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How to Turn your Thesis into a Book

Any publisher you approach will most probably refuse to read your PhD manuscript in its original form. Unless your academic supervisor already allowed you to craft your thesis as a book script.

Publishers want to see something closely resembling a book manuscript. So you need to change your thesis into a book proposal form. Here are the main changes you need to work on.

Your Voice

The voice you use for a book is different from the academic voice in your thesis. Your thesis was drenched in a kind of third-person language shielding you while referencing the work of others. Except for the ‘Discussion’ chapter, your own voice was sublimated, no “I found that”, “I believe” or “My conclusion is”.

When rewriting your thesis into a book, be ready to show your own voice. Clearly say what you think. This new freedom considerably encourages your writing process. But it’s a change that probably feels rather uncanny – at the outset at least.

Your Audience

A book is written for a larger and mainly non-scholarly readership. The thesis you wrote was written for your supervisor – and maybe a small group of professors. So you need to rewrite your chapters to appeal to a wider public. I find this process to be enjoyable rather than frustrating. Academic language turned into everyday colloquial English. Rigidity turned into creativity!

You also cut long compound sentences into more concise statements. You consult your thesaurus to find a simpler alternative to your ‘higher’ academic word choices. You rephrase the scholarly jargon into something more reader-friendly. The result will be something that will satisfy a book editor and common people alike.

But don’t forget that most of your audience is less familiar with your topic than was your supervisor. Your readers are more interested to be shown the “bigger picture” – without being overwhelmed with the details of how you got there.

Your Purpose

A book has a different purpose from a thesis. A book based on a thesis is a way to discuss the implications of your research to the larger community. A thesis is meant to teach a student or prospective author the process of your research. Or to simply get the job done and obtain a degree, of course.

Some supervisors are happy and self-content watching students showing them a mastery of the research process. Better supervisors, however, also insist that their students’ research must have something important to show for. If your supervisor belonged to the latter category, you will stand a much better chance to successfully publish your thesis in book form.

Your Thesis’ Structure

A book’s structure is different from that of a thesis. A thesis has to be rigid: you had to follow strict rules prescribed by your academic discipline. For example, a classic Humanities or Social Sciences outline contains an Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, Works Cited, and Appendix.

To adapt your thesis structure to book form, you need to thoroughly re-order your work into chapters. Your book chapters will not correspond with the structure of your thesis. The Literature Review and Methodology sections, in particular, have to be shortened drastically.

So many things you’ve worked so hard on for the past months have to be deleted or reduced. Sometimes to merely a few paragraphs of one book chapter. Find a trustworthy friend or colleague willing to read your thesis. Ask him or her to help you decide what can stay and what must go. Then politely request the editor to help you to let go of all excess material you produced. In particular those parts you added to prove yourself to your supervisor and the examination committee.

Other material you decided not to include in your thesis might still be included in a book form. But only if the publisher agrees that this would meet the readers’ expectations.

Whether you turn your thesis into a book or into several scholarly articles, don’t – ever! – let your department or school discourage you from publishing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’d better teach additional courses instead of having some quiet research time in your office. Teaching overtime and neglecting your research would gradually limit your choices for an academic post at universities elsewhere – should you wish or have to leave your school.

Publishing is an immensely gratifying career step, full stop. Seeing your name on the cover of a glossy book cover is one of the main reasons you became a lecturer or professor in the first place.

Here’s a great take by Karen Kelsky on how to plan writing your first book: