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Small Talk
on Research, Writing, & Teaching

I think a lot about research and writing -- not just the research projects I'm working on or the write-ups of those projects, but also about research and writing as process. Sometimes I share those thoughts with friends and colleagues. I also get lots of questions from students that are not directly connected to class content, but instead are more general questions, about language learning and teaching. Since I'm often writing my answers out in emails, I decided to start sharing them here as well....

Small Talk - Feb. 26, 2023
Should you write a book or an article?

In applied linguistics, it’s common to present our research in the form of articles. So sometimes people ask me how it is that I decided to write a book. Other times, people I know are trying to figure out whether their dissertation research would work better as a book or as a series of articles… So I recently shared the following thoughts with someone as one way to think about this question.

Say you have a dataset, and you are going to use it to describe different/discrete phenomena, then maybe you should write articles. Here are some made-up examples of what I mean by that. Say one thing you do with your data is describe the use of a sentence-final particle by multilingual speakers. And then maybe another thing you do is focused on the use of gestures by those multilingual speakers … these can easily be two separate articles.

But, say you take that dataset and use those different/discrete phenomena (the use of that sentence-final particle, the gestures) to describe one thing that is shared across those phenomena. In that case, it might work better in the context of a book rather than as a series of articles.

To use my book as an example… Maybe I could have written four articles from the work that makes up the four main chapters in the book (one about keigo, one about Japanese gendered language, one about Japanese dialect, and one about L1 speakers’ assessments of L2 speakers’ Japanese competence). Those seem like discrete phenomena, after all. But I realized that each of those articles would have significant portions of same literature review, and each would have been designed around the same theories and would have been working towards the conclusions about L2 speaker legitimacy and native speaker bias. From that, I realized that those four seemingly discrete phenomena would work better as a single book rather than as a series of articles.

Another reason for doing a book is that articles tend to be 8000 words (or maybe 10,000 words at most), and that can be quite restrictive if at the beginning of each article, you need to explain the background, participants, share longer data excerpts, include excerpts in Japanese and English etc. In a book, you don’t need to repeat those details in every chapter, and it’s easier to share longer excerpts, you can include more images or tables. And of course, a book works better for introducing a larger project as a whole.

So, the first two points are arguments for doing a book…. But the flip side is, you can certainly make individual articles from a large dataset… The benefits of doing articles include: the turn-around time is shorter, so you can get one article published pretty quickly and that’s great for sharing your work, especially if don’t have a lot of publications. Another benefit to articles is that you can publish across a variety of journals and so you might have a wider number of people reading your work.

There is some question about which format has more impact, articles or book manuscript… But I think that question goes beyond small talk!

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