Thursday, March 1, 2018

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to author academic books

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!

When you finish your dissertation, you may be wondering what is next. Have you considered turning your thesis into a book, either an academic book or perhaps a non-fiction book? Or when you have taken on a large project as a post-doc, and published several papers on the topic, you may feel ready to take the next step and write a book about this topic.

Granted, after finishing your dissertation or after turning in a manuscript, writing a book may be the last thing on your mind. You'd rather not type out any word again. But writing books is part of academic life, a skill to master, and a way to share your knowledge. Depending on your field, it may be a requirement for tenure, or it may simply be a step to take to grow your reputation as an authority in your field.

There are several ways to develop ideas for books to write. Your first step is always to pitch the idea to a publisher. Inquire first about the formats they use for writing a book proposal, so that you have an idea on which information you need to present your idea. Most book proposals require you to describe what the book will be about, who the book will be useful for, which other titles on the topic already exist and how your book is different, and a short chapter-by-chapter description or table of contents.

In this post, we'll zoom in to the very first step of writing a book: how can you turn a research project or other work you did into an idea for a book? There are several categories you can consider:

1. From thesis to academic book
You may think that turning your thesis into an academic book is overdone. If somebody wants to know about your research, they can read your dissertation, right? In fact, you should consider the audience. Researchers, especially those in your field, will read your dissertation. If you turn the work of your dissertation into an academic book, it should serve a broader audience. Think about the way your work can benefit practitioners and a broader academic audience. Can you include case studies, design examples, or discuss the way forward for your field based on your work? You write a dissertation as the answer to a research question, and a book as a tool for its readers - keep that in mind when you decide which topics to include.

2. From thesis to non-fiction book
If you like writing and are willing to chew on every sentence, writing a non-fiction book for the broader public can be the way to go. Go from "answering your research question" as you did in your dissertation to "telling a story" and/or "giving insights and advice" based on your research. Did you come across interesting people or anecdotes during your research? Take a storyline as the center of your narrative and move away from purely answering your research question.

3. From research project to book
A research project other than your PhD research can become a book too. If you are in the post-doc phase or are an early career researcher on the tenure track, you will not be combining the insights of your new research into a thesis anymore. Instead, you can bundle your knowledge into a book. Again, you should write the book (and of course, the book proposal first) with your reader in mind: what can they learn and use from the work you have been carrying out? Take that as your main point, and develop your work around what serves your reader.

4. From blog to book
If you write a blog about research, you can turn your posts into an e-book. With PhD Talk and AcademicTransfer, we have done this already and made our best work available as a free e-book. You too can decide to either turn your most-read posts into a "best of" e-book, or you can decide to select a number of posts around the same topic and work these into a book focused on one element.

5. From class notes to coursebook
If you are teaching, you will develop your own classnotes. You may be using a classic textbook, and develop your notes based on the textbook. If you are in a new field, if the available textbooks are outdated, or if no textbooks are applicable to the context of your location, then you will have to develop your classnotes by bringing together information from different publications, invent examples, and synthesize the information as you prepare your lectures. The next step can be to turn the information you developed yourself into a coursebook and publish it.

6. Become editor of a technical book
Being an editor to a book written with experts in your field is a whole different beast, and I certainly could devote an entire post to this. However, in this post our focus is on getting ideas for books and book proposals. If you have a number of colleagues you often see at conferences or work together with at certain occasions, you can ask for their effort in the form of contributing a chapter to an edited volume. The advantage of an edited volume is that it can shine different lights on a hot topic.

7. Become editor of a collection of essays
Besides the nitty-gritty of the technical content that you find in an edited volume, you can also act as editor of a collection of essays. Sometimes, such books are published to honor a giant in your field, and all past students and collaborators contribute with an essay on their collaboration with this giant, on life lessons he/she gave the author, or by discussing several important elements of the work of this giant. An other option for a collection of essays is combining efforts with colleagues and sharing your points of view related to higher education, foreign policy, teaching techniques...

With this list of ideas, which book project will you tackle?

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