A good way to begin to publish academically is to undertake a book review for a peer refereed journal.
Book review editors often find it hard to get people to review, and they are likely to welcome your offer, particularly if you can say that you will work with a mentor/supervisor. Many supervisors are asked by journals if they are working with doctoral researchers who could do reviews, so it’s worth asking around to see if this is the case in your field.
It’s not just the opportunity to get a free book that makes the review useful, although given the price of books and the levels of debt most doctoral researchers incur/have incurred, this is not to be sneezed at! The two main reasons for doing a book review are:
(1) to practice writing for academic audiences
(2) to stake a claim as one who knows about the literatures in your field. Dont’f forget that as a doctoral or early career researcher you will be pretty up-to-date in your reading and you will thus have a good idea of what the text you are working has to offer.
While book reviews are sometimes cited this doesnt usually happen, so this is not a major reason for doing a review.
There are generally two kinds of book reviews in refereed journals – short reviews of single texts which usually run between 600 and 1000 words; and extended essay reviews which address three or more related texts and can run from 4000 to 6000 words. There are also more extended reviews possible online through sites such as Education Review.
Generally a book review should offer:
- an identification of the field within which the book sits and the body of ideas/findings to which it contributes
- a summary of the contents and/or major arguments in the book
- a trawl of the main ideas, methods and/or research findings organized chapter by chapter or section by section. There should be a critical engagement with the key ideas and argument
- clear signals about whether you support the stance/argument in the text; any critique should be expressed respectfully and appreciatively. Remember that some day your books will be reviewed and you need to think about how you would like to be dealt with and also how much time the author has invested in the project. However obvious problems with both content and editing should be noted.
- a recommendation about who should read the book and its possible uses in teaching and/or research.
An essay review is likely to do all of the above but frame this within an independent argument. The argument takes the texts as exemplars, data or narratives from which to make a new case. An essay review will offer a discrete angle on the topic in question different from any of the texts in question – and this will be signaled in the title of the text. In other words, an essay review is much more than a review, it is an original contribution in its own right.
It’s not always a good idea to list book reviews in your curriculum vitae as equivalent to refereed journal articles . Rather put them in a separate list of ‘other publications’. Essay reviews however can be listed as equivalents, as they usually are blind peer reviewed, and they do constitute an original contribution.