Reading in preparation for writing a PhD thesis : Case studies of experiences

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-191
Journal / PublicationJournal of English for Academic Purposes
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2009


The paper presents stories of how a group of doctoral students chose the key disciplinary literature that they read in preparation for their thesis-undertaking (RT). The stories were analyzed in light of current understanding of literature reviewing as a situated practice and theory of doctoral education as socio-cognitive apprenticeship. As the stories reveal, key disciplinary literature does not exist 'cut-and-dried'. This applies particularly to undertakings carried out in fields where multiple paradigms exist. The complex epistemic landscapes of the students' research made selecting key literature to review much a difficult task. The task was in many cases facilitated by guidance provided by mentors such as thesis supervisors and panel members. Guidance was provided at various stages of the thesis-undertakings especially when theoretical and methodological issues emerged that called for the mentors' advice, often resulting in new directions and selections of reading. The stories suggest that choices of reading for a thesis-undertaking are partly socially mediated and partly driven by contingencies arising in the students' fieldwork. This stands in some contrast to how RT is presented in thesis manuals, which tend to construe RT as an autonomous practice and emphasize search techniques via discipline-specific electronic databases. While not downplaying the importance of independence that students need to develop and that of the product-based approach to RT driven by the generic conventions of a literature review, the paper suggests that the contingent and social dimension deserves some attention in instructional literature and thesis preparatory courses. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Research Area(s)

  • disciplinary literature, guided participation, literature reviewing, reading for the thesis, thesis writing