Envisioning an Edited Book

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Are you thinking about editing a book? Why? What type? How will you contribute—and what will you expect from contributors? How will you engage with contributors, taking what roles? In this series of posts, we will explore these and other considerations for prospective editors. Please use the comment area to contribute any insights you think might be valuable to researchers who are considering this type of publication.

Editing a book is quite different from authoring one. I have written books as a sole author, and I have edited (and co-edited) books. I’d like to share some lessons learned, as well as my thoughts about how to craft a prospective book I plan to edit next year.

My first experience was as a co-editor for a two-volume, 50-chapter handbook of research (Salmons & Wilson, 2009). The second was a compilation of 12 chapters, each with associated commentaries (Salmons, 2012). I have also gained insight into the what works, or not, as a frequent contributor to others’ edited books.

What do we mean by an edited collection?

An edited collection is a book-length compilation of chapters by different authors. While some editors anthologize previously published materials, we will look at books comprised of new, original chapters.

Davis & Blossey (2011) pointed out that edited collections are particularly useful in new or emerging fields of study, because they can provide valuable guidance for new research ideas, experimental designs, or analysis. The suggest that contributors’ varied perspectives, guided by their respective areas of expertise, can create a synergy that stimulates the thinking of an entire field, prompting many to think in new ways about their research and the direction of the field. (Davis & Blossey, 2011, p. 247). Nederman (2005) observed that that at their best, the multi-authored, edited volume can promote fruitful exchange of ideas in a way that would not occur in research monographs or journal articles. When you contemplate your potential edited book, it is important to consider how you will synthesize ideas into a coherent whole and seed new thinking in your field.

How should you frame the purpose for your edited book?

The purpose can be defined by a common concept, theory, or practice. Once you have specified a theme, you will need to think about how contributors will address it. Do you want multiple views on one central topic or diverse views on multiple, related topics?

Another way to frame the purpose is by the intended use. Who will read the book? Why? Will it serve as a reference book, textbook, scholarly book, or practical guide? Will it be assigned for course readings, or chosen by graduate students or professionals motivated by an interest in the topic or desire to build skills?

The books I edited exemplified these options. For the first book, the theme was broadly defined (Salmons & Wilson, 2009). This research handbook encompassed multiple perspectives on diverse interpretations of electronic collaboration. Viewpoints represented in the chapters included internal collaboration, that is, within an organization, team, or classroom, and external collaboration, that is, between organizations. Diverse viewpoints were represented in studies of collaboration in within and across disciplines. This substantial two-volume set was intended as a reference book to be purchased by academic libraries.

In contrast, the purpose of the second book was tightly defined. Chapters offered multiple perspectives on one topic: the design and conduct of studies with data collected in online interviews (Salmons, 2012). This book was intended for use as a course textbook or for individual study by practicing researchers.

What will you contribute?

Some editors contribute substantial content to the book. They might write the preface, an introduction, one or more chapter(s), section overviews, a concluding or summary chapter, as well as ancillary materials. Other editors focus on their roles as the coordinator of the book project, and contribute minimally to the content, perhaps only writing a preface or summary.

I contributed significant content to both of books I edited. I collaborated on introductory and concluding chapters with my co-editor, and wrote a chapter based on my own research, for the first book. For the second book, I wrote an introductory chapter that laid out the conceptual framework used as the organizing principle for the book. I then applied the framework in commentaries for each respective chapter. I also created a metasynthesis of the approaches used across chapters for the final segment of the book.

Should you edit a book?

When deciding whether to edit a book, you will want to reflect on the characteristics and expectations of an editor in light of your own strengths and weaknesses. As a sole author, you are responsible for the vision, plan, and for writing all the book’s content. For an edited book, you are responsible for the vision, plan, and management of others’ content. You are responsible for finding contributors, coordinating contributions, and ensuring quality. The editor stands between the publisher and the contributors: editors must set up systems and processes for addressing the publisher’s requirements while at the same time managing writers’ needs or procrastinations. The next post in this MethodSpace series will delve into options and key questions related to these roles.


Davis, M. A., & Blossey, B. (2011). Edited books: The good, the bad, and the ugly. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 92(3), 247-250. doi:10.1890/0012-9623-92.3.247

Nederman, C. J. (2005). Herding cats: The view from the volume and series editor. Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 36(4), 221-228.

Salmons, J. (Ed.) (2012). Cases in online interview research. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publishing.

Salmons, J., & Wilson, L. A. (Eds.). (2009). Handbook of research on electronic collaboration and organizational synergy. Hershey: Information Science Reference.

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