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Considering a PhD thesis that use a problem statement chapter in the middle of the thesis. The reason for the chapter is that the required background information is only, fully available at this point. Before that (e.g. in the introduction) it make no sense to discuss it in depth because it is to long (5 pages) and to deep for anyone not in the field. It is stated directly in the beginning of the chapter, that this chapter is used to build a deep problem understanding to better assess the solutions developed in the following chapters 6 and 7. It is also mentioned in the introduction of the thesis. The thesis also states that in the second part (also 5 pages) of this chapter, some things/constructs are in this section presented that are used in both parts are presented.

The PhD thesis has the following structure / table of contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Foundation
  3. Building the First Research Artifact ( = 1 published Paper)
  4. Building the Second Research Artifact ( = 1 published Paper)
  5. Problem Statement / Challenges and Things Used in the Following both Chapters
  6. Doing some Research in Area X on Artifact of 3. and 4. ( = 1 published Paper)
  7. Doing some Research in Area Y on Artifact of 3. and 4. ( = 1 published Paper)
  8. Conclusion

Given feedback indicates that some people have issues with such a chapter:

One (post doc) gave feedback that he does not understand the purpose of the chapter because no concept is presented and asks which RQ is addressed? This feedback was given when the second part with developed things was still in chapter 6 and 7 and the chapter only contained the proble statement.

Other one (prof) gave feedback: interesting but complex. Not sure if RQ is completely addressed? Missing the solution.

Based on those observations, I think it is maybe not common to add such a chapter that only describes / discuss / analyse the problem (i.e. problem statement) and provides no solution. However, I have seen this many times in any kind of theses and think some auxiliary chapter without presenting a concept and evaluating can be used. I think it crazy to make a concept of the problem statement and evaluate it. That makes no sense to me.

Other people seem to be OK with the chapter. So my question is: is it just the fast reading mode of some (academic) people with less concentration and checking for the typical things such as evaluation and concept?

Are there any guidelines or recommendations how to make such a chapter? In some theses, it is earlier, e.g., after the foundations, but the other two chapters need to be considered for defining the problem.

If the chapter analyses the problem of research question Z, can said / written that the research objective of the chapter is: to establish a problem understanding and that it contributes / addresses research question Z by establishing a deep problem understanding? I never read something like this but is this ok if it should be related to a research question?

2 Answers 2

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Chapter 5 shouldn't come out of the blues. The introduction (chapter 1) should give a pointer to it.


For PhD by Publication (prospective route) or what some called Thesis by article, the structure/outline should be fine.
Should suffice also for monologue

However, the introduction should give a pointer to chapter so that readers will expect it coming and understand why.

The introduction should also briefly explain the structure (of the 8 chapters) being followed and why.

Were this to be PhD by Publication (retrospective route), the chapter 5 (problem statement) would have been part of the introduction (which would then be the exegesis/commentary critically explicating the golden thread across the published articles.

PS: For traditional thesis, OP's chapters outline is kinda red herring.

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You seem to write a cumulative thesis that combines individual research papers with some introduction. These research papers should be able to stand on their own without the context of the thesis. You submit research papers to journals, not theses.

If you need a problem explained to understand why there is a need for its solution in one of the research papers and appreciate the value of the research paper, it should be included in the research paper. So the need for an extra chapter would point to a problem with the writing of your research papers.

Generally, few people will read an individual cumulative thesis, but many people might read some of the individual papers contained therein. So you should optimize the writing for them to be able to stand on their own. Editors and referees will read the paper, not the thesis.

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  • Thanks for your reply. The thesis is a monograph but all parts are published as papers, stand alone, and are accepted. Would there the option to do it as cumulative and not as monograph, it would be a dream for the one who has to do this work. From your answer, I derive that the problem statement chapter could be a contribution / adresses the research question because to write the problem statement more clearly, it could generally be published as a low workshop paper. Commented May 21, 2023 at 19:37
  • Supervisors read the thesis not the papers. Papers are re-written as chapters for building a monograph thesis. Commented May 21, 2023 at 19:41
  • @Michael Greinecker In the traditional sense, Yes. However, everyone doesn't have 'follow the herd' when it doesn't suit. This is one challenge with academia (so this isn't about you). It's just the system. Outside the expected, what OP has described is fine for PhD by Publication (prospective route). However, the introduction should give a pointer to chapter 5 and introduce the (8 chapters) structure being followed and why. Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 8:12

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