This post is the third in our series on genre in academic writing. To read the introductory post you can click here; the second post, on the difference between dissertations and monographs, is available here. In this post, we’re going to discuss three different genres: journal articles, chapters in edited volumes, and monograph chapters. We’ll discuss the goal of the genre, the format, the expectations, audience, and concerns for each genre.
One of the most frequent questions we get from clients is about the difference between articles and book chapters. Often, authors have been told to “write an article version of a chapter” or to “break off part of their book project for an article.” Sometimes, they’ve been advised to do the reverse, to “turn that article into a chapter.” Regardless, the general message is “these things are connected” but no one ever really spells out how. Well, here’s how!
Demystifying the journal article.
A journal article has clear, fairly narrow goals. Usually, an author’s most urgent concern is to get a publication. If you’re concerned with building out a job or tenure portfolio, getting your work out there, under review, and published is of paramount importance. Articles are an important way to get your work out there, receive feedback, and to make a contribution to your field. We like to think of articles as a specialized (or dare we say insider) conversation with other experts in your subject.
To make an effective intervention in your area, it’s essential to understand the format conventions of a journal article. Articles can make one, well-supported, argument. There are different norms in every field, so the details of how the article should be structured will often depend on the guidelines provided by a given journal. Journals are not a venue for formal creativity, they’re where you present your argument and analysis using a formula. For example, many journals in the Social and Natural Sciences use the IMRaD format: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. If the journal doesn’t explicitly share their expectations, you can use previously published articles to deduce a common structure.
The expectations for a journal article are, again, fairly narrow. You’re there to fill a gap, to demonstrate methodological innovation, and to present evidence to readers who share in your interests and work in your subject area. Narrow, however, doesn’t always mean easy! Journal writing requires precision, because strict word limits are a real concern. As Jane teaches in the Art of the Article, you must be judicious in your choice of data to share, literature to cite, analysis to expand upon, and so forth.
Thinking about your expectations means also considering your presumed audience. For a journal article, you should expect your readers to be experts in your field. They understand the context, the methodological and theoretical canon, and are already up to speed on disciplinary debates and terms.
Even once you’ve pinned down your format and readership, writing journal articles can still bring up a lot of questions. The biggest is often “where does this work fit best?” You may also be concerned about how long it takes to get the work reviewed, revised, and published. These questions should be answered with an eye to the requirements in your department as well as your own personal goals around publication and the conversations in which you’d like to engage.
Writing for edited volumes
Before we talk about monograph chapters, a good midway point for thinking about the relationship between articles and book chapters are chapters in edited volumes. Like articles, chapters in edited volumes are a great way to work toward meeting publication goals. The expectation is that you have something unique to offer to a broader conversation that can be read productively in conversation with other work on a subject. Often, the goal might be teachability — could an instructor pull a few chapters from this volume to use in an undergraduate course? That means that your audience is, again, going to be specialists in your field, but it may extend into more general, student readership. The format works very similarly to an article; you’ll want to introduce your subject, orient the reader in your methods, and then present your argument and supporting analysis. Here (depending on the volume), you might also want to explain how your chapter relates to the broader concerns of the book.
One concern we hear about chapters in edited volumes is if they’re “worth the time” and if they “count for enough” when it comes to tenure portfolios. Those are concerns you’ll need to evaluate in terms of your institutional expectations, workflow, and writing pipeline. You might also want to consider the relationships you stand to cultivate when contributing to an invited opportunity such as an edited volume. But generally speaking, the priority should be on your book — articles are good places to get work out and to gain a readership for your work. Editing volumes are slower and may take valuable time away from higher priority work.
Focusing on your book
Which gets us to monographs — to your book! The biggest question you may have at this point is “how am I supposed to have enough material left for my book?!” The goals of shorter publications don’t have to be at odds with your goals for your book.
The goal for a book chapter is that it supports your book’s main argument. The job of a chapter is to add detail, depth, and nuance to an overall narrative and set of claims. Each chapter is it’s own, contained, set of evidence, readings, or case study, but it’s always going to be related both to the book’s overall point, and to the other chapters in the book. Chapters are where you can focus on a particular sub-argument, aspect of your archive, text, or research question.
That means the expectation for a book chapter is that it adds something to the book’s overall objectives, while offering important detail, nuance, and specificity. Some chapters might be focused on necessary background or historical information that the reader needs in order to engage with your more specific focus and data; others might read one text closely or present a set of related questions from your field work. The point is that a chapter is always in relationship with both the book as a whole, and its companion chapters.
This image might help you visualize what we mean:
Who’s going to read your book chapter? Ideally, someone who is reading your entire book, from start to finish. Of course, though, we’ve all read and taught book chapters on their own. Maybe it’s because you’re teaching a course or doing research on a particular film or novel that the chapter is about? Maybe it’s the introductory chapter, where the author set up all of the major theoretical and methodological critiques and claims, or maybe it’s a chapter focused on a particular place or time period that’s relevant to the course or your research. No matter what, this range of possible readerships means that a chapter needs to balance its place as part of a whole, with being legible on its own. That can mean defining your terms, stating your questions clearly, and offering a clear introduction and conclusion.
Writers have some common concerns about monograph chapters. First, we often hear clients ask about how many future book chapters they’re “allowed” to publish as articles. Relatedly, a lot of people want to know how to write an “article version” of their book. The answer to the first question is, unfortunately, “it depends.” It will depend on whether this is your first book, on whether your field prioritizes articles or books, and on how many total chapters you’re planning to include in your book. Fundamentally, though, the way to think about it is as a publisher: What’s the point in publishing work that’s already been published? There needs to be enough “fresh” material in the book that it’s worth their investment of time and resources. Also, think about it from your perspective as a reader. Do you want to read a book that’s three or four articles you’ve already read put together? Our guess would be no!
To the second question, about “article versions” — there’s a long and a short version of that answer. The short version is “it probably looks a lot like your introduction,” or what Jane refers to as an anchor article. This is where you establish the stakes of your research and why your discipline should care about it. The long version is long because you can only summarize your book once you know what it’s about and what’s going to be in it — the big questions we teach you how to answer in Elevate.
In Elevate, we help authors develop what we call a “book ecosystem.” The book is at the center because it is the longest, most complex undertaking that exists in the ecosystem. Related to it are all of the writing projects that are similar in topic and analysis. These can include articles, grant proposals, syllabi, edited volume chapters, talks, public scholarship, and so forth. We understand these related projects not as slices of your book, but rather as pivots from the substance of your book. How you decide to go about these other projects is informed by the decisions you make about your book. For instance, you may have a complicated theoretical argument you want to share that is informed by the research you’ll analyze in your book. However, in the interest of reaching a broad audience (or whatever your concern may be), you don’t want to include an extended theoretical discussion in your book. You may instead choose to publish it in a journal. Another reason for adding to your book ecosystem (besides checking items off for your CV), is so you can receive expert feedback to inform how you approach the book. It can be a productive way to test an idea. Usually, journal or even conference presentation feedback will come from a scholar whose work is closely aligned with yours, and it can yield useful insights for you as you work on your book.
We think that a better question than “how much of my book can I publish in article form?” is “how can my articles, book, and other related writing projects inform and strengthen one another?” After all, you’re writing across genres because your goal is to establish yourself as an authority on your topic and engage in important intellectual conversations. Once you understand the differences between genres — which we hope we’ve explained in this series — the easier it will be to not only move between them but also see how they work together.