It is a fact of life that if you want an academic job you need to publish. I wrote a bit about this over on the Careers Café blog at University Affairs.
For most early career academics, or PhD students contemplating academic careers, this means thinking about your dissertation.
Why publish your dissertation?
You should publish your dissertation research because you have important findings and/or theoretical developments in there. One of the criteria for awarding the PhD is that your thesis contains an original contribution to the debates. Those contributions deserve to be communicated.
Your dissertation itself is a particular kind of document. It’s primary purpose is to examine you for the degree of PhD. Your supervisor(s) and examining committee members will read it but that’s all you can count on.
It isn’t written with dissemination of research results in mind. There are parts of the dissertation that are not contributions to knowledge. A PhD needs a different kind of literature review than an academic journal article or book, for example. You need a different kind of document to communicate those results, even to academic audiences.
If your findings are relevant to non-academic audiences you have even more reason to consider other ways of publishing this material.
Should you publish a book? Or would a series of articles be better?
While I agree that you should publish from your dissertation, I don’t think a book is the best option for everyone, even in disciplines (like history) where you really need a book to get hired or get tenure.
Take your eye off the validation aspects of publishing for a moment. What do you have to say? Who needs to hear it? What is the best format for saying that?
If you would need to make substantial additions to the content for the dissertation to become a book, then the book is not “the thesis book”. It’s your next project. Get started on that other research and make a plan for the book you really want to write.
If the revisions to your dissertation are more about stripping out some of the review of the literature and methodology sections and focusing on the research results and analysis, then maybe you do have a book.
My own dissertation was published as a book. The revisions took me a few months. I moved the methodology chapter to an appendix and tightened up the literature review/theory section to work as an introduction. One chapter of the dissertation was split into 2, and an idea that got only a small amount of space in the dissertation was expanded to a full chapter. Big sections of the book are identical to the dissertation.
Getting it out there and moving on
The fact is, you are probably sick to death of your dissertation. You’ve just spent years on this thing. You’ve produced the dissertation itself, which is a mammoth task. If the thought of spending a lot of time turning it into a book makes you want to vomit or hide under the bed, then don’t.
Writing a couple of articles may be a lot easier. If easier means submitted (and eventually published) then that’s a good thing.
You have some options here. You can take specific chapters from your thesis and turn them into articles. They will need introductions to place them in the debates, but the length of a chapter is probably pretty close to article length.
You could also write an article length version of the overall argument. This will involve writing from scratch and carefully selecting evidence from the dissertation so support the main argument. I wrote an article like this after the book, incorporating a little bit of new analysis based on some ideas from a workshop I was involved in at the time.
If you worry that this prevents you from ever publishing the book-length version, let me reassure you. An article like this is not going to compete with the book. It is going to complement the book. Other academics may be more likely to assign an article as course reading, perhaps recommending the book for students who are going into the subject more deeply for their essays. Or someone might find time to read the article and enjoy it so much they want to see the book length version.
If you are only publishing the article, then the main ideas are out there, which was your goal. If you publish the book later, the article is part of the marketing plan.
The dissertation is only the beginning.
You need to publish. You also need to move on. An academic career will involve another 20-30 years of research and scholarship.
Publishing from the dissertation is tying up loose ends. Start thinking about and working on the next project. If you are in a discipline that values books, have a plan for when the book appears in this longer-term research trajectory.
How I Write, Tressie McMillan Cottam (for an example of a book that comes from the dissertation research but is not a revision of the dissertation)
From Dissertation to Book from the SSRC, following up on 3 of their grantees about the process of writing a book from their dissertation research.
This post was edited on June 18, 2015, related post added April 19, 2017.