Dr. Julia

It’s just sitting there in your drawer. You worked on it for at least a year. You bored people by talking about it at parties. It was and is more than just, to borrow from Virginia Woolf, “the influence of somebody upon something.”

Just like you were supposed to, you then got your PhD and snagged a job. This means not only did you finally make enough money to stop eating ramen, but you could also watch TV occasionally without feeling guilty.

But there it sits in that drawer, something you took a year or more to say. You know it’s time to turn that something into a book, but you also know what a Herculean task it will be.

This is where Edit911.com can help, and that’s not with something as drastic as ghostwriting or co-authoring. An editor is much more than a proofreader, and we have the skills to turn that Herculean task into the literary equivalent of a honey-do list.

Agreeing on Editing Goals

Before any editing of your manuscript is done, the editor’s job is to assess whether your dissertation would be best as a book or a series of articles. This hinges on whether the dissertation makes a large argument that requires those 100–300 pages to come together or makes a series of smaller arguments that can be read individually.

In my experience, most dissertations need to become books, but in some disciplines a series of articles does prove to be better. If you’re an academic seeking tenure, for example, then you probably need a book on your curriculum vitae. But if you’re a professional in a field such as electrical engineering and want to rush some to your colleagues, a series of articles may do the job faster.

Next, a good editor will check the market. Does your dissertation address a topic people care about? Which people? Has there been something recently (e.g., social controversy, new technology) that can be added to the book version to make your work more topical? Would the book be better as a self-published manuscript to help with your reputation as a consultant, or would going the extra step to get a publisher lend more to your credibility? Should your book target a niche audience or a general one?

A good editor will help you with all that, and at Edit911.com we can provide you with such a general assessment at no cost before you decide to move forward with us to edit the manuscript itself.

Editing Goals

A dissertation, by its nature, is saying, “See what a great academic I am.” That means your committee wants to see you provide not just whatever insights and recommendations you have on the topic, but also (and sometimes even more so) jump through academic hoops such as the following:

  • Did you read all the literature on the subject, relevant or not?
  • Do you know the difference between quantitative and qualitative research?
  • Did you get approval from the Internal Review Board?
  • Did you put the information in a locked file cabinet?
  • Did you mention that idea that one of us offered when we discussed your work?
  • How did you compensate for authorial bias?
  • Can you reference works correctly in Turabian/Chicago/APA/AP/SCE/Harvard/Vancouver/Our University Style?

In contrast, a book is saying, “Check out some interesting stuff you should find useful.” The reader of your book is not there to evaluate your academic skills. Though you must still support what you say with evidence, the reader will generally see you as an authority because you wrote a book about it. They want information that will add to their lives. Also, unlike your committee, they may be eager to hear about your personal views and experiences.

Breaking Down the Edit: Structure

The dissertation-to-book edit primarily involves two aspects: structure and prose. The first means changing the assembly of your dissertation from obedient adherence to a mandated academic outline into an engaging narrative arc that shares what you have learned and what you think about it.

An editor at Edit911.com will first identify what your dissertation has to offer to an audience that is evaluating the book, not your doctoral abilities. What insights does the work offer? What connections does it make? What information is a good summary of general knowledge? What new information should be highlighted?

Next, the issue becomes what should go where. How should the first page hook the reader? What examples are interesting and should be showcased and/or expanded upon? What academically required repetition can be removed? How should the evidence be placed to best support the author’s arguments? Are the appendices better placed in the main body of the text or just dropped?

A Typical Dissertation Structure

There are infinite variations of dissertation structures, especially across different disciplines. So, let’s look at a five-chapter dissertation outline typical for softer sciences (usually APA style) to see what we’re up against when turning it into a book:

  1. Chapter One: Introduction
  2. Chapter Two: Literature Review
  3. Chapter Three: Methodology
  4. Chapter Four: Analysis
  5. Chapter Five: Discussion

Clearly, a work based on this structure is primarily concerned with demonstrating the skill of writing a dissertation, not with conveying information or, heaven forbid, keeping the reader eagerly engaged with the material.

Dissertation: Introduction and Repetition

The dissertation’s introduction not only addresses things like “Nature of the Study” and “Background to the Problem,” but also touches on all the main sections of the book that will be discussed in later chapters, such as collecting data in interviews, using Cronbach’s alpha to measure internal consistency, being guided by a recent trend in cognitive behavioral therapy, rejecting Six Sigma for its stifling of creativity, being concerned with HIPPA regulations, and determining carbon fiber’s fatigue life. Typically, this is followed by a repetitive summary of all that has been mentioned so far and then an outline of the next chapters to keep that repetition going.

Book: Introduction and Hooking the Reader

An introduction for any book, fiction or nonfiction, must do the same thing: engage the reader. It does this for nonfiction by laying out the topic, explaining the topic’s importance, demonstrating authorial expertise, and stating the book’s goals (e.g., recommendations for better leadership principles, guidelines for more efficiently maintaining clean rooms for microchip manufacturing, outlining best practices for social media marketing).

Dissertation: Literature Review and Irrelevance

Here is where you show off all the reading you’ve been doing in the year(s) of researching your topic. This can include works that ultimately have nothing to do with your findings, methods, or conclusions. Your committee wants to know if you put in your reading time.

Book: Using the Literature When Needed in Your Argument

Sorry, folks, but the literature review chapter just needs to go. Instead, only relevant and helpful references to the literature should be offered throughout the book when they’re relevant to the topics being addressed, including in that first chapter. Some of the literature review can be dumped wholesale because it references general knowledge that can be paraphrased with no citations.

Dissertation: The Big, Complicated World of Methodology

“There’s this method, and this method, but I’m going to use this method, and here’s how I’m going/not going to use it and why/why not.”

Book: Explain Methodology When It Matters

So, here’s another chapter that likely leads to more irrelevant repetition that buries the actually interesting parts about how the author’s approach will be the best way to show the information, draw conclusions, and discuss the benefits of all that research.

Dissertation and Book: Analysis and Discussion for the Win!

It is here in the last two chapters that all the good stuff typically goes, and this needs to be re-presented in a structure that presents the data, opinions, arguments, recommendations, and whatever else you’ve got to its best advantage to keep the reader informed and interested.

Unlike a dissertation’s standardized outline, now the editor needs to customize (in collaboration with the author, of course) a structure around the needs of the content. There are limitless possibilities here, so I’m going to offer two examples to demonstrate what I mean rather than offer limited (and limiting) instructions. Bear in mind that when I say the editor suggests something, I don’t mean the editor actually writes new things. Rather, they point out areas where the author might write new things.

Topic: Farmers Talk about Climate Change

Let’s say the author has offered up interview excerpts organized by the participants. The first person said this; the second said that. This is probably not optimal for the subject matter or the reader.

The editor should then assess how to organize the different data and opinions so the reader can understand them and support the book’s main arguments individually. The editor should determine whether these personal accounts will be best presented if they are grouped by the type of farming, different agricultural conditions, different business models (e.g., family farms vs. corporate), different geographical zones, or perhaps the farmers’ own different geopolitical views.

Topic: Decreasing Terrorism in the Ivory Trade

In this case, let’s say the material is highly political and relies heavily on the author’s personal experiences as a child conscripted into the ivory business. However, the author has tried to temper their subjectivity with objectivism. The editor needs to consider if that’s a good idea, or even possible. They should evaluate the effectiveness of the objectifying methods used and suggest ways for their improvement as appropriate. The editor may also consider whether opening the book with a frank account of the author’s experience is best, or whether that should come after a discussion of the money, violence, and politics of the situation.

Finishing off the Outline

Once the basic chapter structure is in place, the editor should then address issues such as photographs. Are they useful or can they go? Do we need to worry about copyright? Though it varies by style (e.g., Chicago vs. CSE), the editor should suggest the best way to deal with references and citations. Frequently, they are better as endnotes than as parenthetical citations. Endnotes can also hold charts or tables that don’t really belong in the text but are interesting and might be desired by the publisher, depending on the market. Endnotes can also be great for some of the less interesting but useful details of methodology, data collection, and the like.

Finally, the editor should probably take a look at that long academic title and make suggestions for something more audience friendly.

At this point, the editor presents the author with the suggested outline, and together they make changes until the author is satisfied. Then the second stage can begin.

Breaking Down the Edit: Prose

If the structure is the “heavy lifting” of the dissertation-to-book transformation, the prose is the meticulous customization.


When it comes to optimal word choice, tone, voice, sentence structure, pacing, emphasis, and all the rest that goes into good prose, we must always begin with a consideration of the audience.

After a few years of graduate school, we’re all pretty familiar with the expectations of our dissertation committee, but writing for a new audience needs professional guidance, whether from our own experiences in the field or from a hired expert.

The editor must consider the differences in prose style when addressing different types of readers, such as the following:

  • General audience (e.g., dressing to impress others, how to start conversations for better networking, understanding gaming theory without the math)
  • Specialists in the profession (e.g., smart-sizing your multinational, the ultimate guide to wedding planning, international variations in building codes)
  • Hobbyists (e.g., safety precautions for your poisonous garden, advanced knot tying, optimizing your fantasy football picks)
  • Fellow academics (e.g., cultural significance of various knives in Asian drama, Kant and material nature, applications of popular theories in astrophysics)
  • Newcomers to the field (e.g., starting up your start-up, becoming a sommelier, basic website design)

And so many more. There are many audience demographics to consider as well, such as age, education level, gender orientation, income, political leanings, and, who knows? Astrology sign. (I’m a Leo, myself.)

Showing Your Personality

But as much as a good editor makes suggestions for the audience, they must keep in mind the author’s own voice and style. A conversational tone can be great for some authors, whereas strict formality suits another. Some authors are great at humor, others not so much and may need to just keep things straight. An editor should promote what makes an author’s prose different and personal—unlike, I must note, the current approach of AI editing, which seeks to make everyone’s prose standard and “normal.”

And Again, Repetition

And finally, it bears repeating: repetition is death. Some dissertation guidelines call for some content to be repeated eight or nine times in various contexts. But once the committee has given its stamp of approval, that’s got to be stripped out of your prose.

And I don’t just mean not repeating facts or opinions in different chapters and sections. Academics can get way too used to lawyer-style “cease and desist” sentences, passive rather than active voice, calling themselves “the researcher” instead of saying “I,” saying “due to the fact that” instead of “because,” avoiding pronouns even when it’s completely obvious what “it” is and who “they” are, and a host of other writing tics that will alienate, or at least exasperate, the modern reader. The editor must address all this.

As with finalizing the structure, work on the prose doesn’t end until the client is happy. And then, if desired, we at Edit911.com can help you find publishers who want your content. We’ll edit your Author Bio, Query Letter, and Book Summary to help you with marketing your book and making it as ready as possible for publication. And we’ll be clear about all costs upfront.

In the end, the dissertation-to-book editor should offer their client a manuscript that engages the reader, highlights their content, and, when appropriate, makes suggestions for further content the author may want to add, such as using more quotes, adding personal experiences, and expanding on ideas. Working together, the Edit911.com editor makes sure the author is adding something of high quality to the bookshelves.