Books Help Write Dissertation

The reader must be brought into the book, made part of the conversation. Your writing style matters as much as the content of your book. At this stage, you’ll need to take a step back from the trees (the nitty-gritty details of your argument and evidence) and start paying attention to the forest (how your book is written and for whom). Peter Potter, the editor in chief of Cornell University Press, warns that many first-time authors “spend too much time explicating their argument in great detail” instead of focusing on how they can “distill their argument down into its simplest form.” For Potter, an overly long and detailed book proposal is one indication that an author is “still struggling to understand the larger significance of their work.” In other words, when it comes to writing a solid book proposal, less is often more.

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It’s a long, arduous, and often solitary process, requiring hours of work and multiple drafts. A good first book might be based on a dissertation, but it is very, very different from the dissertation itself.

But the good news is that you’re not the first person to write a book from a dissertation. Dominic Boyer, a series editor at Cornell University Press (and the editor of my own first book), cannot stress this point enough.

If you’re reading this, maybe you’ve recently submitted your dissertation, and your advisors think it’s terrific.

Or perhaps you’ve just landed a postdoc or your first tenure-track job, and one of your next goals is working on your first academic book.

But as you sit down near the beginning of the summer to start in on revisions, you might realize that you don’t quite know how to turn that solid dissertation into a publishable book.

First, recognize that turning your dissertation into a book is one of the hardest things you’ll ever be asked to do in your career. If you are writing a book proposal straight from your dissertation, you’re likely not going to get a book contract. Even if you think you’ve written a booklike dissertation, I promise you haven’t.

But not, she cautions, simply so they can pack more citations into those books.

(Side note: A book will always have significantly fewer citations than a dissertation.) Darling doles out this advice to new writers: “Read widely across genres, paying attention to what makes for good storytelling, a compelling voice, a persuasive argument.

The dissertation, on the other hand, is a new kind of academic project, unlike anything else you’ve done.

It is the academic project that marks your transition from student to scholar.


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