Academia, and higher education in particular, places a great deal of emphasis on academic development which is often measured by peer-reviewed publications. Publication track records influence decisions about hiring, tenure, and promotions. Green (2008) surveyed American universities and found that a researcher’s publication record was the most important factor in making career advancement decisions, including hiring decisions. This is where we get the adage “publish or perish.” In this blog, I will cover the importance of peer-reviewed publications, the two main routes for publishing your dissertation, and the reasons we care about publishing our dissertation.
Peer-review is essentially a quality control mechanism. By this point in your academic career you are acutely aware that not all the information you come across is created equal (especially on the internet). Peer-review, as the term emphasizes, is the process of reviewing the work of our academic peers and only publishing work that is deemed acceptable. Whether you submit your work to a journal or as a monograph (book), it will go to other researchers for review who are experts on the topic.
They will likely come back with one of three decisions: Accept with minor revisions (+feedback), Accept with major revisions (+feedback), or Reject (often with feedback). For either of the accept options, you are often invited by the editor to incorporate the feedback into your work and then resubmit. This process will continue until the reviewers are satisfied with your work and then it will move towards the publication process. It sounds simple enough, but some journals accept less than five percent of the articles that are submitted for consideration and the process can sometimes take years to complete.
Although your committee has approved your doctoral work by the time you defend or perhaps when you make revisions after you defend, this is not considered peer-review or a peer-reviewed publication. This is why doctoral committees and established researchers are weary to cite dissertations in their own research. Published dissertations are helpful in many ways, but in other ways they are considered “training wheel” research until they actually go through the peer-review process and stake their claim as peer-reviewed research.
Options for Publishing a Dissertation
There are generally two choices for publishing your dissertation. The first is journals and the second is as a book. These are valued differently in different disciplines. If you are not sure which is preferred in your discipline ask to see the CVs of some of your mentors or even ask your mentors directly which is the better route for you.
You can structure your dissertation for publication from the very beginning of your proposal. It is not a hard-and-fast rule, but generally speaking, if you know that your goal is to publish journal articles, then you may want to consider the three article format dissertation. This format begins with an introduction chapter that presents an overarching question and three sub-questions. These sub-questions stand-alone but cumulatively address the overarching question.
Then you have a publishable journal article for each of the three sub-questions as chapters two, three, and four. In chapter five, you return to address your overarching question based on what you presented in the three independent articles. This set-up prepares you to have three articles to submit for consideration for publication after your complete your doctoral research. You may even see opportunity to publish your conclusion chapter after re-formatting for a journal. This three article format is increasingly popular in academia as it prepares students to publish peer-reviewed journal articles and allows them to be mentored in the process.
An alternative is the more traditional five-chapter format in which the introduction is chapter one, the literature review is chapter two, the methods are chapter three, the findings/results are chapter four, and the conclusions are in chapter five. This format more readily yields itself to be published as a monograph (academic book). Books, like journal articles, go through the peer-review process, but they have to be “sold” in a different way. To publish a book, you submit a proposal that convinces the publisher that there is an audience for the book, that there are no other books that are already appealing to the audience addressing the exact topic, and essentially, that they can make money for publishing your book.
When to Publish your Dissertation
When you finish your dissertation, it will often be published in a dissertation database. Some schools will allow you to publish your peer-reviewed journal articles before this and some schools even require students using the three article format to publish one or more article before the student defends their final work. Of course, some students choose to never seek to publish their work beyond their dissertation. It really depends on what your priorities are. If you are seeking employment in academia, especially in a tenure-track position, you will likely want to publish your work. You may have a genuine interest in seeing it published or seek the validation of the peer-review process.
Of course, there are reasons beyond a career in academia that you might want to publish. Many studies address social causes and are published to reach audiences that can use the results or implement the recommendations. In these cases, consider that there are also publication options outside of peer-review that might be more appealing to your target audience. This involves identifying your stakeholders and the best methods for communicating with them. If your audience is other academics, then peer-reviewed publications are the way to go!
Contact us below with any questions you might have about your dissertation!
Green, Robert G., 2008. “Tenure and Promotion Decisions: The Relative Importance of Teaching, Scholarship, and Service.” Journal of Social Work Education 44(2):117–27.