What can you do with your PhD manuscript after years of research, sweat, tears (at least that was my case) and revisions? Put it on your mom’s bookcase to proudly showcase to all her friends? Use it as a book stopper? As the world of academia involves attracting funds, research, and publishing, you may find yourself asking, is turning your dissertation into a publishable journal article possible? Yes, definitely yes!
The world has become more fast-paced and competitive, and academia is no different. Today, the concept of ‘publish or perish’ has led to a massive pressure to publish your academic work in order to succeed in the world of scholarly research. The advantages are clear, turning a thesis into a journal article is the best opportunity to present your work to a wider audience, which can get you the funds you need for further research and also act as a great marketing tool for job seekers. This constant pressure to publish can hurt quality, however, your PhD thesis has gone through multiple rounds of revisions by supervisors and reviewers to ensure it meets the high quality benchmarks required to earn your doctoral degree. So, converting a thesis to a journal article should be easy, right? Sometimes it is, but not always.
The good thing is that, in most cases, you will be able to publish more than one article from your thesis (I did so by avoiding plagiarism and without overlapping any of the content across the articles). However, there are a few things to consider. First, the legalities of publishing your thesis; most journals will have no issues with this but it is good practice to mention the work in the credits or in the cover letter. Second, the practicalities, which I will cover herewith. A journal article generally presents a rationale from which a research gap was identified, then how the study intends to fill it, the methods, results and discussion, and often a conclusion. This is also included in a PhD thesis. So why don’t we go straight from the degree approval to the submission page of a target journal? It all comes down to the length! PhD theses vary from subject to subject, but they are far longer than a journal article, probably over 10 times the length needed for an article. Here are a few best practices to help you convert your thesis into a journal article
Get the basics right. Does your PhD thesis cover more than one aspect of your research topic? Then each topic should be treated as an independent theme for a journal article. That is, each chapter could potentially be turned into separate journal articles once you make the necessary modifications to comply with structural guidelines (i.e., abstract, introduction, methods, results and discussions).
Focus on the specifics. When describing the methods, a PhD thesis requires all the specifics, but journal articles can make use of citations to reduce the word count, so effectively cite known approaches or standard laboratory procedures.
Paraphrase effectively. The content in a PhD thesis are expected to be thorough, but journal articles shouldn’t be wordy. So paraphrase content from your thesis; I normally discourage direct quotations, so write concise alternatives using your own words to express meaning.
Get some perspective. Discuss what you’re doing with your supervisors and other colleagues that contributed to the work. This may be obvious but they have walked the road longer than you and will be able to provide some great advice.
Consider writing a review article. The work done on understanding a research topic is remarkably time-consuming, and often covers a wide breadth of knowledge. This can be turned into a review article where you summarize the latest contributions to the field. I published one review from my PhD work considering that during the background review process, I decided to focus on a slightly different direction for my work, and it is today my best effort in converting my thesis to a journal article. One thing to remember is that although review articles do not report original research, they can analyze and often link various studies in an innovative way to promote future research.
Select your target journal carefully. We may all want to publish in a high-impact journal, but if the basics of your research are not well covered by the aims and scope of the journal, you will face a rejection even before your article is sent for review. Read the journal guidelines carefully to comply with all the requirements.
We hope these tips help you turn your PhD masterpiece into a publishable journal article. The work is sound, the background is comprehensive, so jump in. You are ready to step into the next level of building your publication list. Good luck!