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The Scholarly Edition

The pros and cons of editing a collection of essays

The professional risks are too great for a junior scholar, but for more senior scholars it can be a worthwhile experience.

BY ADAM CHAPNICK AND CHRISTOPHER KUKUCHA | MAY 10 2016

There are reasons to think carefully before deciding to co-ordinate an edited volume. In most disciplines – when it comes to tenure and promotion – editing a collection of essays for a university press “counts” significantly less than a single, peer-reviewed article in a well-regarded journal.

Even with advances in tracking “impact” made possible by Google Scholar, book chapters are also often treated like second-class publications because the peer-review process is less rigorous than it is for a manuscript submission to a journal.

To make matters worse, edited books can take forever to publish (Adam’s co-edited book took over seven years to move from conception to publication) and managing the inevitable delays can fracture friendships and strain relations with contributing colleagues.

So why bother?

Sometimes, the answer is that you simply shouldn’t. We see no reason for graduate students to try to organize an edited volume, even under the supervision of a mentor. The professional risks at the inter-personal level are too great, and the time could be better spent on publications that are more likely to lead to a permanent academic position.

We’re similarly hesitant to recommend this process to pre-tenured academics. Editors of standard edited volumes have little leverage to coax quality, timely scholarship out of their contributing authors and stand the most to lose if the project fails.

However, for a well-positioned senior scholar with an original idea, coordinating an edited volume can often be a worthwhile experience.

For starters, essay collections can be an outstanding teaching resource. They bring together some of the best contemporary scholarship around a specific theme and can often form the conceptual basis of an entire undergraduate course, or a section of a graduate-level seminar.

In this regard, edited volumes can affect the thinking of a new generation. For example, Chris aims to make his collections theoretically inclusive and pluralistic, in order to encourage critical thinking in his students.

Essay collections will also be reviewed widely, increasing the exposure of the authors and the scholarship beyond the more limited audience of a specialized journal.

In the academy, personal contact is too often limited to conferences and similar workshop-like events. Engaging in a collaborative research process that will last months and even years provides an opportunity to interact more frequently and develop personal and professional relationships.

It also creates mentorship opportunities for senior editors who, along with more experienced chapter authors, have the opportunity to introduce junior colleagues to the rigours of the peer review process. And finally, acknowledging the potential personality conflicts, edited volumes can nonetheless help develop a collegial academic community among editors and contributors.

ABOUT ADAM CHAPNICK AND CHRISTOPHER KUKUCHA
Adam Chapnick and Christopher Kukucha
Adam Chapnick teaches defence studies at the Canadian Forces College. Christopher Kukucha teaches political science at the University of Lethbridge. They are co-editors of The Harper Era in Canadian Foreign Policy, which will be published by UBC Press in August.
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