Ten rules for turning a dissertation into a book

by admin
1. Drop the need for constant justification

A PhD is written to convince a committee that you can do advanced research. A book is written to convince a buyer (an educated book buyer or a fellow scholar) that the subject is worth reading about.

2. Write in free-flowing narrative style rather than the punctuated form of a dissertation

In other words, write as if telling a story that has as its goal to capture and retain the attention of a reader.

3. Change your title

Most titles of dissertations are academically pretentious.  Your goal with a book is different—to appeal to a broader audience than your examiners.

4. Drop as many of the repetitive references as possible

Ideally, put references as endnotes so that they do not interfere with the flow of the writing though this decision might depend on the preferred style of your publisher.

5. Drop the ‘methodology’ and ‘theory’ chapter

If necessary, make these components part of the writing without going into too much detail. Some book authors put the “methods” as a post-script at the end of the book or simply part of the introduction to the book written not in the plodding style of a dissertation but as part of the intrigue of researching an interesting problem.

6. Flow is your main obsession (see #2 above)

Write in a way that there is an easy flow from paragraph to paragraph and from section to section and from chapter to chapter. Think of a mystery novel so that the writing ‘reveals’ something even more intriguing and interesting as the plot unfolds.

7. Determine publisher requirements early on

The ideal is to get publisher commitment early on so that you know their expectations for the writing as soon as possible. You are writing out of the dissertation format and into the publisher-preferred format over and above the commonsense ideas listed in these 10 points.

8. Commit to many, many drafts

Get it down before you get it right. It is more difficult than you think to go from dissertation student to book author. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get the book-version of a chapter right the first time; that is impossible.

9. Recruit a bunch of critical readers as you go

No matter how good you think you are, critical readers as each chapter unfolds help you improve as you write. Get good people who write books or who are accomplished editors for publishing companies.

10. Write with constant balance in mind 

That is, keep the complexity of the scholarly dissertation but communicate in a way that is accessible to a broader audience without dilution of the complex. This comes with practice and is the hardest part of transforming a dissertation into a book.

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