Four top tips for turning your PhD into a book

Kent Law School alumna Dr Serena Natile shares her experience of turning a PhD thesis into a monograph with current Kent Law School PhD scholar Elena Caruso and offers four key points of reflection.


Dr Serena Natile is a Lecturer in Socio-Legal Studies at Brunel Law School, where she teaches Public Law, International Law, Gender & Law, Finance & Society and Research Methods. Serena completed her PhD at KLS in December 2016, passing her viva with no corrections. Her PhD thesis ‘Mobile Money and the Limits of Financial Inclusion: A Gender Analysis of M-Pesa in Kenya’ was supervised by Professor Toni Williams and Professor Donatella Alessandrini and examined by Professor Judy Fudge and Professor Ambreena Manji.

During her time at Kent Law School, Serena taught on a number of modules, worked as a research assistant on various projects and served for three years on the steering committee of the Kent Centre for Race, Sexuality and Gender Justice. Serena has recently published a revised version of her PhD thesis: The Exclusionary Politics of Digital Financial Inclusion: Mobile Money, Gendered Walls as part of the RIPE Series in Global Political Economy by Routledge.

Four points of reflection:

  1. Writing a good PhD thesis: a well-structured and clearly written thesis with clear question(s), narrative and argument(s) is a key starting point for publishing PhD research. While the decision to publish the PhD thesis as a book rather than a series of articles is related to the research topic, scope and approach (when, for instance, all chapters are interconnected and necessary to frame the central argument), the process of developing a good PhD project depends on various factors and the role of the supervisors is particularly important. Building a relationship of trust with the supervisors, feeling supported but free to explore different topics and methods, listening and engaging with them and with the broader academic community is a significant aspect of this journey
  2. Building academic relations: all doctoral students know that a PhD is a combination of interaction and isolation. Academic interactions are developed via conversations, presentations, conferences, blogs and social media: they are useful to test ideas and develop arguments but also to make your research known and start positioning yourself within the academic debates you would like to contribute to and be recognised for. Building these networks is important to establish contacts with publishers (receiving an invitation to submit a book proposal facilitates the editorial process); understand the different options available (there are various options to consider: from book series, to editorial approach to format and availability of the manuscript), define your contribution (a section of the book proposal asks specifically to discuss ‘similar/competing titles’); facilitate dissemination and build collaborations for future projects.
  3. Paying attention to the broader audience: engaging with feedback and particularly with the ‘negative’ and challenging ones is an important step in many academic projects and is a crucial part of turning the PhD into a book. A book is different from the PhD thesis because the scope and audience are broader. The PhD thesis is aimed at fulfilling the requirements to be awarded a doctoral degree, the book is aimed at contributing to particular debates while engaging the wider public. The language and structure need to be clear, coherent and to the point, and the arguments well-supported. Rewriting the introduction and parts of the PhD thesis, adding or cutting a chapter, signposting ideas and having short and sharp titles are necessary steps of the editing process. It’s important to take time to think about and address the comments to the book proposal/sample chapters made by the editors and reviewers and to plan very carefully the work to be done on the manuscript liaising with the editorial team throughout. Asking friends and colleagues outside the field to read chapters is also a very useful exercise to clarify points and make the argument stronger.
  4. Try to stick to a reasonable timeframe: in the broader picture of collective production of knowledge, books always represent a work in progress as they draw on existing research and create new insights. Early career scholars have a lot of pressure to publish while often working on precarious contracts and applying for jobs and grants. However, besides these structural issues that would require a more complex discussion, it is helpful to have a reasonable timeframe and try to realise the best possible work within a defined amount of time. The first book is important and creates a lot of pressure particularly to position our work in crucial academic debates. However, it’s also important not to wait too long to share it with the wider public because the exciting part comes afterwards. Setting deadlines with the editors and possible proofreaders and prioritising it over other (seemingly more exciting) new projects helps with sticking to deadlines. Updating and reworking parts of the PhD thesis can be stressful at times, but publishing it as a book gives you a sense of completion and encourages and facilitates future projects.

Hear more from Dr Natile in this conversation about her experience with Elena:

To find out more about studying postgraduate law at Kent Law School, visit our website. As a PhD scholar at Kent, you can choose to study a PhD in Law or a PhD in Socio-legal Studies.