margy thomas phd scholarshape durham nc about

Hello! I’m Margy Thomas, Ph.D.

I founded ScholarShape in 2013, and since then, have watched hundreds of scholars develop books, articles, and other documents that communicate the heart of their research to expert audiences. Being a developmental editor has meant having a front-row seat in the knowledge-building arena.

Developmental editing does for entire manuscripts what copy editing does for individual sentences: arranging the right elements in the right order to communicate the intended meaning to the reader. The process involves meticulous analysis of rough drafts at multiple structural levels and through various audience lenses. It also requires an intuitive recognition of the stories that data want to tell and the arguments they want to make. The process is transformative for authors, who often describe it as revelatory, even magical.

But the process is also slow and expensive. As a one-on-one service, it’s logistically and financially inaccessible to most scholars.

Which is why today, even as I continue to assist a small number of individual scholars with their manuscripts, I am also working toward a larger goal: to bring the benefits of developmental editing to every thinker who wants them. I believe we can accomplish this goal by weaving the principles of developmental editing into the writing process itself, as we have the rules of grammar.

It starts with what I call the Story-Argument model: a conceptual framework, currently a work-in-progress, that will describe the features common to all effective scholarly communication. Years of analyzing scholarship and the scholarly process have taught me that every compelling book and article, no matter the discipline, follows specific patterns as it persuades audiences of what its data means and invites audiences into a co-construction of that meaning. Once these patterns are as explicit as grammatical rules, they can guide our process of thinking and writing.

The Story-Argument model will be a tool for looking at our work through others’ eyes and for building trust in our own judgment of what we are seeing.

Story-Arguments are really everywhere, in various sizes and scales. I see them on websites; I hear them in conversations; I notice them on coffee mugs.

A Story-Argument happens anywhere we use sensory evidence and logical reasoning to appeal to each others’ sense of interconnection and possibility.

You can even write one (or four) on your body in tattoo ink. Here, I’ll go first.


the constellation

In the nineteen stars of Sagittarius, humans have long imagined an archer in search of truth, shooting arrows into the future. For me, that archer is a scholar, moving through space and time on a quest for understanding. I’m aware that what I see depends on where I am. Sagittarius is only visible from this specific position in the galaxy. Scholars are only visible to those who recognize what the scholarly process looks like. Constellations, and the astrological system as a whole, and really all knowledges, are stories we tell based on our perspectives. And yet knowledges, like constellations, also reference something outside ourselves and position us in the universe, giving us something to navigate by.

golden spiral tattoo margy thomas scholarshape

the golden spiral

The sacred geometry of the golden spiral is reflected in the shells of snails and the arms of galaxies, echoed in the art and architecture of humans across millennia, signifying the inextricability of form and function. Knowledge is both discovered and designed according to patterns and structures that are inherent in the universe. When a structure is sound, usefulness meets beauty in a way that has a sense of inevitability to it. Well-built knowledge is functional in the sense of being accurate, logical, and persuasive, and it is also beautiful in that it’s symmetrical, unified, and harmonious. The golden spiral is a path, a blueprint, a natural law—a transparency on the overhead projector of the universe.

infinity tattoo margy thomas scholarshape


The infinity symbol, or lemniscate, refers to the ever-unfolding nature of life and the mysteries of the universe. Building knowledge is how we make sense of our existence, moment by moment. We are always aware of some way that our lives could be fuller, larger, happier — and each new improvement we attain points beyond itself to the next question, the next vision of what we can do, what the world can be. To build new knowledge is to lean into the mystery of being alive and discover that the work of making our lives matter is harder, more beautiful, and more infinite than we’d imagined.

moby dick whale tattoo margy thomas scholarshape

the whale

Throughout Moby-Dick, the crew of the Pequod seeks the elusive white whale. As they zigzag wildly around the globe, the captain continually revises the ship’s route in response to the changing tides and weather and his own instincts. Circuitous as the voyage may be, it always has a focal point: the outline of the whale. The idea of him. Just as the crew is driven by the question of where Moby-Dick might be, what their eventual encounter with him might mean, we are always moving through space and time focused on a working thesis that’s elusive and evolving. Only as we go along can we devise and revise our route and gradually discover what knowledge we are building. Knowledge emerges through iteration.

About Margy Thomas*

* a more prosaic account

Since founding ScholarShape in 2013, I have helped clients develop books published with Oxford UP, Cambridge UP, Louisiana State UP, Columbia UP, and many more, plus articles placed in dozens of high-impact journals. My Ph.D. (Baylor, 2012) is in English Language and Literature, and I wrote my dissertation on Herman Melville's use of genre. This explains my obsessive interest in how academic writing is constrained and generated by genre, as well as the sperm whale tattoo philosophized about above. While at Baylor, I taught academic writing and research for four years, and then served as the university's first Graduate Writing Consultant. In that role, I developed training materials for future consultants, an experience that planted early seeds of ScholarShape. Also at Baylor, I was a Presidential Doctoral Scholar, was named one of the university’s 2011 Outstanding Professors of the Year, published peer-reviewed articles on American literature, and learned the art of dive bar karaoke. From 2014 -2018, I served as North Carolina State University Graduate School's Dissertation Institute Writing Consultant, and in 2018 - 2019, I co-taught a doctoral writing course in the NC State College of Engineering. My favorite kind of researcher to work with is all of them. I live with my son, Abe, in our One True Apartment in Durham, North Carolina.



The ScholarShape story is being lived and evolved every day. To join in, check out the Working Thesis blog and newsletter. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram. I look forward to connecting with you!