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How to write a book chapter

I was asked by Dr. Joanna Brown for guidance on how to write a book chapter. I wouldn’t say I’m the ideal person for this task, but since I have published many of these for several edited collections, I think I can offer some advice.

I’ve got a few single-authored chapters on the go for three books at the moment (one on bottled water in the context of a human right to water, one on ethnography as a research method in comparative policy analysis, and one in press on national policy styles), and thus I wanted to share my experience writing these.

My relationship with writing chapters for someone else’s edited volume is simultaneously love-and-hate, as people who read my blog regularly may remember.

The value that different institutions place on book chapters varies widely. My own institution prefers journal articles, but as I’ve said before, I have participated in edited collections because I believe in the project, and also because these are usually collective projects I’m interested in undertaking. I’ve published book chapters in both Spanish and English, and I’ve also edited books as well, so I’m fond of the model. You should, nonetheless, consider the pros and cons of writing a book chapter.

AcWri highlighting and scribbling while on airplanes

First of all, book chapters are different from journal articles as many of these aren’t peer reviewed and therefore aren’t subject to as many changes and corrections as you could expect from articles. I will fully admit having published peer-reviewed book chapters that these are as much of a nightmare as journal article manuscripts. I have one particularly awful experience (which isn’t over yet!) in mind.

But the most important element that an author needs to keep thinking about when writing a book chapter, in my view, is how your chapter contributes to the overall Throughline of the book (I’ve mentioned The Throughline previously – or as Scandinavian authors call it, The Red Thread). I’ve also emphasized the importance of demonstrating cohesiveness and coherence throughout an edited collection, as the editors of Untapped did in their edited volume on the sociology of beer.

This sample chapter on how to write books actually provides a great example of how to write a book chapter. Normally, I would create an outline of the paper (this blog post of mine will tell you two methods to create outlines), then follow a sequential process to create the full paper (my post on 8 sequential steps may be helpful here).

More than anything, I do try really hard to use headings to guide the global argument of the chapter. The outline/sequence looks something like this:

  • Introduction. – outline of questions or topics to tackle throughout the chapter, and description of how the chapter will deal with them.
  • Topic 1 – answer to question 1.
  • Topic 2 – answer to question 2.
  • Topic N – answer to question N.
  • Discussion/synthesis. – how it all integrates and relates to the overall book.
  • Conclusions, limitations and future work.
  • References.

As I write my chapter, I make sure to link its content with other chapters in the edited volume. This may be a bit tricky because of how editors have timed contributions. Sometimes they don’t have all the chapters readily available to be shared across authors. But I’ve found that normally they do, and so they’re willing to share across all authors.

This guideline to writing chapters may also be helpful. It’s also quite important that you follow both the press and the editors’ guide (style, punctuation, citation formatting, etc.). But more than anything, I strongly believe that the best approach to writing a book chapter is to think of it as a way to present a series of thoughts in a cohesive manner that doesn’t necessarily equal a journal article. Yes, there may be empirical claims presented, and yes, there should probably some theoretical advancement in there, but again, it’s NOT a journal article.

Hope this post helps those of you writing a book chapter. If you want to read some of mine, you can download some of them here or here (Academia.Edu) or here (ResearchGate).

Posted in academia, research, writing.

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