Thesis to Book: A Journey

Since gaining her book contract with Routledge – the subject of her previous blog series – Dr Alice Eden begun the hard work of transforming her thesis into a book. This has meant different ways of working and new challenges compared to PhD research. In this week’s PhD Life post, she aims to give some insights into this rewarding work and some tips from her journey so far…

The Re- Write

In my case re-writing has not involved major re-structuring, rather some additions and new emphases to write more clearly for new audiences. However, having said that, one of the most exciting parts has been revisiting the entire text and editing in subtle ways rather than just pasting new bits in. As I work through the text I am embellishing and thinking again: how might interested and informed readers get a better picture of the historic background here? How might some additional references to other artists and cultural themes help tell this part of the story more engagingly? A process of re-working and nuancing pervades the manuscript and I like the idea that this will create quite a different textual work from within. Moreover, the re-writing offers a chance to re-inhabit and re-work a thesis that I loved writing.

Thinking Bigger

I am largely working with material that is already written and recasting it slightly, re-positioning the text in subtle ways to tell a larger story than the thesis could. For most of us, our thesis is about a very specific area of research that probably no one has written on before. It becomes a very personal quest, it can be seductive, almost secretive. Though you share your material with supervisors and peers at conferences, your personal engagement and connection with your research and writing is intimate during this period and it’s easy to become very emotionally invested in your subject.

During the re-write from thesis to book, you are moving away to some extent from what can be a sort of lonely, monastic life, a quest with various obstacles and stages to be achieved. You are starting to inhabit a broader role; your voice and written material are adapting to have a wider reach. You are thinking about different audiences and readers than your PhD supervisor and examiner who know your area very closely. Broadly you are starting to look outwards rather than inwards.

This part of the writing journey allows you to recall research and knowledge that early on in your PhD journey you probably dismissed as too broad and not specific enough. For me this is a time where I can enjoy reprisals of early work I completed: an overview of the British art scene, a survey of similar artists – visiting the Witt Art Library and scanning through boxes of images of ‘forgotten’ artworks, surveying feminisms of the period. Now is the time you can pick up some of your own loose threads, general overview material and unused examples.

Enough is Enough

Despite all this, the re-writing needs to be managed. One tip I would give is: don’t think that now you can now add in all interesting new themes or additional knowledge that you didn’t have space for in the thesis. The great thing is that all of these extra strands that come to you during the re-write form the kernels of other publications (I always have so many). Certainly think on these new areas and keep any material you have accumulated. I have found that each area I re-develop, re-shape, add to (for example the nature of feminism then and now, female artists of the period), are separate areas of research in their own right. Indeed, an equally important part of the re-writing is being concise and ear-marking sections to cut. The word count for my book manuscript is shorter than my thesis and I need to consciously keep this in mind throughout.

Address the Overall Language:

As I work through the text I see more clearly how I had written a thesis which addressed specific people already deeply involved in this area of research. My use of language and modes of address become more and more important. Re-writing a thesis involves a constant re-thinking and re-sifting of material. This is a very engaging process which becomes more meaningful and self-sustaining the more I move forward on this journey.


How have you dealt with re-writing during the thesis and beyond? Have you experienced any similar processes? We’d love to hear about other journeys from thesis to book.Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Alice Eden is an Early Career academic and Associate Tutor in the History of Art department, University of Warwick. Her primary interests are modern British cultural history, spiritualities and feminisms, with expertise in Victorian and Edwardian art history. She currently works in educational administration and is writing a book based on her PhD thesis (see future posts!). Alice can be contacted via email and followed on twitter at @Alice_Eden4.


Cover image: writing-write-fountain-pen-ink-1209121 / Free-Photos / CC0 1.0

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