, and how they contribute to your larger argument or research goals. The overview should also demonstrate that your work meets the standards required for a PhD-level thesis.

Once you have completed your overview, you will need to submit it along with your published work to your institution for assessment. The exact process for this will vary from one institution to another, but in most cases, you will be required to present your work to a panel of academics and defend it against their critiques. If your work is deemed to be of sufficient quality, you will be awarded your PhD.

How Much Does PhD by Publication Cost?

The cost of a PhD can be quite high, especially if you are studying in the UK. For one year of study on average universities charge £4 500 for British and European students whereas international applicants will have to pay much more due to limitations with funding sources like research council grants which may make it difficult or impossible altogether.

PhDs by Publication are no different, and can end up costing a fair amount depending on the institution you attend.

Some universities will charge a flat fee for your entire PhD program, regardless of how long it takes you to complete it. Others may charge on a per-year basis, or on a per-credit basis. In most cases, the total cost of a PhD by Publication will be somewhere between £10,000 and £30,000.

This cost can be offset somewhat by the fact that you will likely already have most of your published work in hand before you begin your PhD program. This means that you will not have to pay for the costs associated with producing new research, such as fieldwork or laboratory costs.

It is also worth noting that some universities may offer reduced fees for students who are able to complete their PhDs in a shorter timeframe. This is often the case for students who already have a large body of published work to their credit.

Can I hire a supervisor for PhD by publication?

Yes, it is possible to hire a supervisor for PhD by publication. This is typically done when the applicant already has a strong background in the field and has published extensively. The supervisor is then hired to help guide and oversee the research project.

The process of hiring a supervisor by publication can be a little more complicated than just finding someone with the right qualifications. It’s important to make sure that both the supervisor and the applicant are on board with the arrangement, and that all corresponding paperwork is in order.

Additionally, it’s important to be aware of any potential conflicts of interest that may arise from this type of arrangement. For example, if the supervisor is also the editor of a journal in which the applicant hopes to publish their work, there may be some concern about potentially biased decision-making.

What Kind of Publications Can I use in my Portfolio?

The types of publications that you can use in your PhD by Publication portfolio will vary depending on the requirements of your institution. However, in general, most institutions will accept a wide range of publication types, including:

  • Journal articles
  • Book chapters
  • Books
  • Conference papers
  • Theses

What Completing a PhD by Publication Can Mean for Your Career

Successfully completing a PhD by Publication can open up a number of new career opportunities. In many cases, it can lead to tenure and promotion within your current institution. It can also make you more competitive for senior academic positions at other institutions.

Additionally, completing a PhD by Publication can give you a certain level of visibility and prestige within your field, which can help you to attract new students and collaborators.

And finally, it can provide you with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from knowing you have made a significant contribution to your field of study.

With the PhD by Publication becoming an increasingly popular option for candidates seeking to earn their doctorate, it is important to understand what this type of degree entails. This overview should give you a better understanding of what the PhD by Publication is, how it differs from a traditional PhD, and what completing one can mean for your career.


Advantages of Choosing PhD by publication

The advantages of a PhD by the publication include:

  • Recognition of your existing work: A PhD by publication allows you to have your existing work recognised and accredited as part of your doctoral studies, rather than starting from scratch.
  • A shorter path to a PhD: Because you are not required to conduct original research, a PhD by publication can be completed in a shorter time frame than a traditional PhD.
  • Increased visibility: As your work is already published, it is more likely to be seen and read by others in your field, which can help to raise your profile.
  • A sense of accomplishment: Completing a PhD by publication can provide you with a great sense of satisfaction and achievement.


Disadvantages of PhD by Publication

The various disadvantages of a PhD by Publication include:

  • Your work must meet certain standards: in order to be awarded a PhD by publication, your work must meet the same high standards as that required for a traditional PhD.
  • You may need to write an overview: depending on your institution’s requirements, you may need to write an overview or “map” of your work, which can be a daunting task.
  • There is no guarantee of success: because your work will be assessed by a panel of experts, there is no guarantee that you will be awarded your PhD.

Difference Between Traditional PhD & PhD by Publication

Choosing to complete a PhD by publication should not be taken lightly. It is a significant decision that will have an impact on your career, so it is important to understand the difference between a traditional PhD and a PhD by publication.

The main differences between a traditional PhD and a PhD by publication include:

Traditional PhD

PhD by Publication

Conduct original research and write a dissertation on your findings. Compile a portfolio of your existing publications.
You are required to defend your dissertation in front of a panel of experts.  You may need to write an overview of your work, but you will not have to defend your dissertation.
A traditional PhD takes anywhere from three to four years to complete. A PhD by publication can be completed in a shorter time frame.
You are usually required to complete coursework and pass exams, in addition to conducting research and writing your dissertation. There are no such requirements.
The assessment process for a traditional PhD is usually based on your dissertation alone The assessment process for a PhD by publication takes into account the entire body of your work.


Earning a PhD by publication can offer many benefits, but it is not the right choice for everyone. It is important to carefully consider your decision and make sure you understand the difference between a traditional PhD and a PhD by publication. If you decide that a PhD by publication is the right choice for you, be prepared to work hard to ensure that your work meets the high standards required.

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