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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dissertation to Book: Dissertation vs Book

This guide explains how a scholar can approach revising their dissertation into a book in order to publish it with a scholarly press.

What is the difference between a dissertation and a book?

Even in situations where a scholar might consider their dissertation a book project, there are many differences between a dissertation and book, which often include differences in purpose, audience, voice, structure, and length.

Purpose

Purpose answers, why is this content being created?

  • A dissertation’s purpose is to prove that the author has earned the PhD degree.
    • This is the last task the author will complete as a student.
  • A book’s purpose is to disseminate new knowledge in a field.
    • The book will cement the author’s credentials as a scholar.

Audience

Audience answers, who is this document meant for?

  • A dissertation’s audience is the committee.
    • This audience is small and well-defined.
    • The committee generally wants the author to demonstrate command of literature and methodologies pertinent to their field/topic.
    • Each member might have specific suggestions or requirements.
  • A book’s audience is the field.
    • This audience is broader, but it should also be realistic. If you are writing an academic monograph, the audience should probably be focused on students and scholars in one discipline—or, if the book is interdisciplinary, several disciplines.
    • The audience will still expect certain conventions, like an argument, evidence, and particular methodology.

Voice

Voice answers, who is creating this content?

  • A dissertation’s voice is that of a student.
    • The dissertation’s voice demonstrates that the author is a student who has learned and interpreted these things, and therefore earned the degree.
    • The voice makes an argument, but relies a great deal on the work of other scholars, typically by using in-text references and footnotes and reviewing the existing literature.
  • A book’s voice is that of an expert.
    • The book’s voice demonstrates that the author is an expert who is adding to and furthering the field.
    • The voice makes an original intervention supported by evidence.

Structure

Structure answers, what does it look like?

  • A dissertation’s structure is often divided into multiple arguments for multiple purposes.
    • Chapters might be individual case students or mini arguments that stand apart from the whole. They might fulfill different suggestions or requirements of different committee members.
  • A book’s structure is united under one main argument, which we often call the through-line.
    • This is often the biggest change from dissertation to book. Each chapter must be clearly articulated under the main argument.
    • The author should drop the literature review and craft an introduction that clearly outlines this main argument.

Length

  • The dissertation’s length might be driven by degree requirements or the committee.
    • The dissertation is often however long it needs to be to satisfy requirements.
    • It might contain ancillary or extraneous material simply because a committee member asks that the author pursue them.
    • It contains sections, like the lit review, that don’t belong in a monograph.
  • A book’s length is driven by the audience and market.
    • The audience only wants to read enough material to see that the argument is supported by the evidence.
    • The audience and market will only pay so much for a book, and longer books are more expensive.
    • A typical monograph in humanities and social science fields should be 100,000 words or fewer, both for succinct argument and price point.

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