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I finished my PhD in October 2017. I have tried to write a publication from my thesis, however I am finding it quite a struggle. I am not receiving any help from my PhD supervisor. So my question is, what should I take into account in order to write a paper (I have not written any papers before)?

Can I write a paper from my thesis after the university has published it?

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    There seem to be two questions here, first something related to plagiarism or copyright if the university publishes your thesis, and second the fact that you have no idea how to actually write a paper because no one ever told you. Could you maybe add a little bit more context and turn the question into something that can be answered on this site? I think there is no such thing as a general guide on how to write a good paper, at least not one that is applicable to all fields. On that note, the field and the country might help. – Dirk Sep 11 '18 at 8:50
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    @puppetsock That comment contains a ton of assumptions that all parts of academia are like the one you have seen. This need not be the case. – Tobias Kildetoft Sep 11 '18 at 17:10
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    @puppetsock stapler theses are rare in my field. Here it works the other way around: write a book-lenght manuscript first, and then slice it into papers. – henning -- reinstate Monica Sep 11 '18 at 18:50
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    @user2768 Yes it is common for universities to publish PhD theses, and it is also common for journals and other publishers to accept work to be published in duplicate to a thesis (before or after). The thesis itself is not considered a peer-reviewed publication within most fields so it counts more like a preprint (even if the date is later than the actual publication). Some of this is going to differ by field and country, of course. – Bryan Krause Sep 11 '18 at 18:57
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    @BryanKrause You mean "published" as-in publicly available, rather than published by a publisher? The former wouldn't seem to cause the copyright issues mentioned by Dirk (assuming the author didn't assign -- possibly automatically -- copyright to the university). Regarding, "[t]he thesis itself is not considered a peer-reviewed publication," that surely depends upon the country the PhD was examined? In some countries, the thesis is the document that has received the most scrutiny from peers. (I wouldn't refer to a thesis as a publication, they aren't published by a publisher.) – user2768 Sep 12 '18 at 7:22
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I'll assume your thesis has the following structure:

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Result 1
  • ...
  • Result N
  • Conclusion

Each result chapter should be publishable (if not now, then later, with some additional material). You just need to prepend each result chapter with an introduction to that result (borrowing heavily from the introduction chapter of your thesis), append with a conclusion to that result (borrowing heavily from the conclusion chapter of your thesis), and edit (by compression and rewriting) into a standalone paper.


I recommend mentioning that preliminary results appeared in your PhD thesis, but that's not necessary.

  • This may be easier to do in some fields than others, and with some theses than others. In math, sometimes Result N is the one of significance and the others are just Lemmas that lead up to it, but have little independent merit. Some merit, of course, but possibly not enough for a paper. But it is possible they can still be utilized if they support other results as well. But it may be very difficult to write a paper about Result N without all of the others which make it possible. And yet, not possible to write all the other papers so that you can cite them. Of course, arXiv can help here. – Buffy Sep 11 '18 at 14:54
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    @Buffy The assumed thesis structure is certainly better aligned with some disciplines rather than others! And it may not apply to the OP. (They didn't mention their discipline, so whether my answer is applicable to their discipline is unclear.) By result 1, ..., result N, I meant independent, standalone results. Not every thesis will contain such results. (But, it is strongly supported by The PHD Movie 2. Recall, "...most dissertations...are random collections of disparate work that are stitched together...") – user2768 Sep 11 '18 at 15:40
  • @Buffy For the case that you describe, the thesis just needs to be compressed to a length suitable for publication. Many proofs, some lemmas, etc., can be omitted and references to the thesis can be included. – user2768 Sep 11 '18 at 15:42
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Shorten, shorten, shorten, and rewrite.

When writing directly for the thesis, people often are elaborate and generous. You have all the space in the world, and having 180 pages instead of 150 might be a plus.

In a journal paper you have, say, 10 pages of a condensed formatting and that's it. So, the writing has to accommodate this.

I have three suggestions:

  • In most cases you would like to pick some aspect of the thesis, not the whole work. So start from the relevant chapter.
  • It depends a lot on the writing style and personal preferences, but for me personally it's often easier to read a paragraph and to come up with a way to tell this in one sentence (i.e., rewriting) than to edit said paragraph to be shorter and more concise.
  • All things that are somewhat relevant, but too large or not immediately needed either land in the supplementary document, or you directly refer to the thesis for more details.
  • This is good advice, but I'll also note that in some fields, say Mathematics, it isn't always possible. In such fields there may be journals that will publish long papers, though possibly not as long as the thesis. But I think that being concise is good even for the thesis. That is to say, complete, but not pedantic. – Buffy Sep 11 '18 at 14:50
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As for any paper, you should first decide what is the exact topic of your paper, and especially what is the original contribution. Depending on this, you should choose a venue (journal or conference) relevant for this kind of contribution, and preferably appropriate for various criteria such as:

  • editorial policy, in particular length of the paper you plan to write;
  • acceptance rate: this depends how good you think the paper would be, and whether your strategy favours either a high chance to get accepted or the future value of the paper (the more selective, the higher the value);
  • editorial process, in particular length of the reviewing process

You have probably read many papers in your field during your PhD, so you have many examples that you can use as references. The fact that your paper is based on your PhD is not essential in the process. In particular, don't try to squeeze your whole PhD into a single paper, these are two different kinds of documents with different purposes and they should be designed in a different way.

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It may depend on your university and country but many PhD graduates write papers based on their thesis, or chapters of their thesis, after completing their doctorate so this is quite normal. You will probably have to cite your thesis in any papers that you produce from it as it is a prior published work that you are expanding on.

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