Writing our first chapter
Two researchers share their experiences of writing and publishing an academic book
By Dr Komang Ralebitso-Senior and Dr Caroline Orr Posted on 19 January 2016
As part of a selection of blog posts on the subject of writing and publishing an academic book, Dr Komang Ralebitso-Senior and Dr Caroline Orr from Teesside University give insight into writing their first chapter. See below for links to their other blog posts.
Amongst all of the work we were putting into the administration and editing of our book we also had to write a couple of chapters ourselves. This was exciting and daunting at the same time. Part of our contractual obligation with Elsevier was that we would provide our first completed chapter a few months after we had finalized our table of contents. It made sense that this would be one of our chapters, as we could begin to work on it immediately and wouldn’t have to rely on the speediness of one of our contributors.
Getting the ball rolling
Beginning to write the chapter served as a great motivator and affirmation of the fact that our idea was taking shape and coming into being. However, it was also a lot of work! We already had a good idea of what we wanted the chapter to address because we had discussed it when we had put together our detailed table of contents. The chapter was to focus around some research work that we had carried out the previous summer.
Both of us are believers in research-led teaching and working with our undergraduates as co-producers of knowledge. As this is something that Teesside University supports strongly, we have always been encouraged to include our students in our projects. We were successful in gaining funding from the Society for Applied Microbiology to carry out research projects with one of our students. This had generated some basic research data, which we felt supplemented our chapter but was not sufficient for a peer-reviewed journal article. Part of the process of the SfAM project was that the student generated a short report of their findings. We therefore had something to use as a starting point for the chapter. This was very helpful as there is nothing more daunting than starting with a blank page! It also meant that one of our undergraduate students could be a co-author for the chapter and be involved in the publishing process; something which we hope will be of great benefit to him.
This article first appeared on SciTech Connect – our blog for science and technology book authors, resources and news.
We have written chapters together before so this was more familiar ground to us. We quickly split the work into sections and allocated these between ourselves. This meant that we could each work on our sections independently and not duplicate efforts in the early stages. This approach also meant that we could put pressure on each other to meet the deadlines. If we knew the other had finished their section it was time to step up the pace on our own work.
Once our individual sections were complete we combined the two into a single document and each read the chapter through to make sure we agreed on the overall content. Naturally, we both have different writing styles and we were conscious that this shouldn’t be evident to the reader. We decided that at this point one of us should take a back seat and allow the other to edit the chapter so that the language was consistent. A good working relationship is important here. You can’t get offended when somebody corrects your grammar!
We found that we reached about 90% satisfaction with our chapter quite easily. However, the final 10% was much more of a challenge (the final mile is the longest!). We wanted our book to flow but not be repetitive. This is difficult to do when you can’t read what is being put into the other chapters. In the end we had to make peace with the fact that we wouldn’t be able to 100% sign off on our work until later in the process. This does mean that as you move forward it can feel like you have a lot of unfinished business in each chapter. Elsevier was happy for us to wait until other chapters were submitted for us to complete ours, meaning we met our first deadline with time to spare (unfortunately, not a theme we have continued…).
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I am an early stage academic with a keen interest in research, and research-led teaching, on how microbial communities are studied and then exploited in different environmental biotechnologies. My senior lectureship with Teesside University in 2006 was my first academic post following postdoctoral fellowships in Singapore and Oxford. I really enjoy working in successful partnerships with different colleagues especially where we do research across disciplines, share ideas and learn from each other. So co-editing a book with Caroline will go down in my memoirs as one of my career highlights. More information >>
I am a relatively early stage researcher whose area of expertise is in molecular ecology specifically looking at functional microbial communities within the soil. I first joined Teesside University a couple of years ago as my first lectureship position following my PhD and a small amount of postdoc work. When I first joined the University I was keen to establish myself as a researcher not just a member of teaching staff but struggled initially to juggle the two. I was quickly introduced to Komang who was interested in research similar to my own area. More information >>