Publish Your Dissertation

Publishing Your Dissertation: Begin with the End in Mind

In Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advises folks to begin with the end in mind when undertaking any project.  Covey’s advice is especially relevant for dissertators. Often people say that you should write your dissertation and then revise for publication, either as a book or a series of journal articles.  I completely disagree with the standard wisdom given by well-meaning folks.  Instead, I argue that one should not write a dissertation unless one first has either a specific publisher for the dissertation as a whole or several journals for each chapter in mind before one writes. Furthermore, be sure it’s the best it can be by seeking the help of  dissertation editor easily found at a good dissertation editing service.

What is a dissertation?

A dissertation is an entry-level professional intervention in a scholarly body of knowledge or research. Writing a dissertation is a major investment of time, money (lost opportunity costs and perhaps hiring a dissertation editor), care, and, often, worry. So, if you’re going to make this investment, ensure that it will pay off by doing your due diligence before you write.

Do your due diligence

Do your research to ensure that the general subject of your dissertation is drawing scholarly interest and publication. You may have someone on your committee who knows your field very well and is a published ‘name.’ If you have such a person on your committee, you’re very lucky because he or she will know immediately if you have a “hot” topic. However, the reality is that you might not have such a person in your academic life. If you don’t, the onus is on you to see if the topic will be publishable.

Through your coursework, you should have been developing an awareness of your subfield. Ideally, you have already been reading heavily in it and know the relevant and major books and journals.  Ideally, as well, you’ve been attending conferences and have met the senior scholars in your field.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

One thing that you should keep in mind is to never try to re-invent the wheel for your specific topic. If it’s already been said by someone in the field, don’t say it again. While doing so might be an interesting exercise, it won’t get you very far in terms of publication.

A dissertation is NOT just a long seminar paper

If you are writing for publication from the get go, you have to be aware that, unlike your seminar papers, which were written to show a specific professor that you knew enough to get an A, your dissertation should be making a fresh intervention in a field.  Yes, you have to know the field well, but the primary purpose of the dissertation should be to say something new and interesting, not to demonstrate an understanding of the field.

Your dissertation proposal should amount to one of two things: either a book proposal or a proposal for a series of articles to be published in specific journals. If by the time you write the proposal, you can’t name a prospective publisher or journals that would be interested, then you might have a clue that you need to do some more research or change your topic.

Your committee is NOT your primary audience

When you’re actually producing the dissertation, always be thinking that you’re not writing as a student any longer (even though, of course, you are). Rather, you’re writing as a professional developing a voice and making an impact in a field. And, while of course you will have to deal with objections and concerns (and, sometimes, melodrama) raised by specific committee members, remember that you’re not writing primarily to please them. Rather, you’re writing for potential journal editors, peer reviewers, and publishers.

Keeping it real: Submit to your committee AND for publication simultaneously

One thing I found helpful when I was dissertating was to actually submit each chapter to a journal at the exact same time that I was submitting to the committee.  Thinking publication spurred me to write better and more quickly. And, yes, I actually had the experience of receiving an acceptance letter from a journal even before the committee returned the chapter.  While the acceptance letter was personally gratifying, it also helped to keep the committee members from going too far afield in terms of what they were going to have me revise.

Some parting suggestions:

In terms of the actual writing of the dissertation, here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Your dissertation is not primarily a document designed to show off your exhaustive knowledge of a subject or your ability to use every jargon word you know.  Rather, to be publishable, your dissertation should make an argument or series of arguments and support those contentions with enough background information, but not too much.
  • By all means, use specialized language when it’s appropriate to do so, but don’t go overboard, and, for goodness’ sake, be careful. Nothing blows your credibility more quickly than using those jargon words incorrectly. If need be, find a good dissertation editing service to polish it for you.
  • If you’re working towards publication, also be careful to avoid those “grand gestures” or generalizations about your topic or civilization itself. Somehow, many of us, maybe by reading bad scholarship written in the 1940s and 1950s, got it into our heads that scholars should make grandiose statements about entire disciplines or even nation states.  Remember that the only people who can make these kinds of statements are very senior scholars, who really do know everything and everybody in a particular field.  Newbie professionals can’t get away with the grand gestures. Save them for the end of your career.
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In conclusion, writing a dissertation can be a very fun and rewarding experience. This experience can be even more rewarding if, following the advice of Stephen Covey, you begin with the end in mind and map out a publication plan for your work.

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