Originality in doctoral research – what is it exactly?

Originality is integral to getting a doctorate and there are plenty of articles that try to explain to doctoral candidates exactly what examiners are looking for in the mysterious term ‘originality’.

The video provides an explanation of originality, and a bit more on the rationale for making it and the contributors is shown below.

A doctorate ought to:
  • Be a report of work which others would want to read.
  • Tell a compelling story articulately whilst pre-empting inevitable critiques.
  • Carry the reader into complex realms, and inform and educate him/her.
  • Be sufficiently speculative or original to command respectful peer attention (Winter et al., 2000, p. 36).

Making an original contribution

The University of Liverpool (UoL) has a professional doctorate in higher education (EdD) that is run in conjunction with Laureate Online.  Our first candidates (15) are going to be at the thesis stage in September and they are asking what they need to do to succeed.  Of course, “make an original contribution” is part of the answer. In an effort to explain that a bit more Dave Hocker and Ian Wills of the Educational Development Division asked four experienced PhD supervisors for their thoughts.  The four are:

Their ideas are complied in a video that is available to doctoral students on UoL-Laureate programmes and also on the UoL streaming site, which has materials uploaded by UoL staff (click here and search for ‘originality’ in order to find it).

Further reading

And there’s more in this article Originality (Winter, Griffiths & Green (2000) The ‘Academic’ Qualities of Practice: What are the criteria for a practice-based PhD?, Studies in Higher Education, 25:1, 25-37).

  • pushes the topic into new areas beyond its obvious focus
  • makes an original contribution to knowledge or understanding of the subject, in topic area, in method, in experimental design, in theoretical synthesis, or engagement with conceptual issues
  • solves some significant problem or gathers original data
  • reframes issues
  • is imaginative in its approach to problems
  • is creative yet rigorous
  • goes beyond its sources to create a new position which critiques existing theoretical positions
  • uses the empirical study to enlarge the theoretical understanding of the subject
  • contains innovation, speculation, imaginative reconstruction, cognitive excitement: ‘the author has clearly wrestled with the method, trying to shape it to gain new insights’
  • is comprehensive in its theoretical linkages or makes novel connections between areas of knowledge
  • opens up neglected areas or takes a new viewpoint on an old problem
  • something new must have been learned and demonstrated, such that the reader is made to rethink a stance or opinion
  • shows ‘a spark of inspiration as well as perspiration’
  • shows development towards independent research and innovation
  • is innovative in content and adventurous in method, obviously at the leading edge in its particular, with potential for yielding new knowledge
  • makes a personal synthesis of an interpretative framework
  • shows depth and breadth of scholarship synthesising previous work and adding original insights /models/concepts
  • argues against conventional views, presents new frameworks for interpreting the world
  • applies established techniques to novel patterns, or devises new techniques which allow new questions to be addressed.