Adapting a Dissertation or Thesis Into a Journal Article
Dissertations or theses are typically required of graduate students. Undergraduate students completing advanced research projects may also write senior theses or similar types of papers. Once completed, the dissertation or thesis is often submitted (with modifications) as a manuscript for publication in a scholarly journal. Thus, the dissertation or thesis often provides the foundation for a new researcher’s body of published work.
Writers will first want to determine whether the work in their dissertation or thesis merits publication. If it does, we then provide guidance on how to adapt a dissertation or thesis for submission to a journal.
Deciding to submit a dissertation or thesis for publication
When deciding whether to publish the work in your dissertation or thesis, first consider whether the findings tell a compelling story or answer important questions. Whereas dissertations and theses may present existing knowledge in conjunction with new work, published research should make a novel contribution to the literature. For example, some of your original research questions might be suitable for publication, and others may have been sufficiently addressed in the literature already. Likewise, some of your results may warrant additional experiments or analyses that could help answer the research questions more fully, and you may want to conduct these analyses before seeking publication.
You may also want to consider such factors as whether the current sample size provides sufficient power to adequately inform the analyses and whether additional analyses might clarify ambiguous findings. Consultation with colleagues can help evaluate the potential of the manuscript for publication as well as the selection of an appropriate journal to which to submit it. For information on selecting and prioritizing a journal (and tips for avoiding predatory or deceptive journals), see Sections 12.2 to 12.4 of the Publication Manual.
Adapting a dissertation or thesis for publication
Once a decision is made to convert your dissertation or thesis into a manuscript for submission to a journal, you will want to focus attention on adapting it for publication. By attending to brevity and focus, writing style, relevant literature review and data analyses, and appropriate interpretation of the results or findings, you can enhance the fit of your manuscript for journal publication. Editors and reviewers readily recognize an article that has been hastily converted; careful attention when reformatting the dissertation or thesis is likely to increase the manuscript’s potential for serious consideration and eventual publication.
There are several steps writers seeking to prepare their dissertation or thesis for publication can take beforehand:
- Look at articles in the field and in relevant journals to see what structure and focus are appropriate for their work and how they are formatted.
- Request and consider the input of advisors, colleagues, or other coauthors who contributed to the research on which the dissertation or thesis is based.
- Review an article submitted to a journal alongside their advisor (with permission from the journal editor) or serve as a reviewer for a student competition to gain firsthand insight into how authors are evaluated when undergoing peer review.
The original research reported in a dissertation and thesis can then be reformatted for journal submission following one of two general strategies: the multiple-paper strategy or the conversion strategy.
The quickest strategy for converting (or “flipping”) a dissertation or thesis into one or more publishable articles is to use a multiple-paper format when initially writing the dissertation or thesis. This involves structuring the dissertation or thesis used to fulfill the requirements for a degree as a series of shorter papers that are already formatted for journal submission (or close to it). These papers are usually each the length of a journal article, conceptually similar, and come from the same overarching project—but can stand alone as independent research reports. Consult your university’s editorial office to confirm that this is an approved format for your dissertation or thesis and to obtain the specific guidelines.
A second strategy is to reformat and convert a dissertation or thesis into a journal article after completing your dissertation or thesis defense to fit the scope and style of a journal article. This often requires adjustments to the following elements:
- Length: Brevity is an important consideration for a manuscript to be considered for journal publication, particularly in the introduction and Discussion sections. Making a dissertation or thesis publication-ready often involves reducing a document of over 100 pages to one third of its original length. Shorten the overall paper by eliminating text within sections and/or eliminating entire sections. If the work examined several research questions, you may consider separating distinct research questions into individual papers; narrow the focus to a specific topic for each paper.
- Abstract: The abstract may need to be condensed to meet the length requirements of the journal. Journal abstract requirements are usually more limited than college or university requirements. For instance, most APA journals limit the abstract length to 250 words.
- Introduction section: One of the major challenges in reformatting a dissertation or thesis is paring down its comprehensive literature review to a more succinct one suitable for the introduction of a journal article. Limit the introductory text to material relating to the immediate context of your research questions and hypotheses. Eliminate extraneous content or sections that do not directly contribute to readers’ knowledge or understanding of the specific research question(s) or topic(s) under investigation. End with a clear description of the questions, aims, or hypotheses that informed your research.
- Method section: Provide enough information to allow readers to understand how the data were collected and evaluated. Refer readers to previous works that informed the current study’s methods or to supplemental materials instead of providing full details of every step taken or the rationale behind them.
- Results section: Be selective in choosing analyses for inclusion in the Results section and report only the most relevant ones. Although an unbiased approach is important to avoid omitting study data, reporting every analysis that may have been run for the dissertation or thesis often is not feasible, appropriate, or useful in the limited space of a journal article. Instead, ensure that the results directly contribute to answering your original research questions or hypotheses and exclude more ancillary analyses (or include them as supplemental materials). Be clear in identifying your primary, secondary, and any exploratory analyses.
- Discussion section: Adjust the discussion according to the analyses and results you report. Check that your interpretation and application of the findings are appropriate and do not extrapolate beyond the data. A strong Discussion section notes area of consensus with and divergence from previous work, taking into account sample size and composition, effect size, limitations of measurement, and other specific considerations of the study.
- References: Include only the most pertinent references (i.e., theoretically important or recent), especially in the introduction and literature review, rather than providing an exhaustive list. Ensure that the works you cite contribute to readers’ knowledge of the specific topic and to understanding and contextualizing your research. Citation of reviews and meta-analyses can guide interested readers to the broader literature while providing an economical way of referencing prior studies.
- Tables and figures: Make sure that tables or figures are essential and do not reproduce content provided in the text.