Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016
From Consumer to Producer of the Literature
Writing as Professional Development
A faculty member who was writing a college-level textbook for the first time called her widely-published dissertation advisor for insight about the process. He had written a highly successful textbook on research and recommended that she think of each chapter as an individual work, much like a journal article. After months of struggling with this approach, she came to the conclusion that, while that approach evidently worked well for a graduate-level statistics book, it was less effective for an undergraduate textbook on early literacy. In fact, the major breakthrough for the new textbook author was to discover a structure that could be applied across all of the chapters. Upon greater reflection, her advisor was a heavy planner. He would write an outline and generate text to match it with minimal deviation from the original plan. She, on the other hand, was a discovery drafter. Although she had been required to develop an outline for the book proposal, she was constantly moving material around, trying to determine the best way of organizing her ideas. The experienced author’s primary goal was to explain advanced statistical methods in a clear, systematic, and linear way to graduate students. The new textbook author’s goals were quite different. She needed to “translate” theory and research in a palatable way to relative novices in the field so that undergraduates studying to become teachers would actually read the book and learn from it. A second, yet equally important, goal was to convey the most successful and creative teaching she had done to fellow instructors seeking to deliver a high-quality undergraduate course.
The point here is that, while some general advice about writing books can be helpful, each author and each project that an author undertakes has different hurdles. Writing this book, for instance, creates a dual expectation that, not only for providing competent guidance but also for delivering that advice in beautifully crafted prose. It sets the daunting expectation that each of us be a “writer’s writer”. Each time we sit down at the computer to compose, the nature of the task and the characteristics of the readership should shape us as authors. Even though there are common traits of effective writing, every scholarly writing task demands something at least slightly different. Big projects, such as books, intensify everything—worries about disappointing editors and reviewers, extensive preparation for writing, demands for revision along the way, and a maddening attention to detail that is required. Surely, one of the greatest impulses with a scholarly book is to send it hurtling to the editor’s digital inbox, if only to be shed of it. Despite a large measure of aggravation, publishing a book chapter, editing, or writing a book ultimately can become a satisfying experience. When scholars succeed in publishing with a reputable company, it demonstrates that they have something to say to disciplinary colleagues, signals that peers have responded favorably, and fills a niche in the literature of their chosen disciplines.
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