Tips for Revising Your Dissertation
The tips below may be helpful when revising your dissertation for publication. The list was approved by the ASCSA Publications Committee, a group of senior scholars regularly called on by their graduate students for this kind of advice, on May 10, 2008.
1. Would your dissertation be best published as a single book? Or is what you are looking at really a series of articles? There are, of course, strategic considerations regarding your career to consider when making such choices, but not all dissertations were born to be books.
2. Consider making your final chapter your first. Hook the reader immediately by telling them why your work is important. Avoid the temptation to make your book into a mystery novel.
3. Reduce your literature review substantially. Consign secondary scholarly arguments to notes. Minimize block quotes and paraphrase where possible. The reader assumes that you are the expert now and while you may stand on the shoulders of giants, you need no longer shelter in their shadow.
4. Rethink the structure of your work so that it is designed for a defined audience. Talk to potential readers to ask how they would want to use the book you are writing. Divide your work into logical chapters, and introduce appropriate signposts within these. Hierarchical headings are helpful guides for the reader, but don’t overdo them.
5. What is the “structuring logic” of your book? How does one chapter lead to another? Often the simplest evolutions (e.g., chronological progression from earliest to latest, geographical expansion from building to site to region) are the best.
6. Rethink all your illustrations. Images should be publication quality, and assume that you will need permissions for almost everything. Think about whether each image deserves its place. Does that data really need to be in a table or could it be integrated in the text? Is that photograph referred to in the text, or is it just decorative?
7. Find your voice, and think about style and readability. The passive is too often employed. Be alert for jargon. You have earned the right to write in the first person now, but don’t give the impression of egotism by overuse.
8. Books like Revising Your Dissertation: Advice from Leading Editors, edited by Beth Luey (University of California Press, Berkeley 2004) are helpful. They tend, however, to focus on a narrow definition of the “university press monograph” and your book may be a fieldwork report, a prosopography, or an epigraphical study with its own rules and logic.