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The basics of converting your PhD thesis into journal articles

Kakoli Majumder | Aug 17, 2016 | 218,378 views
Thesis or dissertation to journal article

For young researchers, the pressure to publish is immense. To establish their credibility in the science community, it is imperative for postdoctoral researchers to have at least a few publications to their name. To add to their woes, most new scholars find it daunting to write articles for publication and often find themselves struggling to even come up with a research question.

One good way to start publishing articles soon after your PhD is to revisit the material you have gathered during your doctoral research. Unlike a master’s thesis, a doctoral thesis or dissertation involves original research. Most PhD students invest months in collecting and analyzing data and writing their dissertation. Why not make optimum use of all this material and convert your thesis into one or more journal articles?

Why create journal articles from your thesis?

Apart from being the easiest and most logical next step toward your first publication, there are quite a few benefits of creating journal papers from your completed thesis. These include: 

1. Career enhancement: Conducting original research takes up a long time. Converting content from your thesis to a journal article is relatively quicker and will be a great addition to your CV. What is more, you can often come up with more than one article based on your thesis, so by the time others have published one original research paper, you can get 2-3 papers published. This will give you a head-start in your career.

2. Wider outreach: Generally, theses are circulated within universities internally and do not have a wide readership. However, journal publications have a wider outreach and allow you to contribute more significantly to you field.

3. Personal satisfaction: The work that you have done for your thesis is valuable and effort-intensive. It will give you immense satisfaction if you can give it the wide readership and recognition that it deserves. 

Is it ethical?

Some authors are concerned that journals might not accept content that has already been published as a thesis or dissertation, or that submitting such articles to a journal might be considered self-plagiarism or duplicate submission or lead to copyright issues. While this is field and case specific, in general, journals are not against publishing articles that have been published as thesis elsewhere. There are several reasons for this.

1. Theses are not formal publications: The primary reason why most editors accept such articles is that most journals do not consider theses or dissertaions as formal publications. This is because theses or dissertations are traditionally published by university presses, with a few copies printed for internal circulation. Since these are not widely circulated, publishing a journal article is a good way to make the research accessible to the science community.

However, there are some exceptions where the thesis is published by an academic publisher and made available online. Some journals might have a problem with this. You should always inform the journal editor if your manuscript is based on your thesis and cite it in your manuscript if it is available online. Being transparent will clear you of the risk of unintentionally doing something that is not ethical. 

2. Copyright is not a problem: Secondly, unlike journal articles that require authors to transfer copyright to the journal before publication, the copyright for a thesis usually remains with the author. Thus, authors are technically free to reuse the content from a thesis or dissertation, and the question of copyright breach is ruled out. Of course, you should make sure that you include a copyright page in your dissertation and get your copyright registered.

3. Duplication and self-plagiarism can be avoided: Additionally, a thesis and a journal article are completely different in terms of overall approach and format. To convert a thesis/dissertation into a journal article, it has to be rewritten and refined. More often, a journal article is crafted based on an excerpt or a chapter of a thesis, and sometimes, multiple articles can be published based on different thesis chapters. The journal article undergoes further revisions during peer review, which makes it substantially different from the thesis, thus solving the problem of duplication. Charges of self-plagiarism can be avoided by citing the thesis/dissertation in the journal paper, and using block quotes wherever content has been copied verbatim.

Most importantly, you should inform the editor at the time of submission that your article is based on your thesis, mention when and where it has been published, and state your willingness to provide a copy if required. Being open and honest with the editor is always an advantage as he or she will then be able to guide you and suggest ways to avoid any ethical glitches that you might be unaware of.

This article will be followed by another that explains how to actually reframe a thesis or dissertation into one or more journal articles.

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