PhDs as Original Contributions to Knowledge

One of the difficulties faced when taking an assessed course is understanding what is required to satisfy the examiners. Understanding the demands of the degree helps your achieve the requisite standard. The two key requirements of any PhD programme are originality and contribution to the existing knowledge base. But what do these criteria really mean?


According to London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies’ 2013-2014 PhD Regulations:[blockquote2]“A successful thesis … must … form a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality by the discovery of new facts and/or by the exercise of independent critical power.”[/blockquote2] Similarly, University College London’s 2013-2014 PhD Regulations state that any such contribution must be “significant.” Some ways that UCL suggests that a significant contribution might be achieved is  [blockquote2]“through the discovery of new knowledge, the connection of previously unrelated facts, the development of new theory, or the revision of older views.” [/blockquote2]

This process is relatively straight forward for science PhDs, where new knowledge is produced by original empirical research specifically designed to discover new facts. For students taking a PhD in Arts and Humanities, making an original contribution to knowledge may seem like a daunting task. After all, so much has already been published on so many topics. Regardless of their interest area, there are certain strategies that all PhD students use to help them make significant contributions to their fields. These strategies include: generating new knowledge through empirical research; carrying out research into a new area, such as a novel technology; identifying an ongoing controversy and advancing it towards a resolution; and finding a new angle that alters our understanding of what might have been viewed as stable knowledge. These strategies will be discussed in more detail in future posts.

When preparing your PhD proposal, it is important to indicate that you have thought about the two criteria discussed in this post. Your PhD proposal needs to include at least some indication that your research is original and makes a distinct and significant contribution to the knowledge base. The PhD Consultancy can assist you in developing a proposal that satisfies these requirements.