6 Do’s and don’ts of editing your dissertation

Picture this: You’ve just finished up the last paragraph of a section in your dissertation. Now comes the time to read over the whole chapter and edit it, even though you feel that you’ve been over it a million times, so maybe you’ll be fine without editing—right? Wrong. Editing your dissertation is one of the most important things you’ll do before submitting it and earning your doctorate, so here are some do’s and don’ts of editing your dissertation.

How to identify yourself as an academic writer

Doctoral study involves a transition from student to researcher; a key aspect of that transition is becoming an academic writer. This is not to say that most new PhDs would readily describe themselves as academic writers. But that level of accomplishment requires the development of a set of academic writing skills that were likely not present at the outset of doctoral study. It’s also likely the case that the development of those crucial skills was a significant challenge.

Should you publish your dissertation as a journal article or an academic book?

Once the dissertation is accepted, the question of whether to publish journal articles or an academic book is one that faces many new Ph.Ds aiming for faculty positions. When weighing these options, consider what is standard in your discipline, as some fields reward books while others reward journal articles. Your dissertation committee and director are excellent sources of advice on this question.

For most academic jobs where publications count, the stature of the publisher is crucial to the impact your publication will have on your career. Publishing with a university press known for its important titles in your field, will provide a superior impact. But a press that required a subvention on your part would be less valued.

When writing your dissertation, look at it from several perspectives

The project is not the subject. The project is not the thesis. Whether you are writing your dissertation, a journal article, or a book, the project is not simply the thesis. When I ask people about their projects the answer I get is always (or almost always) the subject of the project. Sometimes I ask specific questions like “what kind of project? Is it a dissertation? A thesis?” And still the answer I get is the subject of the project. But your project is not just about a subject; it has a certain form. It is a journal article, a dissertation, a book. It has a certain intention—to share a discovery, to support a position, to instruct others. It is aimed at a certain audience—peers, or students, or educated lay people.

If you can see that form, and understand how that form relates to the work you’re trying to accomplish, then the writing process becomes much easier: it’s less a shot in the dark, and more a purposeful action.