Publishing Research as Book Chapters: Is It Worth It?

Recent discussions about publishing academic and scientific research as book chapters in edited volumes instead of as articles in scholarly journals have suggested that book chapters do not get cited nearly as often as journal articles do. With citation reports and impact factors so central to a successful academic or scientific career these days, it is natural to wonder whether there is any point in contributing chapters to edited volumes.

If citations are your main concern, then the answer may well be no, though accessibility is a key issue. If, for instance, the book is going to be released as an e-book that is searchable and accessible online, then your chapter will, at least theoretically, be as accessible as a journal article would be, provided you design your title, keywords and abstract (if one is included) in such a way that search engines will lead potential readers to your work. Yet many edited collections of essays are published only in print versions, at least for initial publication, and it is much less likely now than it was twenty years ago that a reader will find your chapter by chance while scanning a library shelf for writing on a given topic.
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However, citations, as important as they may be, are usually not the only reason to publish research, and they certainly should not be. A book chapter often allows the author more scope and creativity to bring together ideas and theories and present them in original ways than a journal article does. An edited book of essays as a whole tends to gather together a variety of perspectives on a problem or phenomenon, producing a collection of considerable value for readers and especially for students and practitioners who are new to the subject or topic. In some instances, edited volumes will be used as instructional resources in courses, effectively becoming textbooks and influencing a new generation of scholars. Edited volumes will usually contain a few (or at least one) chapter by a well-established and well-cited academic or scientific author, and for contributors just beginning their careers, being published in close proximity to such scholars can be beneficial and suggest to employers and funding bodies that candidates have meaningful research connections.

There are, then, still some very good reasons to publish your research in edited volumes, and in the social sciences and humanities such collections remain common and books are still considered by some the gold standard of academic publication. If you are thinking of contributing a book chapter, however, do take a close look at the publisher, the volume’s editor(s) and the other contributors, as well as at the accessibility anticipated for the book, since these will be reliable indicators of the quality of the forthcoming volume, the ability of readers to find your work and the potential benefits for your research and career.

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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.

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