Publishing a peer-reviewed journal paper or several papers based on the work of your PhD thesis is an important step in starting to build your academic career. Of course there are many factors that can impact your ability to publish papers from your PhD research, including any restrictions a funder (e.g. a commercial company) may place on how your work is disseminated.
In reality, the number of papers published during the course of the project will vary considerably depending on the approach of the supervisor, the university and the field of research. Some students may end up submitting their thesis having published at least one paper for each of their chapters, whilst others may have no peer-reviewed papers to their name at the time of their viva. In either case, there may certainly be opportunities to convert their thesis into a form ready for peer-review. Here’re a few tips to help you on your paper writing journey:
1. Select the most relevant journal for your work
You’ll no doubt have read many papers through the course of your project and developed a sense of journals that your paper is likely to be better suited to. It’s important that you understand what the scope of a journal is and make sure that your research falls within this scope. Most journals will also have an author’s guide which explains how they want submitted manuscripts to be formatted, the reference style to be used, the number of figures, etc.
2. Cut the words down
Of course, converting a 100,000 word thesis into a 4,000 word paper or papers is not a straightforward task. You’ll need to be able to distil your writing down to present essential information succinctly and in a manner that conforms to the journals requirements. One tip is to consider focusing on writing up a single chapter as a standalone body of work.
3. Tighten up the introduction
As a general rule for writing an introduction, we suggest one page of A4, double-spaced, size 12 font and consisting of 4 paragraphs that end with the aim, objectives and hypothesis of your work. You’ll have already written a lot of this in your thesis, just with a lot more words!
4. Keep the methods relevant
You need to be able to explain your methods in enough detail so that the reader is able to replicate your experiments or study design but you may not need to go into great detail for every step, particularly if you’re referencing previously established methods. You’ll certainly get a feel for the style and length of the methods expected by the journal by reading other papers in the same journal.
5. Present your key results
You’re likely to have a lot of data that you want to get across to the reader but focus on presenting the key findings from your research, be in the form of the main graphs or tables. You always have the option of including supplementary data in the appendix of the paper.
6. Make the discussion succinct
A good way to start the discussion is with a summary paragraph of your key findings and the main takeaway message. Note that this is not simply just repeating your results but instead placing the results in the context of why they’re important. Use your discussion to explain how your work fits in and adds to what is already known in your field, what the limitations are and how future studies can take your research forward.