UW Graduate School

Turning Your Dissertation into a Book

by Lorri Hagman, executive editor, University of Washington Press


Interested in publishing your dissertation as a book? You will likely need to revise it extensively so it will appeal to a wider audience and compete in the literary marketplace. Here are some guidelines to help you in this process.

Timeline

  • Allow plenty of time!
  • The review process can easily take up to a year, as it entails a peer review of your manuscript, potential revisions, further peer review and then approval.
  • The editing process can easily take a year to a year and a half as it entails copyediting, design, typesetting and proofreading, preparation of the index, printing and binding.

Dissertations differ from books in several ways

  • Dissertations are highly specialized, while books are geared to general readers.
  • Dissertation audiences are usually fewer than 100 readers — books are about 500 or more, in general.
  • In a dissertation, the author’s authority must be proven; in books, it is assumed.
  • Dissertations contain extensive documentation (to prove authority), while books document to credit sources and help the reader.
  • Dissertations can run long; books are often far shorter.

Elements that make a good book

  • A concise, memorable and intriguing title that includes essential key words
  • Clear and effective organization
  • A succinct introduction
  • Illustrations that enhance the text
  • Sections that are meaningful either alone or as part of the total book
  • Navigational aids, such as chapter titles, running heads, subheads, notes, bibliography, index
  • A voice (relationship of author to reader) that functions like an invisible tour guide or creative storyteller, and avoids sounding like a lecturer at a podium

The revision process

Basics

  • Forget your dissertation. Forget your committee.
  • Be bold!
  • Clarify your modified topic and audience.
  • Determine how to present it in a dynamic way.

Details

  • Remove unnecessary references to yourself.
  • Delete conspicuous chapter intros and summaries.
  • Make style parallel in chapter titles, captions, chapter openings and closings, subheads.
  • Revisit the introduction and conclusion.
  • Remove unnecessary notes; condense or combine others.
  • Eliminate most cross-references.
  • Cut unnecessary examples and data.
  • Make chapter openings strong, clear, and inviting.
  • Add definitions of jargon, foreign terms, biographical and historical dates.
  • Brainstorm several possible titles and subtitles.
  • Tighten prose.
  • Use active verbs.
  • Begin and end sentences with words you want to emphasize.

Resources

The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed. (2003). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

German, William. (2005). From dissertation to book. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Harmon, Eleanor, et al., ed. (2003). The thesis and the book: A guide for first-time academic authors. 2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Lucy, Beth, ed. (2004). Revising your dissertation: Advice from leading editors. Berkeley: University of California Press.