Sarah Caro, author of How to Publish Your PhD has kindly offered us this six-part guide on revising a thesis for publication as a book. Over the coming weeks she’ll be explaining how to understand what type of book you can produce as well as discover ways of shaping it up into a more book-like body of material.
Transforming your thesis into a format suitable for publication as an academic monograph may or may not involve much cutting down of length. In fact it may require the inclusion of some additional material or expansion of existing sections (as we shall see below). What is certain, however, is that unless you are exceptionally gifted, lucky, or have been guided by a supervisor who has early-on spotted the publication potential of your work, it will need substantial reworking and restructuring if it is to escape its roots and become a convincing monograph.
As discussed before the average monograph does not follow the thesis-methods-results-analysis paradigm unless it has started life as a PhD and it is usually screamingly obvious when this is the case and the author has not revised it. Recently I received a proposal with the following table of contents (some details have been changed to avoid the person and project being identified): Chapter 1: Definitions, Empirical Puzzle and choice of case studies
Chapter 2: Literature Review
Chapter 3: Timing, size and composition of X
Chapter 4: Social and political factors affecting X in the Netherlands 1975-1990
Chapter 5: Social and political factors affecting X in Austria 1975-1990
Chapter 6: Some additional factors affecting X in the Netherlands and Austria
Chapter 7: The impact of X in the Netherlands and Austria: a comparative perspective
Chapter 8: Consolidating X in the Netherlands and Austria References Appendix 1 a
Appendix 1 b
Appendix 2 a
Appendix 2 b
Appendix 3 a
Appendix 3 b
As it was I had to turn it down because I simply did not have the time to explain all the changes necessary to turn it into a viable book. It does however illustrate all too clearly the pitfalls involved in trying to convert your thesis into a book and the fact that however good your thesis is, it does involve a surprising amount of work to make the transition successfully. For the moment we will focus on issues of structure but there were other problems of content and style which I will come back to later.
From our previous discussion of the different features of a thesis and a monograph you will immediately be able to see at least two problems with the structure of the above proposal that might have been avoided. The first is that the author failed to recognize that there is any difference between the structure of a thesis and a book. S/he has reproduced the format of their thesis in its entirety, with scarcely any modification. Secondly and relatedly there is no attempt at narrative flow. The central thesis is announced in the first chapter heading, literature review in the second, the theories and methods are listed in the third and then in rather clunking fashion they are applied to each case in turn (first the Netherlands, then Austria) and finally there is an attempt to draw comparisons between the two case studies, followed by conclusions and a large number of appendices, presumably containing the data upon which the doctoral thesis was based.
In a monograph the expectation is that the constituent elements of a piece of academic work – theory, data, methods, literature – will be integrated into a narrative that frames the book, giving it a distinctive structure and storyline. The reader should finish the book not only having gained some new insight or piece of knowledge but also having arrived there by an entirely new way, even if that route passes through some very familiar territory. In other words, in a book the journey is as important as the destination.
With a thesis that is not necessarily always the case. Supervisors may encourage you to be original in your thinking but the key point of the thesis, as we discussed earlier, is defensive, to state and then prove a particular position. As a result most theses, like the example above, frequent the heavily signposted highways of academic argument. The point is to get as quickly and as efficiently as possible to the essence of what you have to say.
Put in a slightly different way, a good monograph may well include many of the same elements as a thesis but they are presented in a more sophisticated and integrated way. Instead of a table of contents starting with a chapter baldly stating the material to be covered – ‘Definitions, Empirical Puzzles and Case Studies’ – rather like a list of ingredients at the start of a recipe, the table of contents of a monograph should read more like a menu. It should suggest a series of tempting options to be explored before the end of the meal with each course or chapter synthesizing the elements of theory, data and methods into something new and appetizing, rather than presenting the raw or rehashed ingredients of a thesis.
A monograph may well, therefore, contain what is effectively a literature review but it will be presented in the context of gaining greater understanding of what has gone before or what is to come, not as an end in itself. It may be dispersed throughout the book as different parts of the topic and literature become relevant to the argument, rather than being collected all together in one chapter. Similarly a monograph is less likely to have one chapter devoted entirely to methods, instead methodological issues will be discussed as they arise and except in those cases where methodology is central more detailed aspects will be covered in footnotes or an appendix or even on a companion website.
On the topic of appendices my personal feeling is that it is perfectly acceptable to include them if there is valuable additional material that is too detailed or cumbersome to include in the main body of the text if it helps to illustrate the book’s central argument. Six appendices as in this proposal, however, are excessive and as an author you will have to think very carefully about how much of this material is strictly necessary to a greater understanding of the topic under consideration and how much is there simply because it is available. With a thesis it might serve a useful purpose by showing how much data you have amassed but with a monograph less is more and extraneous material may interrupt the flow and obfuscate your argument. Alternatively if you do think it might be useful for the reader to have access to the material, perhaps if they want to follow up a particular theme, you could think about making additional material available on a website, either your own or the publisher’s.