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if edited volume chapters are lame, why do i write them?

A few weeks ago, one of my academic buddies asked me, “you said publicly that edited volume chapters simply aren’t worth the time, so why do you write them?” Great question. Checking my latest CV, I have written 10 of them in my career. So yes, almost all evidence on academic impact shows that most edited volume chapters are low impact, especially compared to peer reviewed journals and books.

Then why? Here are my answers:

  1. Cash payment: Sometimes, a foundation (or an individual in one case) provides an honorarium for writers. I like payment.
  2.  Coalition building: Sometimes people you really respect have this project and you really want to help them. It’s also forwarding looking and instrumental in that most folks are very nice to you later when you need help with something.
  3.  Impact Variance:  Some volumes are actually high impact and so you roll the dice. My MA advisor and mentor, the late Charles Bidwell, showed me this. His most cited article is the 1965 schools as formal organizations book chapter. Citations? 1400+. His ASR article on schools? 300+. Now that I review tenure cases, I see that for many scholars, especially in niche areas, their biggest contribution is an edited volume chapter, especially if it is in a reference volume.
  4.  Efficiency: Many of my chapters are truly short. Some are a mere 1,500 words. They almost never involve original research, so it’s mainly writing out what I already know and I can do that on “down time” between major projects.
  5.  Grad student training: Edited volume chapters are great ways to help a student master an area and it is low risk.
  6.  In some areas, edited chapters matter: Not in sociology, but other areas take them a bit seriously. If you are in the humanities, the edited volume does have some weight, for example, in history.
  7.  Interesting Arguments: I sometimes use an edited volume chapter to document an argument that I think is fascinating but that might take too much flack from peer reviewers. For example, Brayden King and I wrote an edited volume chapter on how movements aren’t always about contentious conflict. A cool idea, but, man, would that be hard to place in an ASR or AJS.
  8.  Personal efficiency and not being a perfectionist: I make every edited volume chapter good, but I don’t try for perfection. For short entries in reference volumes, I may write one or two drafts over a weekend and then lightly edit. In contrast, I spend years on books and journal articles. I am also speedy in turning out drafts, at least compared to most people.

I realize that these may not apply to you. But for me, it means that I can do edited volume chapters and not affect my normal article/book production.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 29, 2020 at 12:14 am

Posted in uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Edited volumes usually don’t have a lot of readers. Only write for them if the terms allow you to permanently post a preprint. That way you get whatever prestige etc effect you want while also having a chance at some substantive impact

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    Philip N. Cohen

    January 31, 2020 at 1:33 pm

  2. Very true. This why most of my edited volume production focuses on handbooks and reference guides. Those tend to be read more.

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    fabiorojas

    January 31, 2020 at 6:40 pm


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