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by Cally Guerin

In the context of trying to find out more about theses by publication, I’ve been reflecting on where doctoral students might place their publications. What are the differences between the genres of journal articles and book chapters in edited collections? Are these differences significant, and if so, how? If we are to support doctoral candidates in their writing, it can be useful to have thought through the different opportunities these genres offer, especially if we are advising students to publish their research.

It seems to me that, in Educational research at least, writing for peer-reviewed journals places different constraints on what we might write about, and how we might go about it. When sending something off for double-blind review by a journal, I notice that I’m more inclined to ‘play it safe’. It seems that one must be able to please any possible reader imaginable, as there is no control over who might be asked to make a decision about the article. This means the paper often ends up taking the form of a traditional ‘scientific’ paper reporting on empirical research, and using the IMRAD structure mentioned in my last blog. Even so, I can’t seem to keep the results and discussion separate in qualitative research! It just doesn’t seem to make sense in the kind of writing I do.

In contrast, book chapters in edited collections seem to be places where one can take rather more risks. Book chapters allow more space for reflection on bigger ideas than journal articles, and a little more licence to be more adventurous in the approach to the topic. Perhaps this is partly because, again in Education research, the essay form is more common in book chapters than in journal articles. As part of an edited collection, these chapters don’t need to stand alone in the way that articles usually do, even in special issues; rather, they sit alongside other chapters exploring closely related issues. This often allows for some cross referencing between chapters, either by authors or the editors, so that each chapter doesn’t need to say absolutely everything on the topic, and the ideas can expand out beyond the individual chapter. In this situation, a quite distinctive, personally inflected contribution can be valued for the facet that it adds to the composite whole. It also seems that those reviewing the chapter, the editors and possibly other contributors to the collection, are likely to be a more empathetic readership in terms of their interests and concerns. I’m not suggesting that this necessarily makes it an easier option, but it does feel less like writing into the black void of the unknown.

Pat Thomson makes a good case for the advantages of book chapters, but there is some debate about the usefulness of articles vs chapters in terms of citations and profiling (see Kent Anderson in ‘The Scholarly Kitchen’ and Deevybee in ‘BishopBlog’). While these arguments against book chapters may become less and less valid as e-books become more visible through standard search engines, doctoral candidates should at least be aware of these other elements in the equation. If they are thinking about a thesis by publication or publishing from a more traditional thesis format, concerns about building a research profile and becoming known in the field might play into these decisions.

What’s your experience of writing in these two contexts? Do you find that you write much the same, regardless of the type of publication, or do you find yourself modifying your approach? Is this because of the audience you anticipate for the different genres? And what advice should we offer doctoral candidates considering these options as part of a thesis by publication? All suggestions gratefully received!