This thesis addresses the practical problem of developing effective writing pedagogy to support doctoral candidates. It does this by focusing on the ways knowledge is organised in dissertations and the strategies used to enact these practices in writing. In doing so, the thesis offers an alternative perspective on knowledge practices in doctoral dissertations that goes beyond distinguishing between knowledge ‘types’ and simple descriptive categories of disciplines (e.g. ‘hard’ vs. ‘soft’). The study shows how this alternative perspective can see knowledge, analyse knowledge and, importantly, reveal the organising principles of knowledge; and from this it develops tools and descriptions that uncover generalizable strategies for knowledge-building oriented toward doctoral-writing pedagogy.
Drawing on Legitimation Code Theory the thesis explores 25 exemplary doctoral dissertations across a range of subject areas in the humanities and social sciences. Through analyses at multiple levels of granularity – from whole dissertations, to individual sections and fine-grained phases of writing – it develops a set of conceptual tools for analysing knowledge in writing and demonstrates how such tools can be used to unpack the knowledge work involved in dissertations.
Through the dimension of Specialization, five ‘core components’ of dissertations are distinguished that reveal a set of strategies candidates use to foreground different kinds of knowledge. These strategies point to the bases of the claims being made, revealing one aspect of the ‘rules of the game’ underpinning dissertation writing. These ‘rules’ are not tied to any one discipline; rather, the strategies are organised according to the kind of knowledge-claim enacted. Drawing on the dimension of Semantics, key strategies for shifting the context-dependence and complexity of knowledge are explored that show how students construct findings in exemplary ways. To orient toward pedagogy, the strategies are then turned back onto the dissertations to demonstrate their utility for analysing texts to reveal key pedagogic insights.
The framework developed in this thesis provides an entry point for developing theoretically sophisticated but empirically-grounded tools with pedagogic potential for analysing knowledge practices in doctoral writing.