Research

Reflections: From Dissertation to Book

It might be a bit early for me to write this post since I’m still working through my second chapter, but after Ken Wissoker, the Editorial Director of Duke University Press, visited our workshop last Tuesday, I wanted to share and reflect on his helpful insights and suggestions for thinking about the life my project will take on after the dissertation.

The differences between a dissertation and a book project:

One of the main distinctions is a question of audience. Whereas you often write your dissertation for a specific committee of scholars, your book project engages an entire field or set of discourses. You have to learn how to engage a broader critical audience who might not necessarily be as invested in your project in the same ways that your committee members are (for instance, in reading through every single chapter to the end).

Originality is key. While your project doesn’t have to be entirely new, there should be a clear sense of the unique contribution you are making to a field (or, better yet, fields).

Your presentation of objects and evidence will have a different rhythm and weight. In other words, book readers might not necessarily be as patient as your dissertation readers. While a chapter in your dissertation can be devoted to a long, extended analysis of one or two literary texts, in a book this might turn into a few paragraphs. In sum: the book only presents enough evidence and analysis necessary to make your argument.

Your voice matters above all others in the book. While the dissertation is often a place for you to rehearse your knowledge of key critical and theoretical discourses, the book should announce your authority on a subject matter. For that reason, many citations from secondary sources will become footnotes in the book to make room for your own voice and arguments to shine!

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Research

Writing about the Dissertation

As I prepare for dissertation workshops and fellowship applications in the fall, I am reminded of this important piece of mentoring advice:

Don’t just write your dissertation, but write about it and often.

Writing about your project can be frustrating, unnerving, and even painful, but I have found that it keeps me grounded- it forces me to think about the stakes of my work and reminds me of who I am speaking to, which can be incredibly energizing. In light of this, I have decided to share some of the writing “about” my  dissertation that Duncan Faherty (Associate Professor of English at Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY)  invited us to complete for the American Studies dissertation workshop I am taking this fall. As always, it took me longer than expected to complete (and is of course far from perfect), but it did get me thinking about my project and the challenge of communicating it to others who might not be familiar with my topic or areas of research.

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