HI everyone

In a recent article Gill & Dolan (2015) conduct a review of the concept of originality in doctoral research.  They raise the issue that ensuring ‘originality’ is a source of uncertainty and anxiety for many students, mostly because originality depends on the audience and the discipline.  A further source of confusion is how much originality in a thesis is ok?  How can you tell if something is original or not given the context of always needing to draw on other sources.  What if you are working on a team project? Students are given little guidance on how to make sure their research is ‘original’.

Many of you will know that I have cautioned you not to use phrases like “no research has been conducted in this area” so how do you articulate originality in the thesis?  In my view, by the time a student has finished a thesis which is the culmination of 4,5,6 year process, it is very hard to see anything new or fresh in that research.  But the fact that you have conducted a large research project means that your work will be original.  What your readers want to see is what has your research brought to the table?  What is new, different or interesting about your research?  How does your research add to the literature and to knowledge?  Phrases like “the significance of this research is…”; “what was surprising in this research…” are helpful to highlight the contribution to your readers.  You don’t have to oversell and make big claims, rather focus on what interested you, what made you excited about the data, what do you want to share about your research?  Once you are almost near completion, I think it helps to give a presentation on your research and to get feedback on what others’ think is significant.  You may not be able to see it but others will.

Gill & Dolan (2015) quote Phillips & Pugh (2010) who provide these definitions of originality:

  • New information
  • Adding to previously original work
  • Conducting original research even though it’s been defined by someone else (supervisor)
  • Original techniques, observations, methods or results
  • Showing originality in testing someone else’s ideas
  • New empirical work
  • Synthesizing existing work
  • Using known material but with new interpretations
  • Applying known material in new contexts
  • Applying known material in a new area/field
  • Bringing new evidence to bear on an old issue
  • Introducing cross disciplinary interpretations or methods
  • Exploring new areas in a discipline
  • Add to knowledge in a way that hasn’t been done before

What do you think about originality?  Anything else you can add to the list?



Gill, P., & Dolan, G. (2015). Originality and the PhD:  What is it and how can it be demonstrated? Nurse Researcher, 22(6), 11-15.

Phillips, EM., & Pugh, D.S. (2010). How to get a PhD: A handbook for students and their supervisors.  Fifth edition.  Open University Press, Maidenhead.

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