Helpful Tips for Turning a Thesis or Dissertation into Journal Articles
Transforming a doctoral thesis into one or more publishable articles is not simply a matter of cutting interesting parts out of the thesis and pasting them together into a new document. The process will differ from thesis to thesis, but just as excerpts from a novel do not constitute a short story, chunks of a thesis do not constitute a journal article: the two (novel and short story or thesis and article) are very different beasts and therefore require different writing strategies. In this and future postings, I offer some general advice on how to proceed.
The first thing to do while considering your thesis for publication as articles is to ensure that you know exactly what is expected for scholarly papers in your discipline and field of study. The easiest way to do this is to read with critical eyes as many articles on or closely related to the subject of your thesis as possible, concentrating specifically on papers published by the journal(s) in which you would like to publish your work. Many academic and scientific journals provide guidance on the content and structure they expect in papers submitted for publication, so pay careful attention to author instructions and guidelines. There may also be more general guides for constructing acceptable articles in your discipline. The second chapter of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, for instance, is dedicated to ‘Manuscript Structure and Content.’ Geared particularly to writing in the behavioural and social sciences, the chapter nonetheless provides information that may prove useful for other kinds of scholarly writing as well.
Once you have a clear idea of what an article of the kind you intend to write should contain and how it should present that material, you can return to your thesis with the goal of determining which parts, topics, methods, trials, texts, results and other aspects of your research might serve individually as a focal point for a paper. More than a single focus might work for some papers, especially if, for example, two main points are closely related and would be better discussed together, but for the majority of scholarly papers, one central focus will be most effective. Occasionally, an entire chapter can be cut out of a thesis and rewritten to produce an article. A thesis in which there are a number of case studies with the procedures and results of each one reported in a separate chapter might be dealt with effectively in this way. Even so, however, that chapter will not make a good paper without significant revision, and the selection process is far more complicated in most cases. A good strategy is therefore to focus on a single idea, problem, method or result that will allow you to discuss the most interesting, original or innovative aspects of the research you did for your thesis. You can then sift through your thesis for information specifically connected with the intended focus of your paper, copying whatever seems useful and pasting it into a new document to work from as you begin writing your article.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.