Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Query: How much of a dissertation should one publish in article form?

For the last few years, as I've researched and written chapters of my dissertation, I've tried to get a handle on the following question: How much of the dissertation should I try to publish in article form? I haven't developed a strong opinion, but I know that I need to make some decisions soon. I've listed below some considerations that seem relevant. What do you all think? I and the other readers in my position could use your advice!
  • Getting a good book contract. My assumption is that no press will want to publish a manuscript if too much of it has been published elsewhere. How much is too much?
  • Participating in scholarly conversations in a timely way. One concern I have about saving everything for the book is that my material will become "stale." Questions that seemed relevant, important, or highly contested at the time of the dissertation's writing may seem less so by the time the book comes out.
  • Building a reputation. I've talked to a few people about the importance of making a mark (not necessarily in a proprietary way, although perhaps that's a valid concern in some cases). You want your name to come to mind when people think about who is working in the field, who is exploring similar research questions, and who is using the same primary sources. Again, this comes down to timing: if you save everything for the book, do you neglect gains that could come from the reputational effects of articles? On the other hand, there are surely other ways (conferences, workshops) to establish a reputation.
  • Speaking to a wider (or different) audience. Not everyone reads books. Not everyone reads articles, either, but depending on placement, articles seem to offer a way to reach a broader audience. They're more disposable, in one sense, but also easier to distribute.
  • Getting tenure; demonstrating productivity. It may be hard to speak to this one in the abstract, since tenure standards vary from institution to institution, and may depend on whether one is in a law school or a history department. But given the typical lag between dissertation and book, an article seems like a useful way of showing growth and progress.
  • Reaping the rewards of peer review. This concern comes to mind when I contemplate publishing in a non-peer-reviewed law journal, a forum that is undeniably important for legal historians in law schools. Personally, I find great value in the peer review process: expert outside readers have forced me to re-think assumptions, re-visit particular sources, strengthen and tighten my argument, and cut unnecessary bulk. I know that my dissertation will receive the same rigorous review before it goes to press as a book. What are the risks of publishing work without first subjecting it to this process?
Thanks in advance for any comments or suggestions you have to offer. I've been meaning to blog about this for some time, so I'm looking forward to your reactions.


Mary L. Dudziak said...

Karen -- thanks for posting on this. Your questions are important, and require more than I can say here, but for now let me take up one issue:

How much should you publish before the book comes out? This depends on both the book and the articles, but if the articles are versions of chapters, one is fine. Two is probably fine. But it's better if the second article takes an idea in the book in a somewhat different direction than the chapter.

As an example: For Cold War Civil Rights (not a perfect example for you, since my dissertation was much more limited than the book -- the diss was only the Truman years, and the book takes the story through LBJ):

For law school purposes I needed articles, so I published "Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative" -- which helped get the ideas out there and had some of the reputational benefits you mention. After more research I wrote "The Little Rock Crisis & Foreign Affairs," another law rev. article. The article then became the basis for my Eisenhower Admin chapter (rather than the other way around). Along the way, post-tenure, I also wrote an article "Josephine Baker, Racial Protest, and the Cold War," which appeared in the J. of Amer. History. But this wasn't a chapter. The Baker story is told in a more limited way in a chapter about the way the U.S. developed a propaganda response to international criticism of race discrimination. The JAH article introduced my work to historians outside of law schools in a more serious way.

All of these pieces were published before I got a book contract. In fact, the JAH article probably helped put me in a good position with editors.

I had important and very original material for my JFK and LBJ chapters, and I also held onto it closely (waited for SSRN posting), and was careful about circulating it, so that my research would be first published in my book, and not used in someone else's work before my book was in print. Ultimately I put some of that material in a JFK-related essay for an edited collection. I posted on SSRN as I was finishing the book. I ran it past my editor before agreeing to publish the essay. But again -- this wasn't a chapter, but an episode expanded into a broader essay that took up themes in the book as a whole.

So that was my experience. I expect that some presses will be more restrictive. Presses are worried about covering costs, and if they think publishing a law rev. article will dampen sales, they may say no. So you should discuss this issue up front with your editor before signing. If you're choosing between presses, you may want to go with the more permissive press pre-tenure. And remember that all your articles don't have to be actual chapters. Like my Josephine Baker piece, you can take an episode in the book in a different direction in an article, so that the overlap is a few pages, rather than a full chapter.

A couple of notes on your other questions:

It's interesting that you think that articles reach a broader audience than books. I disagree -- I usually think the opposite happens. But it depends on the book, and it depends on what audience you're hoping to reach.

You don't mention SSRN. A great way to get ideas out there to the law school world is to post on SSRN. DO NOT post the entire diss. on SSRN. But you can post working copies of chapters, though you should be careful not to put too much out there.

For tenure purposes: I would try to get a crystal clear indication of what your faculty and Dean are expecting, and how the book and related articles fit in. But, especially if the book will take a while, you may need to write other articles that are in the same field, but not taken from the book.

Anonymous said...

From a non-US perspective:

It depends on the dissertation. Not all dissertations can easily be broken down into articles.

Assuming that the dissertation can be broken down, probably only a single chapter or so from the dissertation itself. The book is meant to be a new work, not a collection of earlier articles! There is a reputational disadvantage in publishing too much from the future book as articles, as this can give the impression of having nothing else to say.

However, more material from the dissertation can be used if it is not simply repeating the dissertation or the future book. So lifting paragraphs from a theme that recurs in several chapters can work if the article that results is about that theme. This is particularly useful if the theme was recurring but not central to the dissertation. Not only does that focus your discussion on something that might be underplayed in the larger work, but it also can act as a stimulus for further thinking about the theme. That has the other advantage that in the longer term this broadening out can be used to show that you are not a single issue scholar.

Expanding beyond the dissertation material is also a good thing. Both for separating the article from the dissertation/book and for providing a little distance from the dissertation. Working on something related but not identical for a short period gives you another output, and a little breathing space between two big projects. Coming to the book slightly refreshed, and perhaps with interest reinvigorated, can be very rewarding for the book's quality.