I have recently graduated with my PhD and I want to publish the findings of my dissertation, but I don’t even know where to begin in turning a 300 page dissertation into a 30 page manuscript.

–Lost in Publication

Dear Lost in Publication,

One step that might make things easier is to identify journals that would be a good fit for your research project. You can then begin to model the piece of your dissertation off articles that are currently being published in your field.

More helpfully, if you can find an article with a similar topic to yours, you can start to get a sense of what is expected in the introduction and literature review sections, which can be helpful in turning two chapters of your dissertation into two pages of text. Another way to condense the size of your dissertation is to divide the dissertation into multiple manuscripts based on your various research questions. Also, if you are trying to build a strong vita, remember that you still have the data from your dissertation and that there might be additional research questions, and ergo, publications right at your fingertips. In short, remember that it is best to focus on one outcome or direction of your study than to attempt to summarize all the details of your dissertation into a manuscript.

An important thing to remember when converting your dissertation into a manuscript is to avoid self-plagiarism. Self-plagiarism may seem unusual given that plagiarizing refers to using another’s work without attribution, but you can self-plagiarized when you erroneously present previously published work and new, unpublished work without giving credit to the previous publication. However, rules about self-plagiarism are sketchy: In some cases, it is okay to briefly summarize or borrow words from your dissertation for a manuscript, but you cannot copy and paste multiple pages for reuse. Rules about self-plagiarism may seem sketchy and unimportant for authors, but self-plagiarism has important consequences for publishers who don’t want to claim original publication rights for a work that has been previously published elsewhere.

Also, be realistic about the publication process. You should prepare to revise and resubmit your potential publication several times, but don’t get discouraged by reviewers’ comments. Remember that it is their job to comment on something in your paper, and their comments are only intended to improve the presentation of your research. You should also read, understand, and follow all journal guidelines and deadlines. Authors who don’t follow these rules face immediate rejection. My final piece of advice about preparing for publication is to talk to other academics who have publication history and see what they recommend about the publication process.

–René Paulson, PhD

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