Converting your thesis to a monograph

Back again! And I just remembered that I promised you guys I’d tell you about what I was planning to do for my Masters thesis once I got the details hashed out with my supervisor…so, here goes!

This what I’m doing, and what – so far – I’ve learned.

My thesis is actually going to be a practice-led project – a project/exegesis combination. Partly this is because the ‘practice’ part is valuable for me right now, and partly it’s because it’s new. I’ve already done a large research-centred project, and I don’t feel the need to repeat the experience. Instead, I’m transforming that old project: I’m taking my PhD thesis, revising it into monograph form and self-publishing it as an e-book, and linking that to a research project on how and why self-publishing hasn’t taken off in academia the way it has in trade fiction and non-fiction since the invention of functional e-books (think peer review and impact measures and you’re at least partway there).

What this means in practice is that I’ve spent the last few weeks refamiliarising myself with my thesis manuscript and working through the first stage of revising it.

This is the simple bit – the bit that all the web pages and publisher sites tell you about. Taking out the heavy-handed signposting, as many block quotes and integrated quotes as possible, and as much repetition as you can get away with losing. But there’s more to getting a monograph out of a thesis than that, and this is the phase I’m about to embark on.

It all comes back to reader-centric writing. A thesis, as I’ve said before, has an audience of about four – your thesis supervisors and your examiners. Possibly six, if your parents leaf through it too. It also has a specific set of academic training-hoops to jump through, to show that you’ve mastered the requirements of your discipline. A monograph, however, has a potential audience of your whole discipline, and a lot fewer hoops, but these are people without any commitment to read and engage like your examiners have. So when you come to revise your thesis for publication, it doesn’t just need to be tweaked here and there, and the thesis ‘stamps’ scrubbed off. It needs to be reconsidered down to the structural level to make sure those readers pick it up – and keep reading. Here are some questions to ask yourself, to help you get started:

  • What’s the heart of your thesis – the original contribution to knowledge, the one big thing that makes it worthwhile?
  • How can you make that the heart of your book? Do you need to restructure, rewrite, rethink?
  • Does the monograph really need a dedicated literature review? If it does, where should it go? If it doesn’t, what does it need instead?
  • Are there elements that are distractions? Can they be cut, or reshaped to suit your new argumentative line?
  • Do you need to do more research to bring the book up-to-date?

You’ll need to map out your entire thesis all over again and find the book in it. Be prepared for a lot of structural changes, and a lot of new writing, particularly in the introduction and conclusion.

The hardest bit is that if you’re doing this for formal, scholarly publication, you’ll need to do at least some of it first – before you even submit your proposal. You won’t have much editorial support and you won’t have huge amounts of time. If you’re self-publishing, you’ll have a looser timeframe, but even less support. And you really do have to think about the issue of peer review (yes, book publishers do peer review for scholarly texts right alongside journals, though it looks a little different). The academy uses peer review for quality control, but it also uses it for gatekeeping and to confer legitimacy, especially in the Arts and Humanities – despite the fact that it’s a flawed system. You’ll have to decide whether you want to engage with that system and present yourself as an independent scholar, or step outside of it and take the risk of your work being seen as illegitimate even if it makes your publication process easier.

You’ll also need to think about how you’re going to handle indexing (the answer will be different depending on whether you’re aiming for print or electronic self-publication), getting and giving quote and image use permissions, and which platforms you’ll use to publish and promote your work.

So, this project is going to be quite a ride! I’ll report back from time to time and let you know how it goes…

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About kleditor

Editing services and academic writing.
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