By Dr. Matthew Hilborn

You’ve double-checked spellings, footnotes, figures and illustrations a gazillion times. At long last, after several sleepless nights, countless cups of coffee, and never-ending cries of ‘Once this is over…’ or ‘When it’s eventually in…’, you’ve finally submitted your PhD. Congratulations! What a tremendous achievement. The Doctor will see you now… In the months that follow, alongside your well-deserved celebrations, once you stagger bleary-eyed into the open you might think about publishing your work. Perhaps there’s one chapter that shines above the rest – one that your examiners, supervisors (and friendly colleagues who were kind enough to read your work) deemed extra-special. What better way to develop an emerging publication profile – all-important in today’s job market – than to convert that chapter into a journal article? Our handy guide walks you through the key steps:

Pick the clearest, most successful chapter

Listen to the people who have been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. They’ve led countless candidates through PhDs and have read vastly more than you have – simply by virtue of being alive on planet Earth for years/decades longer. So listen to their advice. If they think that Chapter 4 is particularly stellar (even if you might have preferred Chapter 5), and would work well as a standalone article, pay them heed and go for it!

Pick the right journal

Not all journals are created equal, and it’s essential to send your hard-earned words to the appropriate place. No use slaving over a passion-project over many months or even years, only to send it to somewhere inadequate. Ask colleagues and supervisors for advice on this one: they’ve been around the block for a while, and will have gained expert knowledge about the ins and outs of different publications. Make your research go further!

Make it stand alone

Obviously anyone reading Chapter 6 of a long, 100,000-word thesis arrives at its opening paragraph with a well-rounded understanding of its broad, overall argument. This is not the case with a detached article, which will be published in a journal alongside relatively unrelated material. Therefore, it is up to you to start afresh, clarifying where your work fits into – or differs from – an existing scholarly consensus.

When I adapted a chapter of my MA thesis for a standalone journal article, I summarised the most pertinent parts of its Introduction, before launching into the chapter itself. This helped to create a narrative thread running through each paragraph, guiding my reader by the hand. This involves a bit of handy organisation, but shouldn’t be too difficult once you nail down the core arguments you’re trying to put into the world. Start by zooming out into a long-shot, if you will, before zooming back in to the close-ups and finer details.

Identify key research questions

My biggest tip is to specify the most vital aims and objectives of your article. Use sub-headings if that is your style, and tell us a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Personally, when writing a journal article I always remember the 3 Whats:

  1. What? (your point)
  2. So what? (why should the reader care?)
  3. Now what? (where do we go from here?)
Murder your darlings

While thesis chapters can be over 12,000 words in length, the average journal article is approximately 7-8,000 words in total, including the bibliography. Consequently, you’re going to have to cut down any extraneous material, leaving only the absolute meat and potatoes of the issue.

A top tip from me: think in paragraphs, not single sentences. This will help you to ascertain precisely what it is that you’re trying to say, freeing you up to stay precise, succinct, and fluid.

Abide by the journal’s formatting guidelines

Each journal has its own, rigorous citation style, and it’s imperative that you maintain consistent formatting throughout – even if this is different from your PhD thesis. I have no qualms in admitting that I did not do this perfectly when submitting my first article, and was subsequently grateful to the kind editors who pored through each and every footnote, finding a surprisingly large number of typos, errors, and discrepancies.

Make the changes they tell you – and no more

My experience has largely been based on Spanish Cinema/Culture journals, but the feedback they offer is very similar to any Arts & Humanities publication. They’ll usually give you a summary paragraph of your main findings, followed by brief sections categorised under the headings ‘Strengths’, ‘Weaknesses’, ‘Originality’, and ‘Scholarship’ (how you situate yourself within academic work on the field), followed by a final ‘Recommendation’ outlining the result (Publish, or Not Publish).

Don’t be too thin-skinned here: most reviewers will take care not to criticise outright, but even though my first article was accepted, I was nonetheless asked to take ‘care when referring to other scholars’ work’, for my ‘characterization’ thereof might have been deemed ‘a touch disobliging’. Looking back, this is entirely fair: I was so desperate to distinguish myself from the crowd, and emphasise my boldness and originality, that I was perhaps a little stern in my critiques of traditional approaches.

So, once you’ve submitted, make the changes they suggest – and no more. If they’ve accepted it, they like your work – so do EXACTLY what they tell you and resist the urge to fiddle with anything else!

Remember that failure does not define you

Lastly, if you’re not successful on this occasion, don’t worry. You can always tweak the piece and send it somewhere else – and some of the most illustrious academics out there have had work rejected in double-blind journals. Peer review is a subjective and flawed process, so don’t lose heart!

Use Edita!

If you’re nervous about any one of these steps, make sure to use! Our editors, proofreaders, and translators have a wealth of experience in reworking chapters into articles, and can help to bridge that gap between thesis and journal. Contact us for a quote today!


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