Doctoral research: advertisement for the discipline?

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 1 December 2005



Bawden, D. (2005), "Doctoral research: advertisement for the discipline?", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 61 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Doctoral research: advertisement for the discipline?

In this issue, the winners of our doctoral research awards are listed. Making the judgements of the winning submissions was a somewhat invidious process in that the limited number of awards, and the overall high standard of submissions, meant that some work of very high quality could not be recognised. Even so, the overall task was a pleasing one, in bringing into sharp focus the very high quality of doctoral research being carried out worldwide. “Worldwide” in this case is not an exaggeration, since the submissions came from a very wide geographical area, and the award went to an institution as far away from the journal’s home base as is possible. The submissions also spanned the whole spread of the library/information sciences, and indeed beyond their normal boundaries, confirming that doctoral research is not confined to well-trodden paths.

In the selection of award-winner and commendations, beyond the obvious requirement that the work be of demonstrably publishable quality, and be based on thorough review and analysis of the literature, there was a desire that the research should use methods which, as well as being robust, had some degree of novelty. Crucially, they should show academic relevance in having the potential to stimulate and illuminate further research. Although not so strong a requirement, it happened that all the successful submissions had some potential relevance to professional practice, an indication of strong links between research and practice. These are stringent requirements, and the fact that they were met by more than a few of the submissions shows the strength of the research culture in the LIS departments from which the submissions came.

The award winner, Theresa Anderson, from the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, presented a genuinely outstanding dissertation. It combines a focus on a long-standing and fundamental conceptual issue within information science, the nature of “relevance”, with the use of research methods which have been little used in the library/information sciences – naturalistic enquiry methods, largely drawn from ethnography. This combination, together with the quality of the work, which is likely to be of long-term academic significance, made this submission a deserved award winner.

One of the commendations of merit, to Jeppe Nicolaisen, from the Royal School of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, Denmark, is also notable for its topic and approach. It examines bibliographic citation practice, a very well-worked research topic, reassessing some aspects which have been taken for granted, over-looked or ignored, and using a variety of complementary research methods.

The other two commendations of merit, both from the UK, are notable for their research approaches. Rachel Spacey (Loughborough University) applies a robust and thoroughly validated testing instrument from management science, the Technology Assessment Model, in a novel way, and on a much larger scale than is usual in PhD research. Simon Attfield (University College London) shows the integration of concepts and concerns from information science with those from human-computer interface design and psychology, using a variety of methods of studying behaviour, some new to the information sciences, together with novel approaches to statistical analysis.

The impact of doctoral research, as assessed by publication in the literature and subsequent citation, seems to be rather varied. Some studies find a considerable impact (see, for example, Santos et al., 1998), others a much less positive picture (see, for example, Anwar, 2004). The research reviewed for these awards may, perhaps, be a self-selection sample of the best of its kind. Nonetheless, it is an indication of the value of the empirical data and intellectual content which is encapsulated in this form. It behoves all those who have an influence to see that it is expressed as well as possible and communicated as widely as possible. Journal editors and conference organisers who can support publication and presentation of this work, and publishers and associations who can encourage it through awards and sponsorship, have a particular responsibility. We could have no better advertisement for the validity and strength of LIS as an academic discipline, and it should not be under-stated.

Referees in 2005Submissions to Journal of Documentation were refereed by the following:

  • Ralph Adam;

  • Chris Armstrong;

  • Vanda Broughton;

  • Rodney Brunt;

  • Michael Buckland;

  • Marianna Tax Choldin;

  • Gobinda Chowdhury;

  • Mel Collier;

  • Michael Cook;

  • Leo Egghe;

  • Peter Enser;

  • Nigel Ford;

  • Allen Foster;

  • Alan Gilchrist;

  • Birger Hjørland;

  • Peter Ingwersen;

  • Andy MacFarlane;

  • Claire McInerney;

  • Jack Meadows;

  • David Nicholas;

  • Tony Olden;

  • Charles Oppenheim;

  • Ramuné Petuchovaité

  • Niels Ole Pors;

  • Stephen Robertson;

  • Ronald Rousseau;

  • Ian Rowlands;

  • Jenny Rowley;

  • Ian Ruthven;

  • Aida Slavic;

  • Karen Spärck-Jones;

  • Paul Sturges;

  • Sanna Talja;

  • Christine Urquhart;

  • Pertti Vakkari;

  • Sirje Virkus;

  • Julian Warner;

  • Sheila Webber;

  • Berenika Webster;

  • Peter Willett;

  • Penny Yates-Mercer; and

  • Maja Zumer.

The Editor and publisher would like to thank all for their constructive comments during the refereeing process. It is greatly appreciated.

David BawdenCity University, London, UK


Anwar, M.A. (2004), “From doctoral dissertation to publication: a study of 1995 American graduates in library and information sciences”, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, Vol. 36 No. 4, pp. 151–7

Santos, M., Willett, P. and Wood, F.E. (1998), “Research degrees in librarianship and information science: a survey of master’s and doctoral students from the Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield”, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 49–56

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