Browsing the archives for the Writing category

Writing a book proposal part I – structure & significance by Astrid Bracke
Posted by Linda Levitt

Astrid BrackeIn this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

While every publisher has their own book proposal guidelines – available on their website – these tend to cover the same elements, such as the title, short summary, a longer chapter-by-chapter outline and a section on the significance of your book. Some publishers ask you to fill in a form that covers all of these elements, and others simply require you to submit a document that incorporates all the required elements in a running text.

An obvious but nonetheless worthwhile piece of advice is that if a publisher suggests a certain structure, follow it. While you may feel that deviating from the requested structure reflects originality and individuality, the editors and reviewers that will evaluate your proposal are used to a certain structure. Choosing a different structure will more likely confuse or even irritate the editors and reviewers – who usually have little time – rather than make your proposal stand out positively.

When I started working on my book proposal, I found it nonetheless hard to determine what my book proposal should look like. Asking a friend who works more or less in the same field as I do whether I could look at her – successful – proposal helped me a lot. Another valuable resource is Palgrave Macmillan’s Open Peer Review Trial. Although primarily meant to encourage open peer review of submitted book proposals, its archive gives examples of book proposals and the feedback they received.

Eventually I decided to write a proposal as a running text that includes the elements that most publishers require. This allowed me to really conceive of my proposal as a whole, rather than a series of fields to be filled in as part of a form. Once I’d written the proposal – and had asked feedback from trusted colleagues – I could tweak and adjust the proposal to the specific forms or guidelines provided by individual publishers.

I structured my proposal as follows:

  • A longer section describing the book’s main argument, the gap(s) it will be filling and the texts and theories I’ll be concerned with. This section ends with a paragraph that sums up the specific contributions the book will make (total length about 6 paragraphs);

  • Table of contents with titles of chapters and word count. Includes notes and bibliography;

  • Chapter outline (about 500-650 words per chapter);

  • Market;

  • About the author;

  • Timeline for completion.

A number of these elements are particularly important, and worth thinking about some more.

First, you’ll need to demonstrate the significance of your book. Why should others read it? What does it contribute, and to which fields? This may require you to broaden the scope of your dissertation somewhat. The challenge is to turn your dissertation from something that is interesting primarily to your supervisor and committee members into a book that will gain the interest of a larger group of scholars.

For instance, my dissertation was aimed explicitly at expanding ecocriticism through readings of contemporary British novels. While this may be of interest as well to some scholars working outside of ecocriticism, my primary audience consisted of ecocritics, and I explicitly engaged with and responded to existing work in the field. In order to appeal to a wider audience – and hence make the book more interesting to publishers – my monograph is less explicitly concerned with ecocritical theory and practice. Instead, I’ve shifted my focus to the second element of my dissertation: an analysis of representations of nature in contemporary fiction. Since my own interest as well as work in the field is moving towards post-millennial British novels, I’ve adjusted my corpus from novels published between 1975 and 2011 – as was in the case of my dissertation – to British novels published since 2000. Consequently, the audience for my monograph increases, as I aim to appeal to several scholarly communities equally: ecocritics as well as those working on contemporary fiction, especially post-millennial British fiction.

In the next post I’ll discuss another key element of the book proposal – the market section – and one of the most frequently heard pieces of advice for recent PhDs: making your book sounds less like the dissertation you based it on.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #47 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Top Tip: Meet deadlines. Once I was working on a submission in response to a call for chapters for a book. I did not make time adequately and got behind on my writing schedule. I had to finish the last section and conclusion when the deadline came. I wrote to the editor and asked for a few more days. He replied that no one had met the deadline, and he did not want to work with a group of authors who clearly didn’t have a vested interest in the project. The book was abandoned.

Editors are certainly pleased by responsive authors, and your ability to meet a deadline makes the process move not only more efficiently but also on time. You can only enhance your reputation and network by completing your work on time.

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Should you turn your dissertation into a book? by Astrid Bracke
Posted by Linda Levitt

Astrid BrackeThis is the first in a series of posts from Astrid Bracke regarding the process of moving from disseration to book. Astrid Bracke has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

Over the past months I’ve been working on a book proposal for a monograph based on my dissertation. In this and the next three posts I’ll be sharing my experiences and advice on getting from finishing your dissertation to submitting a book proposal, and going on – hopefully – to publish a book. In this first post, I’ll be talking about making the decision to turn your dissertation into a book, and everything that comes with it.

It’s easy to follow the advice of only those in your Department, such as your supervisor and immediate colleagues. This may not be the best advice, though, no matter how well meant. For instance, in the Department where I did my PhD, most of my colleagues focused largely on articles – and barely on monographs. Hence, the advice to recent PhDs was to turn their dissertation into a series of articles, rather than seek to publish it as a monograph. Indeed, as I learned later, the monograph – while seen as the Holy Grail in many academic fields – is of considerably less importance in others.

Either way, it’s important to seek advice outside of your immediate academic environment, by asking external advisors or committee members, people at conferences or even following discussions on Twitter and using websites such as PhD2Published or The Research Whisperer. It can also help to look at job adverts when making this decision: they don’t always specifically list The Book as a requirement, but often do add a published monograph to their list of desired qualities.

That should be one of the first questions you ask yourself: how much do I need The Book for my career, or does a series of articles carry equal or greater weight in my field? Of course, in literary studies, the monograph is generally seen as very important, which made working on and submitting a book proposal important if I wanted to get a job outside of my own Department. At the same time, the dissertation doesn’t have to be your first monograph – although it will probably take longer to publish a book based on a wholly new project, than one based on your PhD project.

I deliberately gave myself a year from my PhD defense to decide whether or not I wanted to turn my dissertation into a book. During that year I didn’t look at my dissertation at all. Instead, I talked to people – mostly outside of my own Department –about their experiences and advice. The number one advice I got is that you should only turn your dissertation into a book if you can find the motivation to do so. If you cannot be enthusiastic about it, don’t take it on. Similarly, if you realize that large parts of your dissertation are already outdated, or make it unfeasible as a book for other reasons, you’re better off turning the best parts into articles – if you hadn’t done so already – and move on to a new project.

One of the biggest reasons why I eventually decided to turn my dissertation into a book is that I felt that otherwise the work I did in the four years it took me to write the dissertation would go to waste. I still believed in my dissertation as a whole, yet also realized that although I wanted to use the material, I also wanted to rework it. Consequently, the book proposal that I’ve now written describes a book that is more a spin-off from my dissertation than actually based on it.

In the following three posts I’ll discuss the next steps: writing a book proposal and deciding on a publisher.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #46 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Consider your audience. An often-repeated reminder: your dissertation or thesis cannot be repackaged as your first book without significant revision. Many students find themselves in a position where they are writing primarily for their director and committee, each of whom plays a critical role in the student’s success. If your committee does not see your project making a meaningful contribution to the field, you may get sucked into a spiral of revision that keeps you from completion.

Once you have succeeded and graduated, your audience changes. Do you have a publisher in mind? A press that you would most like to put out that first book for you? Take a close look at what that press publishes. Will your manuscript be a good fit? Is there a particular editor to whom you would submit the manuscript? What books are in that editor’s repertoire? The degree to which you would write toward a particular audience/market changes from one discipline to another, but it can be helpful to bear in mind that an editor will need to know your book is marketable before offering you a contract.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #45 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Find friends from other disciplines. Switching from one discipline to another or doing interdisciplinary research can be a challenge, especially as methods change from one discipline to another.  Yet working with a colleague or friends from another discipline can bring a fresh perspective to your research. Some patience may be required to find a common lexicon, but it is likely that there is more common ground that we might expect from one discipline to another. Should a project idea develop that you can work on together, each of you can be first author for the work in your own discipline. More collaboration, less competition.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #44 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Take stock of what works. Much of the conversation about academic writing and publishing focuses on how to improve processes and be more productive. Many scholars are in the midst of transitioning back from summer break, and the demands on your time will change as the daily routine changes. Consider the good writing and research habits you developed over the summer. Are there routines or habits that you can carry forward into the fall? What can you modify to maintain some semblance of writing in your everyday practices?

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #43 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Walk with a light step. Maybe you’ve had a particularly vexing time with revisions. Or a computer error that resulted in a corrupted file. Or you just haven’t been able to meet those perhaps overly ambitious summer writing goals. You don’t need to make excuses for goals that are only in your head. If you’re accountable to a writing group or partner, chances are there won’t be any serious punitive measures. So don’t be unkind to yourself. If you’re gearing up for the Fall semester, think about how you’ll answer the inevitable question: How was your summer? Prepare an answer that demonstrates your satisfaction with something you did accomplish. A former boss used to describe demanding tasks as “good hard work.” What good hard work did you muddle through? And can you walk away from it with a lighter step?

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #41 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)For the next several posts, Weekly Wisdom will be looking at the physiological state of the writer—both literally and metaphorically. The contradictions are deliberate: some days you need to stay hungry, and other days you need to be well fed.

Consider switching your schedule. If you feel unfocused or worn out when it comes time to sit down and write, it may be an opportunity to rethink your working schedule. As a undergraduate, I did most of my writing in the afternoon. I wrote my dissertation primarily in the evening. When I started teaching full time, I struggled with writing in the evening. I considered dozens of possible reasons that I couldn’t seem to get any work done until I thought that maybe I was just too tired by the end of the day. If your schedule permits, think about blocking time to write at a different point in the day and see if it changes your productivity.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #38 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)For the next several posts, Weekly Wisdom will be looking at the physiological state of the writer—both literally and metaphorically. The contradictions are deliberate: some days you need to stay hungry, and other days you need to be well fed.

Be sure you are well fed. A brief metaphorical journey: Research and writing is a multicourse banquet. Aperitif, appetizers, soup, a first course and so on through dessert, with possibly a coffee or cigar to conclude. It is a long and arduous process, but one that should provide as much satisfaction as possible at each step. Some courses take longer to prepare than others, especially if it’s your first time with a particular recipe. A new method, a different theoretical approach, or a new dataset can be daunting, so make sure you have prepared yourself well before coming to the table. Sometimes the banquet gets reduced to a quick bite at the side of the road, when for one reason or another we need to hurry through some part of the process. Don’t be in too big of rush, though. Savor the process.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #37 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)For the next several posts, Weekly Wisdom will be looking at the physiological state of the writer—both literally and metaphorically. The contradictions are deliberate: some days you need to stay hungry, and other days you need to be well fed.

Stay thirsty. Dos Equis beer has a widely recognized campaign featuring a character tagged as “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” After describing his vast adventures, the Most Interesting Man ends his commercial messages by saying, “stay thirsty, my friends.” The metaphor applies to research and writing as well. Stay thirsty for your next big adventure—whether it’s going to the lab or out in the field to collect data or sitting down with a stack of page proofs. Being able to savor the adventure of scholarly work requires that you stay hydrated and stay thirsty.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #34 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Ask your mentors. Recent PhDs often experience one of two polarities: on the one hand, a sense of utter exhaustion and the need for a serious break from research; on the other hand, a giddy sense of getting on with one’s research agenda. It’s not unusual to experience both intermittently. Now is a good time to ask your mentors for best practices on publishing. The answer will vary from one discipline to another and from one researcher to another. Your dissertation project may yield a series of peer reviewed articles, or may be the seed for your first book. It may be good to set aside your dissertation for awhile and come back to it, or the field may be just right for you to start working on a revision. You may also have other projects that have been tabled while you finished writing your dissertation and are waiting for your attention to move toward publishing. As the old adage goes, all endings are new beginnings (note that graduation is called commencement), so now that you are finished, think about where you want to start.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #33 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Try microcalendaring. There are so many adages about how to tackle big projects and multiple deadlines, but getting from feeling overwhelmed to having a manageable process can be daunting. One approach is microcalendaring (not to be confused with the popular app MicroCalendar). Begin with your terminal deadline, and see how many project units you have available. For example, if you were submitting an article two months from now, you would have about 60 units to work with, or fewer if you were to take weekends off from working. Knowing the number of available units enables you to determine the size of each unit: some people work well with word counts while others find text sections more manageable (i.e., for Tuesday, finish writing the argument in section two). Either way, knowing the size of the task that awaits you helps you prepare better and see a reasonable goal in sight by the end of the day.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #32 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Put your primary reference sources in Goodreads or an amazon shopping list (and you can keep both private). Many scholars have their books in various locations—bookshelves at home, at an office, sometimes in storage—in addition to not having on hand copies of books borrowed from the library or from a colleague. The source list is a quick fix for when you need to build a citation or to recall a somewhat-forgotten passage from your frequently used theorists.

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Publish and Publicise, or Perish: The Importance of Publication Impact by Mark Rubin
Posted by Linda Levitt

This guest post is from Mark Rubin, a senior lecturer in social psychology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. You can visit his ImpactStory profile at: http://impactstory.org/MarkRubin or follow him on Twitter @MarkRubinPsych.

I’ve recently conducted an “Introduction to Academic Publishing” seminar for PhD students at the University of Newcastle and the University of Canberra. During the seminar, I spend some time explaining to students the new emphasis on publication impact. Publication impact is the influence that scholarly publications have on other scholars and the general public, and it is becoming more and more important in academia. Below, I consider some of the ways in which publication impact is making an impact in the research world.

Measuring Researchers
The quality and quantity of a researcher’s publications provide a key measure of their research productivity. Consequently, publication track records are often used to determine whether or not researchers get hired, promoted, or funded for their future research. In addition, at the institutional level, the quality and quantity of a university’s publication output help to determine its international reputation and the amount of funding that it receives based on national research performance reviews. So, there are several reasons why researchers find themselves and their research outputs to be objects of measurements.

Tape Measure

© Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, Tape Measure, Creative Commons

The ethos of “publish or perish” has been around for a long time. However, in recent years, this message has become more articulated, and it now takes into account the impact of researchers’ publications. In particular, researchers are now told that they must not only publish their research but also get their publications acknowledged by other researchers and society at large. In practice, this means that researchers need to get their publications (a) cited in the work of other researchers and (b) discussed in traditional and online media. To help achieve a greater scholarly and public impact, researchers must promote and advertise their work as much as possible. In this respect, the message has now become “publish and publicise, or perish!”

Publications Need to Make a Big Splash!

A Little Trick

© Nathan Rupert, A Little Trick, Creative Commons

Measuring Publication Impact in the Scholarly Literature: The H Index
The concern about impact in the scholarly literature explains the growing popularity of the h index, a metric that is used to quantify not only the number of articles that a researcher has published but also the number of citations that these articles have accrued in other scholarly work. My own h value is currently 12, meaning that 12 of my 33 research publications have each been cited at least 12 times in other research articles.High impact researchers are expected to have h indices that are at least as large as the number of years since their first publication. The h index is not without its critics, and some have argued that a more comprehensive assessment of publication impact should take into account a broader array of alternative impact metrics, or altmetrics, that include more than just citations in scholarly work.

The H Index

Wooden Brick Letter h

© LEOL30, Wooden Brick Letter h, Creative Commons

Altmetrics
Altmetrics platforms such as altmetric and impact story count the number of times that scholarly articles are mentioned in both the scholarly literature and online social media and websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia.They can also measure the number of times that online articles are viewed, bookmarked, liked, and downloaded on document managers such as Mendeley and Citeulike. Like the h index, altmetrics has its critics. However, if used wisely, altmetrics can provide a useful tool for assessing publication impact.

Altmetrics

© A J Cann, Altmetrics, Creative Commons

“Facebook for Researchers”
In an effort to increase their scholarly impact, researchers are now advertising their work on professional social networking websites such as Academia and ResearchGate, which have over 12 million researchers signed up between them. Researchers can follow other researchers in their area and be notified about their activities, including when they publish new articles. These sites also allow researchers to publish self-archived versions of their research papers that other users can then access, further increasing their citation potential.

Research Gate Logo

By ResearchGate [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Funnelling News of Research Outputs: Research Blog Aggregators
Modern researchers are also blogging about their work. I do this myself and, although it takes a bit of time to prepare each post, I really enjoy turning a dry research abstract into a more accessible and appealing piece for my blog. Like many other researchers, I feed my posts through to research blog aggregators like ScienceSeeker and ResearchBlogging. These platforms funnel posts from many different research blogs into a single stream of the latest research.

I think therefore I blog

© Marsmettnn Tallahassee, I think therefore I blog,Creative Commons

Open-Access = Greater Impact
The drive to publish lots of highly cited and publically-acknowledged articles also helps to explain the rise of open-access journals. Unlike traditional journals, open-access journals publish articles 100% online rather than in print and, without the associated printing costs, they are able to accommodate a greater number of journal articles. For example, PLOS ONE published 23,464 articles in 2012, making it the largest journal in the world!

Importantly, the appeal of open-access journals is not only their ability to publish more publications, but also their ability to make those publications more accessible to readers. Unlike traditional journals, which tend to hide their content behind subscriber-only paywalls, open-access journals make their content freely available to everyone with internet access. This has the effect of increasing publication impact by increasing citation rates among scholars as well as online discussion among the general public.

Open Access (1)

© Research and Graduate College Graduate Studies Office, Open_Access_PLoS, Creative Commons

Hello? Can Anyone Hear Me!?
If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no-one around to hear it, then does it make a noise? I can’t answer that one I’m afraid. But I do know that, nowadays, if a researcher publishes an article in a journal and no-one views it, downloads it, cites it, or Tweets it, then it certainly doesn’t make an impact!

Trees

© Sue Langford,Trees, Creative Commons

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #28 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Sort your projects. Many readers can see summer break around the corner, along with the opportunity to delve more deeply into research. If you don’t have that circumstance ahead of you, this is still a good time at the change of seasons to assess your research agenda. A writing group chum suggested sorting projects and project ideas into three categories: urgent, priority, and save for someday. Getting a sense of what you have to do and what you want to do—and making some choices in the process—can be a good first step to setting yourself on a productive trajectory. Don’t discard those “save for someday” ideas, as they may be a good for a call for proposals or a collaboration down the road.

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