Extracting a Published Paper from Your Dissertation

Tiffany Ip, The University of Hong Kong

After discussing the possibilities of turning a dissertation into a conference presentation in my previous column (Ip, 2019), I am going to offer some advice about how to go a step further by not just having your findings ‘disseminated’ but also ‘published’.

It is said that many oral presentations and most poster presentations at conferences do not get developed into full-fledged published papers. Apparently, a lot of good intentions and potentially interesting findings go to waste because researchers do not follow up on them. There are many factors to explain why this may happen. Apart from requiring perseverance and time to write a full paper, studies with negative results, small sample sizes, and a lack of funding (Khan, 2019) may have a smaller chance of being followed up on.

With that said, a manuscript based on a dissertation has a relative advantage as it likely has enough substance to be published in a peer-reviewed journal or book as it contains a substantial investigation and is hopefully the result of quality supervision and meticulous revision. The real challenge of publishing from a dissertation is therefore not doing the research itself but rather converting it into a publishable manuscript.

How Different Is a Dissertation from a Published Article?

As a rule of thumb, you should never simply copy and paste content from your dissertation. Although a dissertation and a published article share similar sections, dissertations are normally much longer than articles, which are typically only around 5,000 words including references. Additionally, they are different in terms of the following aspects:

1. Abstract. The abstract of an article is usually shorter than that of a dissertation.

2. Introduction. The introduction to an article also tends to be more concise as your target audience is assumed to be familiar with the necessary background and, unlike your examiners, is not there to judge if you have kept abreast of the literature.

3. Methods and Results. You need to be selective and focused when reporting these in an article. Whereas the methods and results sections in a dissertation include all your experiments, models and findings, the corresponding sections in an article may report only a selected number of these that answer the (possibly only one) research question or hypothesis you raise in your article introduction. It is thus possible to convert the content of a dissertation into more than one article.

4. Title. Some people may like to use the same title for their dissertation and published articles, but this is not a must, especially if you extract only part of your investigation from your dissertation. A cumulative title describing all of your dissertation chapters may not be suitable for your shortened work in a published article.

Where Can You Publish Your Work?

There are plenty of options for you to publish your work in. As mentioned in Ip (2019), some conferences such as the JALT International Conference and the JALT PanSIG Conference have a publication following the conference, allowing you to publish what you presented as a peer-reviewed paper. While some may think a conference proceedings is less prestigious than a journal article, JALT’s post-conference publications include a rigorous review process. If there are issues with the originally submitted articles considered suitable for possible inclusion in the proceedings, JALT has content editors who work with authors to help them produce a publishable article. For more details, please refer to the JALT Publications site: http://jalt-publications.org/.

From time to time, special editions of peer-reviewed journals or books invite submissions of articles that focus on a particular topic or theme. If your dissertation happens to be oriented around the suggested topic, you may also transform it and try for one of these.

Of course, you may also do a bit of research and select an appropriate journal. If publishing in a ‘prestigious’ journal matters to you, you can target journals with higher impact factors or those with the backing of a major publishing house. First, read through the aims and scope of journals that you are interested in. After deciding on a journal you would like to submit an article to, be sure to tailor your manuscript to the specific requirements of that journal, including its recommended structure, word limit, reference style, and any other details mentioned in the guidelines for authors. The academic requirements that are supposed to be met by a dissertation are not necessarily the same as the standards stipulated by a journal.

A Word of Caution

Potential concerns exist in some universities regarding the publication of dissertations, as technically dissertations belong to the university they were produced through. Manuscripts based on them might be considered self-plagiarism, duplicate submission, or result in copyright issues. It is always recommended for you to check with your professor or department before you publish an article from your dissertation. In general, journals are not against publishing articles from dissertations.


Needless to say, good language and organization in a paper are vital. Your paper with original ideas and valuable data may still be rejected if it is too difficult to understand. The Writers’ Peer Support Group associated with JALT consists of a team of experienced peer readers who can assist writers who want to publish with any publication. You can find more details at the JALT Publications site here: https://jalt-publications.org/psg.

Publishing dissertations is, in some cases, one of the requirements for graduate students to finish their programs. Whether publishing your dissertation research is mandatory or not, making an effort to convert a dissertation into a published manuscript serves as an excellent building block for junior researchers and first-time authors. Hopefully, your journey of academic research and writing will not stop at the completion of your dissertation, and publishing a manuscript based on your dissertation will help you to make a broader and more significant contribution.


Ip, T. (2019). Turning dissertations into conference presentations. The Language Teacher, 43(4), 34-35.

Khan, N. (2019). From conference abstract to full publication: what are the facts, figures and implications of failure to publish in full? Students 4 Best Evidence. Retrieved from https://www.students4bestevidence.net/from-a-conference-abstract-to-full...

Tiffany Ip teaches at universities in Hong Kong. She gained a PhD in neurolinguistics and strives to utilize her knowledge to translate brain research findings into practical classroom instruction.