How do I know what to cut and what to keep from my dissertation?

What to Cut and What to Keep Book Chapters

It all starts with your Book Questions and Chapter Answers.

Book Questions and Chapter Answers are powerful tools for transforming your dissertation into a compelling scholarly book. They help you identify and articulate your book’s core argument, ensure each chapter is focused and purposeful, and plan your revision process.

Here’s how it works: Your Book Questions identify the key priorities and argumentative strands that run through your entire book. They’re the big, overarching questions that your book asks about the evidence you study and that each chapter answers directly. Your Chapter Answers, then, show how each individual chapter tangibly advances those priorities in specific ways to support your overall book argument. They’re like mini-arguments for each chapter that, together, build toward your book’s main claims.

Want more in-depth support in developing your Book Questions and Chapter Answers? Check out The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook (use code UCPNEW to get 30% off!), which devotes five full chapters to exercises to produce and revise them!

Dissertation-to-book Workbook

Once you have your Book Questions and Chapter Answers, you can use them to evaluate your existing dissertation material and guide your revision process. Here’s how.

We Recommend You Build Up from Existing Prose

At this stage, we highly recommend working in a new, blank document. Build up your chapter by porting over existing writing that fits the purpose of your new argument-driven chapter.

Working this way ensures a few things:

  1. You’ll focus your chapter on making a clear argument in service of the book.
  2. You won’t get bogged down trying to revise extraneous material.
  3. You can evaluate each piece you bring in and either adapt it to fit your chapter argument or cut it.

Evaluate Your Chapter’s Sections

As you bring sections into your new chapter document, ask yourself:

  • Does this section directly support my Chapter Answers?
  • What role does it play in advancing my chapter argument?
  • Is the section’s purpose clear? Cut any sections that aren’t pulling their weight. Then revise the keepers to clarify how they serve your argument.

It sounds simple, but authors sometimes get hung up. For exactly what to do (and what not to do), see The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook, Chapter 14. Or, for a guided workshop format, enroll in our Book Chapter Shortcut facilitated cohort.

Evaluate Your Sections’ Paragraphs

Next, look at the paragraphs within each section. For each one, ask:

  • Does this paragraph support the section’s purpose?
  • Does it clearly connect to my Chapter Answers?
  • Is it as concise as possible? Cut ruthlessly and revise carefully to hone each paragraph.

Again, this work sounds simple, but can be tricky. We highly recommend you use a tool called “reverse outlining” for this task. To see exactly how to do this, check out Chapter 15 of The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook or enroll in our Book Chapter Shortcut facilitated cohort.

What will change a lot and what might not change that much?

As you revise your dissertation chapters into book chapters, you’ll likely find that much of your work involves:

  1. Reframing your chapter arguments to align with your Book Questions and Chapter Answers
  2. Refocusing your analyses to support your new chapter arguments
  3. Redistributing background material and scholarship to serve your chapter’s specific purposes

However, one piece that might not change as much is your analysis of primary sources. The core of your close readings and interpretations may remain largely the same, even as you reframe the ends to which you put them.

So, as you revise, carefully evaluate:

  1. The amount and type of background material you include. Cut anything extraneous and make sure what remains directly supports your chapter argument.
  2. How you’re using your analyses. Ensure your interpretations are clearly mobilized in service of your Chapter Answers and overall book claims.

By focusing your revisions in these key areas, you can transform your dissertation chapters into tight, compelling book chapters that work together to advance your book’s central arguments.

Go Further with The Dissertation-to-Book Workshop and The Book Chapter Shortcut

Want to dive deeper into transforming your dissertation into a book? Check out our Book Chapter Shortcut course and sign up for The Dissertation-to-Book Workshop.

You’ll get hands-on guidance to identify your book’s core argument, craft compelling Chapter Answers, and build focused, persuasive chapters. We’ll help you cut the excess, keep the essential, and produce a scholarly book that really shines.

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