Passer au contenu principal
Ask Dr. Editor

How to integrate an outlier chapter in the draft of your scholarly monograph

Material that may appear to be too different can sometimes make the book stronger and better.

par LETITIA HENVILLE | 22 AVRIL 24

Question: I’m quilting together a draft of my first monograph, and the more I revise it, the more I’m getting worried that there’s a chunk that doesn’t quite fit. But I’m so done with this topic! The idea of having to do more research and write more in this area would be heartbreaking, even beyond the fact that I don’t have the time to do it. Should I ask the university press that I’m working with if I can cut a chapter and just submit a shorter book? Would that risk putting my contract in jeopardy? – Anonymous, Classics

Dr. Editor’s answer:

While some university presses do publish “minigraphs,” these short manuscripts are usually conceived of and designed as short works – that is, their length is purposeful, rather than the result of feeling backed into a corner. At Cambridge University Press, for example, they “like to see a clearly defined argument with about two or three cases or chapters that develop it, » says Gabriel Hankins, series co-editor of the Cambridge Elements in Digital Literary Studies; « minigraphs need to have a coherent and unique justification for publication. »

A shorter book, then, might not be the answer here. But having a chapter that doesn’t seem to fit in your book doesn’t necessarily mean you have to cut it. A so-called “outlier” chapter can still be worked into a compelling and cohesive monograph draft. To learn more about your options for keeping your chapter, I spoke with Katelyn Knox and Allison Van Deventer, authors of the recently published The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook. Here’s what they advise:

1. Determine if your chapter is really an outlier

Scholarly monographs can productively include chapters that don’t, on the surface, appear to fit, as long as there’s a thread that can be pulled throughout the work. Think, for example, of the literary studies book that features one chapter on contemporary revivals of an old form, or of the art history book that closes with a 21st-century pastiche of a historical style. As long as the same or similar argumentative strands are threaded through your work, Drs. Knox and Van Deventer advised me, the superficially distinct chapter can still fit.

For example, your five-chapter book might start with one chapter that demonstrates a trope at work in a particular time period and genre, and then the subsequent chapters might show the political ends to which a particular group of authors applied this trope. Or your four-chapter book might include three chapter-length analyses of a particular character-type in cinema, and then your final chapter might analyze interviews with the actors who portrayed these characters, demonstrating how the themes evident in the artworks twist or refract in the lives of the people creating the portrayals. Such twists and refractions, Dr. Van Deventer told me, can bring about a “productive tension” in your monograph, enabling your book to do something unexpected, and letting you “show off the range and nuance” of your argument.

To help you to determine if there is a single thread that runs through your monograph, Drs. Knox and Van Deventer include a table of key terms in their workbook that help a seeming outlier to productively integrate into monograph:

Source: The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook: Exercises for Developing and Revising Your Book Manuscript, p. 105

If, advises Dr. Knox, you can talk about the bulk of your work in a short sentence or two and then add one of the above key terms to continue to talk about your outlier chapter, then it is likely that the seemingly different chapter will still fit in your monograph. These key terms suggest that your outlier provides a turn that marks an interesting departure but is still tied back to your other chapters’ ideas.

“We find that these outlier chapters are often the ones that have received the most interest from conference audiences, and are the ones that authors like the most,” Dr. Van Deventer told me “When one of my clients is in that situation, I find it makes sense to sit with the discomfort of a ‘pet’ outlier chapter, to do the work necessary to find a way to bring it into the book’s overarching conversation, before deciding to cut it out of the draft.”

If you can use one of the above-listed terms of transition to keep your chapter in your text, do so. The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook includes a number of exercises that can help you to determine where and how to integrate a productive outlier into your book draft, so that works with the structure of the book.

2. Reframe or reshape the outlier so it fits

But what if your outlier isn’t following the same argumentative strand as the other chapters in your book? Your draft might have what Dr. Knox termed “a fundamental break in the logic” of your argument – a chapter with substantial differences that are likely to be confusing to your reader, because you’re making a different sort of argument, working with different sources, or shifting to a new context. In this case, you still have options before cutting the chapter.

One option is to refocus your chapter. Are there sources that you can keep, and of which you can expand your analyses, while reserving other ‘misfit’ sources for a journal article or your next big project? If so, refocus your chapter draft on those existing sources – the ones that fit – and excise only the parts that trouble or confuse your overarching point.

A second option: repurpose the analyses from your outlier chapter for your introduction and conclusion. Draw on them to add colour or variety to your claims, make them into engaging anecdotes – but don’t make them foundational to your overarching argument.

And, your final option: if your publisher permits you to use an unconventional structure, consider breaking your outlier chapter into small pieces and interlacing these as narrative vignettes that interrupt, fragment, or formally problematize your monograph’s structure. Let diverse or divergent voices intrude in your text, so that the material still has a purpose, without taking your overarching thesis in a new or confusing direction.

In short, advise Drs. Knox and Van Deventer, don’t discard draft material just because you’re concerned it doesn’t fit. It may be that material that appears too different to include can still be repurposed in text, and sometimes that repurposing makes the book stronger and better than it would be without the outlier. You have options beyond publishing a short book, and it’s worth dwelling in the difficult space of working to bring in an outlier before you decide that it can only be published elsewhere.

Note from Letitia: RSVP here to join me on Monday, May 6, 2024, at noon EST / 9 a.m. PST for my first-ever free, open Zoom office hour.

À PROPOS LETITIA HENVILLE
Letitia Henville
Ask Dr. Editor is a monthly column by Letitia Henville, a freelance academic editor at shortishard.ca. She earned her PhD in English literature from the University of Toronto. Have a question about academic writing or editing? Send it to her at shortishard.ca/contact.
COMMENTAIRES
Laisser un commentaire
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Votre adresse e-mail ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *