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Publishing Your Dissertation: Online or Not Online, That's the Question

By Maike Steuer

Several years of intensive research are over, hundreds of pages typed. After a last round of corrections by your thesis advisor, your completed dissertation lies ready on your computer. All you need to do now is print it out and hand it in. But "all you need to do" can turn out to be a big hurdle on your way to a doctoral degree - thanks to a paragraph in the doctorate regulations pertaining to the "Obligation to Publish".

Publishing your dissertation© creacart - iStockphoto.com

Every doctoral thesis must be published

It states that every doctoral candidate in Germany must have published his or her academic thesis in quotable form before adding "Dr." to his or her name tag. Just like the oral examination (viva voce) and defending the thesis (disputation), publication is an integral component of the doctoral examination procedure at German universities. What initially sounds like a quick trip to the copy shop and a thick wad of bound paper actually means a lot of additional work and sometimes enormous costs. Depending on the university and faculty, a doctoral candidate must submit between 40 and 150 copies of his or her dissertation. As few people keep it as short as the German mathematician who gained his "Dr. rer. nat" for 32 succinct pages in 1998, the cost of an on average 400-page book may tear a sizeable hole into your budget, depending on how it is published.

E-books as the cheapest option

The most affordable option is online publication. The amendment to the "German National Library Law" and the addition of "immaterial media works", which include online dissertations, to its collection mission cleared the way for publication on the World Wide Web in 1998.

Since then the number of published "E-books - Internet publications that are available as full text online" has increased continuously to over a third of all scientific publications. In April 2008, the German National Library included 64,384 online dissertations and post-doctoral theses in its inventory.

Widely and quickly available

The advantages of online publications are obvious: they don't cost much money or time, and are meanwhile accepted by 90 of the 104 universities authorised to award doctorate degrees. In addition, virtually published books often reach a far greater number of readers than the bound editions on bookshelves. The data base of the GRIN publishing house alone, which specialises in publishing academic texts, is accessed 1.2 million times a month. Authors can not only choose whether to make their scientific work available free of charge or at a certain price; they can also have it printed as a "proper" book if required. Equipped with an ISBN code, their publications can be ordered from both real and virtual bookshops.

Go it alone or through a publisher?

Opponents of the virtual method of publication and doctoral candidates at the 14 remaining offline universities have to decide: do they want to handle printing "à la copy shop" on their own, or struggle through the jungle of 2,150,000 search results that Google spits out for "dissertation publisher"? While self-publication is fast and unconventional, publication by a specialised publishing house may take several months. Particularly for doctoral candidates with a fixed deadline this is an important aspect that has to be taken into account. When it comes to marketing, on the other hand, the publishing house has the edge, as it can use an existing distribution network while the lone fighter struggles from door to door.
As great as the differences may be, the two methods have one thing in common: they involve costs which can't be generalised. Depending on the number of pages, print run, whether the book includes colour illustrations or not, and the quality of the publication, prices vary between 100 and 1,500 euros.

Save money with a "Printing Grant"

The conditions of the individual publishers differ as widely as the doctoral regulations for the various departments of the universities. Sometimes a general printing cost subsidy is required from the doctoral candidate, sometimes he or she is obliged to purchase a minimum number of copies, but it's rarely free. A visit to the university library is also advisable, as it may hold publication series that could be suitable for your own subject matter. A look at the grants database at e-fellows.net can help save money. It lists over 60 entries on "printing grants" or "bursaries for material and travel expenses".

academics :: November 2008