When it comes to writing a dissertation, I have heard both “remember it’s a book” and “it’s not a book it’s a dissertation.” So clearly, there is a consensus. Though it is a little frustrating to have such conflicting advice when beginning to formulate a dissertation topic, it is pretty clear both sides are correct.
A dissertation is not a book. As Leonard Cassuto, writing for The Chronicle, points out, virtually no dissertations are publishable without major revisions, not all dissertations should be books anyways, and the dissertation is part of your education. As such a long project, it seems easy to get carried away and stay in graduate school for a decade, but that is not a desirable career path. At some point the dissertation needs to get done and I will probably come to a point where I will be saying daily “just get it done.” I saw somewhere (twitter maybe?) that said, in effect, no one cares about your dissertation except “is it done?” I cannot say for sure, but I imagine most graduate students who are close to finishing their dissertations would agree with this sentiment.
On the other hand, I was lucky enough to have coffee with Dr. Thomas Andrews (and some other graduate students) yesterday. He reiterated one of the main reasons I tend to lean towards “it’s a book,” you spend a long time on your dissertation topic (about a decade if it does get turned into a book, but at least a half a decade). So saying it is just a dissertation is misleading for someone trying to develop a topic. My topic needs to be book-worthy even if the dissertation is not an immediately publishable book.
However, Dr. Andrews said one thing that really struck me. When talking about writing, he said (I might be paraphrasing) “You don’t write many books.” A simple, perhaps obvious, statement, it was stuck in my head all day. It is true we do not write many books and the way the academic publishing industry is going, getting one book published is looking like an uphill battle. So why cut corners? I believe he mentioned the phrase, “leave it all on the field,” which I think is a great sentiment for writing the dissertation. The dissertation might be my only book length project (hopefully not, but again, the academic publishing climate sucks right now). Hard to leave things for next time then.
There are things I would do differently in writing my MA thesis, in part because I understood the MA as a stepping stone towards the dissertation. I do not want to be able to say there are things I would have done differently in my dissertation. There might not be any stones to step on after it.