Friday, November 18, 2016

Contributions to Scholarship: Books, Deep and Rich Articles, Projects

Recently I received a request for information on publications from Planetizen. We were expected to count publications. What was striking to me was that books and edited volumes were in one category. Scholarly strength is rarely indicated by an edited volume, although the organizational and personal strengths play a substantial role. To write a book is an entirely different enterprise.

Similarly, if we count articles, the venue of appearance matters enormously. And so does the length. If you publish long detailed articles about your research, the amount of work required is likely much greater than if you publish several short articles. Intense detailed work takes a very long time to be done properly. 

Obviously, we will continue to develop rankings and count things in various ways. But I want to encourage colleagues in our field to take on substantial projects, perhaps involving two or three or more years of work. Only then is the contribution likely to be substantial. Yes, there are very influential articles that are brief, or that are think pieces, or controversial. But planning needs the kinds of deep studies that lead, if not to books, to a series of increasingly influential articles. Robert Sampson, of Chicago and now Harvard, provides one such model, for example. I'm sure there are others.

You want to improve practice and understanding, you want to take up intellectual space. 
I realize that if you are in a tenure track job, and your work will be judged about five to seven years down the line, there is a temptation to grind it out. But the moment you have tenure, you ought to consider more demanding projects. Our academic positions are great privileges. Let us take advantage of them. It may be effectively entrepreneurial to organize stuff, edit volumes, publish lots of articles. But if you want to make a contribution that will be recognized over the long run, that may not be the way to go.

I should add that in some fields the norm is the article that reports on a particular study, the contribution being a series of such articles. I have no objection to that. Just be sure that that series adds up.

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