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Converting a Thesis Chapter into a Journal Article

Posted by Dr Lizzy Lowe on 17 April 2017

Converting a Thesis Chapter into a Journal Article

By Dr Lizzy Lowe

It can be difficult to decide whether to submit your thesis chapters for publication before or after you submit your thesis. On one hand, the more journal articles you have published the better—especially if you will be seeking an academic position or grant funding following your PhD—and if many of your chapters are already published then your thesis reviewers will (hopefully) have very little to add. Conversely, getting a manuscript ready for publication can take much longer than putting a chapter together for your thesis, and can waste precious time that you need for finishing your PhD in time.

How Many Chapters Should You Aim to Publish?

Ideally, you will have a combination of the two, a few chapters than you turn into published papers earlier in your PhD and a few chapters written only for the thesis to begin with that, once you’ve submitted, will be ready to be converted into manuscripts. Many people have quite a long time between thesis submission and acceptance (and then another wait for job offers) so this is an ideal time to get those journal articles published to keep your productivity up during this time. This blog article gives a few tips for turning your thesis chapters into manuscripts for publication.

A Journal Article Must Stand Alone

The most important thing is to take a step back and evaluate the aims and scope of your planned paper. A thesis chapter will be a continuation of previous work in the thesis and will refer to the main aims your PhD, whereas a manuscript needs to stand alone as a body of work. The first thing you need to do is make a summary of the main results in your chapter and make sure you have clear, stand alone aims for the manuscript. A thesis chapter has no word limit (though your full thesis might), but your target journal will have a strict word limit for articles, so refine the data you want to include in order to present a clear story. This means moving large tables and superfluous figures to the supplementary materials and only including data that is essential for the aims of this article.

Reworking Your Introduction

The introduction and the discussion are likely to need to most work. In a thesis, much of the background information will be included in your general introduction chapter and therefore will be missing from your manuscript. When reorganising and rewording your introduction for publication, use the pyramid approach of starting with the broader context and funnelling down to the information on your specific system.

Reworking Your Discussion

When working on the discussion, refer to your list of the main results and only discuss these topics. You also need to spend a bit more time discussing the implications of your work than you would in a thesis chapter (since in your thesis, this would normally be included in a separate chapter).

Preparing Your Article for Submission

Finally, you will have to reference and format your chapter following your target journal’s specific guidelines, which will usually be different to the guidelines you followed when writing your thesis. This often includes changing the referencing system to the one used by your target journal.

The way you format your manuscript will vary depending on where you are intending to submit your article to. Your journal will outline their specific requirements on the ‘Submission’ or ‘Information for Authors’ page on their website.

For more detailed information on other aspects to consider, such as choosing an appropriate journal, you can refer to our article on publishing your first scientific paper.

Dr Lizzy Lowe

Endeavour Postdoctoral Fellow Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity The University of Auckland

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Converting a Thesis Chapter into a Journal Article