Researchers are under immense pressure to publish. Without publications your career will stagnate and you could find yourself unemployed and unemployable. This difficult situation is often described as “Publish or Perish.” A simple way to get early publications is to convert your PhD thesis into journal articles.
There is significant effort involved to publish PhD thesis work, but the vast majority of the work is already done. You reviewed the literature, planned and carried out the experiment, analyzed the data, and made conclusions. However, writing a thesis is different than writing a journal article. In this guide, we offer tips on how to convert your PhD thesis into journal articles.
Is this Self-Plagiarism?
Self-plagiarism is the reuse of one’s own work. Journals are very active in preventing this type of academic fraud. Logically you are wondering whether converting your thesis into journal articles is indeed self-plagiarism.
Though each journal will have their own specific take on this, generally this is not considered self-plagiarism. In most cases, the copyright for a thesis remains with you, the author. Additionally, the journal articles will be substantially different from your thesis. You may combine chapters, update the literature cited, change the scope to reflect the journal’s audience, and significantly rewrite the text.
It is best practice to cite your thesis, where appropriate, in your journal articles. Also, be up front with the editor when you submit your paper and tell them that you converted portions of your PhD thesis into the article. They can offer guidance.
A good place to start your conversion is to look at each experimental chapter – the chapters describing your methods and research findings. Often, each experimental chapter can be a standalone research article. Reread each experimental chapter and determine if there is enough data to be a research article. If not, try combining experimental chapters together until you have a good enough ‘story’ to be a research article.
Next, you will need to convert these thesis chapters in the actual research articles. Journals have a rigid structure that must be followed. Typically:
Materials and Methods
Journals also have strict word limits, therefore it is likely that you will need to cut out a lot of text during the conversion. Update the introduction and discussion with relevant information and citations to the target audience of the journal. Often, thesis chapters can include very basic information. Know your audience and write for them. Also remember to be concise.
If you are combining experimental chapters, remove redundancies, especially in the materials and methods, results, and discussion. Convert text into figures and tables where you can. Update existing figures and tables to conform with the journal guidelines and to include combined data from the multiple chapters. Be mindful of any figure and table limits of your target journal.
An often overlooked place to convert your thesis into journal articles is the literature review chapter. A lot of effort went into researching the relevant literature for your thesis work. Your academic supervisors and thesis committee members benefitted from reading your literature review, and other researchers in your field can too. You can turn this chapter into a standalone research article – a review article.
First, determine which portions of your literature are relevant. For example, if your thesis focused on a novel experimental method to measure X, then it could make sense to write a literature review about all techniques that measure X – including yours.
Next, pull out the relevant portions of your thesis and use them to form an outline for your literature review article. Modify the text to match your target audience (the journal audience). You will likely identify gaps in your outline. Research the current literature and fill them.
A PhD thesis can have many different reference sources, such as journal articles, books, conference proceedings, and dissertations. Be sure to update your references to include mainly peer-reviewed journal articles.
Publications are usually all that matters to advance your career as a researcher. A good place to start publishing is to convert your thesis into journal articles. By following this guide, you can take your experimental chapters, and your literature review and turn them into published journal articles.