From PhD to Monograph: How to Revise Your Thesis for Publication

Most early career researchers in the arts and humanities are encouraged to see their PhD thesis as a monograph-in-waiting – and with good reason. In the increasingly competitive academic job market, a monograph, along with several peer-reviewed journal articles, is often a requirement for obtaining a permanent lectureship. In the UK, the Research Excellence Framework – the system that assesses the quality and impact of a department’s research and determines how much funding it will receive – allows a monograph to count as two submissions. Job applicants with a monograph therefore offer the hiring department a valuable opportunity to add to its tally of research outputs. A monograph is, then, vital for kick-starting an academic career. Turning a thesis into a monograph normally requires some work because the needs of a publisher are different from those of a PhD examiner. Here’s our how-to guide to revising your thesis for publication.

The difference between a thesis and a book boils down to this: ultimately, a book has to sell. Revisions to your thesis must therefore make your book accessible and appealing to a variety of readers. One way to improve accessibility is to reduce the size of your theoretical framework. Much of the theoretical material in your thesis is included to show your examiners that you’ve engaged with and understood it. In your book, this material can be given a lighter touch. It’s important to strike a balance here, though, so as not to give the impression that the book is under-researched, which would damage its credibility. A tip is to take a book on a similar topic – perhaps one you refer to frequently in your thesis – and note when theory is introduced and in how much detail. Think also about the needs of your audience. If yours will be the first book-length study of a topic, readers might well benefit from an opening chapter that outlines the theories most applicable to it. This is equally true if your book is as likely to appear on an undergraduate student’s reading list as it is in the bibliography of an established researcher. Keep in mind, too, that your readers may include experts in different fields who are reading your book for background. On the other hand, if your target reader is a specialist who is already well-versed in the theories you draw on, or if an overview of these theories exists in another recent publication, a theoretical chapter might be redundant. No matter who your reader is, a big part of the journey from thesis to monograph is de-theorising.

Another thing to think about when considering the needs of your audience is structure. Whereas your thesis is intended to be read from cover to cover, readers of your book may want to consult only the introduction or the chapter most relevant to them. Your introduction should provide a strong sense of the topic, scope, originality and main findings, as well as a chapter-by-chapter outline. In your analytical chapters, avoid excessive cross-references to other sections and ensure as far as possible that a particular theme, text, event, etc., is discussed in full in a single place, rather than scattered throughout the book.

Revising the role of theory and the structure is probably the most time-consuming and intellectually taxing part of converting a thesis into a book, but there are a few other elements that warrant attention. Let’s go back to the main difference between a thesis and a book: a book has to sell. For it to sell, it must first be found. As an author in the digital age, you should ensure that your book is discoverable via a search engine. Your thesis title may be long, specific and technical. Your book title will need to be shorter and contain keywords that readers are likely to put into a search engine. Think about the terms you searched for when you were first looking for literature on your thesis topic and, if possible, include some in your book title. Likewise, overly generic chapter titles like ‘Aims’, ‘Methods’ or ‘Discussion’ will need to be replaced with clear and descriptive alternatives. Your publisher will probably insist on this ­– they want your book to be discoverable, too! But it’s also in your interest because you want your academic peers to read and cite your work. A tip for increasing your book’s visibility is to choose a publisher with a book series your title fits into. Publishing in a series gives your book an identity; an automatic endorsement from the series editor and a greater likelihood that it’ll be displayed at a conference or other event.

The last issue you’ll need to address is any formatting requirements requested by the publisher, especially if the book is part of a series. It’s worth asking, however, if your publisher would accept an alternative style guide, as many are flexible as long as the style is applied consistently. This will reduce time and effort spent on formal elements and enable you to focus on ensuring that the content, structure and readability of your book are as good as possible.

Before you can implement your plan for revising your thesis for publication, you’ll first need to obtain a contract from a publisher. Many proposals for books based on theses are rejected because they fail to demonstrate that the author understands the differences between a thesis and a book. It’s therefore worth including a bullet-point list detailing how you intend to revise your thesis to make it more accessible, coherent and relevant to readers. You should also emphasise your book’s originality. List any competing publications and explain why your book is distinctive. If parts of the thesis have already been published, indicate whether you could theoretically reproduce them (and especially if the material is open access). Finally, stress the marketability of your book. What readership do you envisage for it? Which courses would it be suitable for? If you’re lucky, the publisher’s book proposal form will invite you to share this information. If the application is more open-ended, you’ll have to take the initiative.