Guest blog by Professor Deborah Shaw and Professor George Burrows.

General Advice

As a PhD student you are encouraged to publish your work, particularly when you have a completed chapter that you and your supervisor are pleased with.  Having a publishing profile is essential when looking to secure an academic job. You may want to wait until your thesis is complete and aim to secure a book contract, or you may aim to publish several articles from your thesis. You should discuss this with your supervisory team and identify suitable book publishers or academic journals for your work. If you decide to write an academic article, the subject of this blog, your challenge is to adapt an estimated 10000 word chapter into an article of between 6000-8000 words. 

That may sound straightforward, but a journal article is very different from a chapter in a PhD thesis, so don’t simply send a completed PhD chapter. You can however, contact the journal editors with an abstract of the proposed article to ascertain suitability. The authors of this blog both have experience of editing academic journals, and one issue we have found is that people submit articles that may be rejected as they work better as chapters. We wanted to share some tips on how to adapt a PhD chapter into an academic journal article.

The PhD Thesis Chapter

In your PhD you have to demonstrate that you really know the field, and cover all the key thinkers; your analysis builds on what has gone before and adds a new original perspective.

In a PhD you generally synthesise existing theories before you craft your argument as you have to show that you have an intimate knowledge of your field. As you write you have your supervisor and your examiners’ imaginary voices in your head, asking you, ‘but, what about x?’, ‘have you read y’?

The Journal Article 

A journal article does not have the same imperative to review the field before you make your own intervention into it. There should be a key argument running through the work that your writing does not lose sight of. You do not need to engage with all the theories written on your topic, rather adopt a key approach that engages with a selection of apposite key thinkers.

One respected colleague once acted as a trusted reader for an article I (Deborah) had written towards the beginning of my career. She helpfully commented that my writing reminded her of a person in a changing room who had tried on too many different styles of clothes at once. I took her advice and lost some of the approaches and focused on one and my argument shone through (and the article was accepted).

Process, Style and Tone 

This links to the fact that it is a good idea to have a trusted reader to review your article before you send it to the journal.

Also, before adapting your chapter it is a good idea to read published articles in the journal you have selected. This will help ensure that you follow the style, approach and debates written about in the journal. 

All journals have a submission site with instructions for authors on their web pages. Make sure you follow their style guide and submission process.

Adapting the Chapter to the Article: Practical Tips

When seeking to adapt a chapter into an article, delete anything extraneous to your main argument. You may have spent weeks on a section of writing in your thesis and it’s hard to let go of that work, but ask yourself, does it really help the argument you are developing in the article? If it’s not there will a reader notice or feel that it needs to be included?

Read through the chapter; provide a list of the key findings; decide what to keep and what to lose.

The introductory sections are crucial. Write your introduction and the research questions to service those findings (ask the questions, don’t provide the answers in the introduction). Highlight why your article is important and why it is original. Why should the reader care about what you are writing?

In an article, in terms of case studies, you do not have to take an inclusive approach and write a little bit on many illustrative examples (our fields are film and television and drama and musical theatre). Rather, focus on a careful selection of case studies that you can use to craft your argument. The key thing is not to present a list of examples, but to craft a narrative.

Feedback: What to Expect

When you draft a PhD chapter, you may expect your supervisors to offer you detailed feedback to help you develop your argument and to correct grammatical and stylistic errors. The journal editing process usually involves sending an article out to expert readers who don’t function quite like your supervisor. They must ultimately judge whether your submission fits the remit of the journal and represents a worthy and publishable contribution to knowledge in the field. Your article will either be accepted for publication (subject to minor amendments), recommended for revision and resubmission, or else rejected. The reviewers may well offer you feedback, but their primary concern is to judge content that will interest the readership of the journal and is not for your development as an academic. This may mean that feedback on an article may seem more critical and even harsh in its tone, compared with supervisory feedback. Remember that rejection is part of the process; most academics will have experienced rejection on more than one occasion. Don’t give up, and, after some time, consider the feedback and reflect on how you can improve the article. You can send it to another journal and rework it, even if an article is rejected.  If resubmission is the decision, it is not necessary to respond to every point of criticism from reviewers but it is good practice to indicate in any resubmission where you have taken on board the recommendations. For example, you could produce a page indicating where you have done so.

In Conclusion 

A PhD chapter should have an outline of the field of study, an overview of the research context (often in the form of a literature review) and you can then build your argument from that. An article does not need all that; the argument is foregrounded and the existing research supports that argument, or you show how your research deviates from it. You do not need to present the research context for the field of study, as originality and your argument is key.