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Dissertation to Book: Starting the Revision Process

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

How do I start the revision process?

No matter how successful the dissertation was, the author will need to revise the project to some degree in order to move it from a dissertation to a book. This page contains some suggestions on how to start that process.

Evaluate what the manuscript needs

  • Macro revisions are the largest revisions that take the most time and affect the heart of the book. They include revisions to things like audience, voice, structure, and length. Authors should start the revision process here.
  • Mezzo revisions are large revisions, but they may not affect the whole book. For example, you may already have the main argument in place, but you may need to clarify it at key points throughout the book. As such, mezzo revisions are usually chapter-level revisions. Authors should not consider mezzo revisions until they have completed the macro revisions.
  • Micro revisions are small revisions at the sentence or word level. They are usually more about style than substance. Authors should not consider micro revisions until they have tackled the macro and mezzo revisions.

Consider “problem areas”

There are some stereotypical issues we see with projects that began life as dissertations, so it’s important to evaluate these areas as you consider your revision.

  • Introduction
    • What it should do: The introduction should preview the book for the audience, lay out the argument, and situate the argument in context.
    • Potential problems: If authors have not removed the lit review, the introduction often reads “like a dissertation” in that it summarizes previous work in the field rather than situates the book’s new intervention.
  • Conclusion
    • What it should do: The conclusion often should bring the text into the present moment and/or articulate the work’s relevancy. Why does this work matter now? What are some avenues for further expansion on this research?
    • Potential problems: Because dissertations are sometimes divided or organized as case studies, sometimes the conclusion acts as a declaration of the argument, which affects the balance of the manuscript. Often that information should be moved to the introduction and the conclusion rewritten for the book.
  • Through-line
    • What it should do: The through-line should connect each individual part of the manuscript under one umbrella, argument, or intervention.
    • Potential problems: Many times, the through-line is not present at all in a dissertation. This often requires the author to rewrite the introduction to preview it, add framing and context to each chapter, and rewrite the conclusion to bring it through to the present moment.

Make a revision plan

  • Plan revision from macro to micro
    • This will ensure that you tackle the biggest issues first, and your small changes won’t be undone by big changes later.
  • Include target deadlines
    • Do be realistic. When do you need to have a finished book, either for yourself or for tenure? Work backward from that.
    • Don’t forget about publishing timelines outside of the revision process. For example, production schedules are typically 12 months, which means from the time you have a fully revised, approved manuscript, it will still be 12 months until you have a physical book.
  • Create a plan for when to do the work
    • Do consider your own work habits. When do you work best? Where? How? Remember that what works best for a friend or colleague might not work best for you.
    • Don’t plan to work only during time off. Consider what kinds of work you can do alongside your other commitments and what work might require leave so that you can best use all of your time.

Consider seeking outside feedback

  • Colleagues
    • You may have colleagues at your university or at other institutions, or graduate school friends with whom you trade writing.
    • Can be anything from keeping each other accountable for writing goals and deadlines, to reviewing each other’s arguments.
  • University writing center
    • These are not only for students! They are often staffed by very talented graduate students who might be best used to test issues of clarity for a non-expert audience.
    • UIUC has an excellent Writers Workshop that offers one-on-one appointments, groups, and events.
  • Writing groups
    • You might start your own writing group with friends or colleagues, attend a campus-sponsored writing group, or apply for an off-campus group.
    • Pay attention to what you are looking for and what each group can provide.
    • At UIUC, the Office for the Vice Chancellor of Research & Innovation sponsors both a First Book Writing Group for pre-tenure faculty and a Next Project Group for those working on second or subsequent projects.
  • Developmental editor
    • This is most often useful when you need one-on-one help with macro issues. Often they are not subject-matter experts, but you can find editors who are well versed in scholarly publishing.

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