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.