My PhD: Weaving the Web of an Article-Based Doctoral Thesis

An article-based thesis has become common in media studies. Publishing articles implies stepping into the world of academic publishing. However, it is not easy to get your work published as a young scholar, in particular not as a sole author.

An article-based thesis in media studies can have many shapes. When I started working on my doctoral dissertation quite a few years ago, there weren’t many examples to follow in writing a thesis that consisted of several research publications. Neither is there very much advice for how to construct the introduction of an article-based dissertation.

Stepping into the world of academic publishing as a doctoral student, I quickly found that it wasn’t so easy to get your work published as a young scholar writing alone. The publication processes were long and arduous. As years went by, and the articles took long to publish, my panic started to grow. Will this work ever be finished? Will my funding run out before it is?

In this article series, authors of newly defended PhD theses tell about their experiences from their doctoral studies at Nordic universities.

In this essay, I want to share some of my experiences in writing an article-based thesis. Naturally, I had the original plan for how the articles in my doctoral dissertation would come together, but as it often happens in research, the path was not so straight-forward as I had planned. Other research projects, highly critical reviewers, and methodological hurdles appeared. My finished work ended up being, in some parts, quite different from the original plan. 

One of the biggest struggles for me was the slow publishing process. I found it very difficult to get my work published, which slowed down progress considerably. I think one of the articles was in the process altogether 2–3 years, which is a long time in a four-year project!

“Switching to Finnish had many advantages; I found that my thinking was clearer, the language I used was more expressive, and I was able to publish much more quickly.”

Eventually I felt I needed to change strategy and I decided to switch from writing in English, to writing articles in Finnish, my native tongue. Switching to Finnish had many advantages; I found that my thinking was clearer, the language I used was more expressive, and I was able to publish much more quickly. Of course, there were also disadvantages, it was harder to make it to international conferences and to get my work known outside Finland.

My advice for PhD students thinking about the choice of language is this, think carefully about what your aims are. If you are sure you want to pursue a career internationally, English is the best option for you. However, if you want to have societal impact in your own country or if you want to make your work known for broader audiences or, for example, policymakers, maybe writing in your own language is an option? 

Knitting together the introduction

In the last year of my PhD, I decided to also write the introduction article, the “kappa”, in Finnish. Often writing the introduction is a difficult task, but I also found it enjoyable.

Finally, I was able to write more freely, not bound by the strict forms and limitations of article publishing! My research articles were very heterogeneous in their methods and approaches, so I really had to get creative in finding the common ground. My first step was to look at other article-based dissertations to see how others had constructed the introduction.

I then started the writing process by reading carefully all my articles and trying to find out what they had in common, in terms of themes, concepts, and methodologies. I found themes that cut across many of them, so I decided to build the introduction around these themes. In this part of the PhD process, you need to be able to look at your work from a distance. I collected all the abstracts of my articles and tried to formulate one paragraph of what the abstract of the whole thesis would be. I felt I had a vision for how the introduction would turn out, but this was probably not yet clear to my supervisors at this point.

All the themes in my sub-studies were not included in all the articles, so combining them into one book required some brain work. However, this task was a great writing exercise! I thought of writing the introduction through craft-metaphors, weaving and knitting together yarns of different shapes and colours.

Thesis in a nutshell

Online hate and the emotional landscape of the socially withdrawn

  • Title: Prekarisaation tunnemaisema: vastustavat taktiikat, tunnelmat ja elämänpolitiikka verkon julkisuudessa (Emotional landscapes of precarity: Moods, life politics and tactics of resistance in a networked public)
  • Years of active studies: 2015–2019
  • Day of defence: September 4, 2020 (virtual event on Zoom)
  • Object of study: Anonymous online discussions
  • Findings: Spaces of anonymous online communication counterbalance the more mainstream social media platforms, where visibility and work on the self are ideals.
  • Structure: Five journal articles published in the journals Lähikuva, Media & viestintä, European Journal of Cultural Studies and Participations + introduction in Finnish
  • Supervisors: Kaarina Nikunen, professor at Tampere University, and Seija Ridell, professor at Tampere University
  • Pre-examinators: Johanna Sumiala, associate professor at the University of Helsinki, and Tuija Saresma, adjunct professor at the University of Jyväskylä
  • Opponent: Tero Karppi, associate professor, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Read the publication arrow_forward
    Online hate and the emotional landscape of the socially withdrawn

    For me, formulating the big questions of the thesis was the most difficult task. I ended up answering questions such as, what kind of public is formed on the Finnish image-board forum Ylilauta, how do affordances of the online platform allow anti-social behaviour and hate speech, and how are political discussions, politization, and social criticism born in this online public.

    I also ended up making a visualization of the most important concepts in my study, which depicted the relations of these concepts in my work. This mind map was also included in the final thesis. Visualizations are often a good way of clarifying things both for yourself and your readers.

    To conclude, I think the most important qualities for the writer of an introduction to an article-based thesis are an open mind, limited amount of self-criticism and, of course, perseverance. After all, as we have all heard many times, the best thesis is a finished one!

    Eliisa Vainikka is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Tampere University in Finland.

    Contribute to this series

    Want to share experiences from your doctoral studies with us?

    Are you a newly-baked doctor in media, communication or journalism studies or close to becoming one? Would you like to share your experiences from your doctoral studies? We would like to hear from you! The article series “My PhD” welcomes contributions that are related to all kinds of lessons learned during the doctoral studies. Contact Maarit Jaakkola,
    Want to share experiences from your doctoral studies with us?

    Photos: Scandinav, Frederico Cintra (CC BY)