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Writing a Book Proposal

by Rachel Brooks, Sarah O’Shea and Zoe Thomson

Professor Rachel Brooks and Professor Sarah O’Shea (editors of the SRHE/Routledge Book series) recently ran a Professional Development Programme event on ‘Writing a Book Proposal’. As well as sharing some tips from Zoe Thomson (Education Editor at Taylor and Francis), Sarah and Rachel offered their insights as authors and editors, discussing some questions frequently asked by those thinking of putting a book proposal together.

Publishing a book is a significant undertaking – so why do it? Writing a book is a means for researchers to provide an in-depth and coherent account of their work, that often isn’t possible in shorter articles or other formats. Books are accepted in social sciences (including higher education research) as appropriate outputs, and provide opportunities to reach a larger, sometimes international, audience for your work.

Before embarking on such a project, it is important to consider the different options available for disseminating your research, and the advantages and limitations of each. Firstly, you may wish to weigh up the distinctions between edited books and monographs:

  • The labour of producing a co-edited book is distributed across a group authors and editors, and the format can facilitate a greater range and diversity of perspectives around a single topic or theme. At the same time, co-edited volumes demand a lot of time and project management from the editor(s), who must also ensure the overall quality of the finished product.
  • Monographs, on the other hand, are generally sole-authored or sometimes involve a small author team, such that the writing can be well-integrated, with ideas and arguments explored in significant depth. A sole-authored book involves a great deal of time, energy, and labour, but is an excellent addition to your CV.

Some of the most innovative books in the field of higher education research are based on doctoral research. However, turning your PhD thesis into a book often requires a substantial amount of work, and there are some specific considerations worth bearing in mind during this process:

  • Thesis chapters do not automatically translate to book chapters – restructuring, rewriting, revision, and addition is often required. Books typically do not, for example, tend to feature the same level of detail around methodological decisions and process as is found in a doctoral thesis. You may also need to ‘slice’ your thesis and explore a specific area or theme more deeply.
  • Consider any overlaps with previously published journal articles. Some publishers may be concerned about what will be novel or original about your book if you have already published extensively from your PhD research, while for others this may not be a significant issue. It’s therefore worth discussing this topic with your target publisher at an early stage, to establish what kind of changes or developments may be expected for a book proposal to be successful.
  • Discuss your publication plans (and/or draft proposal) with your current or former supervisor, or other experienced academics in your department or field. The transition from publishing works in progress and journal articles to publishing books can seem like a big leap, but supervisors – who know your work very well – are generally happy to discuss and advise on this process.

With your initial preparation complete, you may feel ready to approach a publisher. What are the next logical steps?

  • Research your publishing options, and consider not only what would best suit your field and specific topic, but also your motivation for writing the book. Are you, for instance, trying to apply for a job or promotion? If so, which publisher is highly regarded in your field?
  • Once you have decided on your publisher of choice, consider sending an informal e-mail to the editor(s). Your e-mail should provide a brief overview of your idea or focus and seek to gauge some feedback on whether this would appeal to the series – the response you receive can help you to quickly establish whether a publisher is the right fit for your work.
  • Check the different publication options offered – is a paperback option available? Hard copies can be prohibitive in terms of cost to the prospective reader, and so a paperback option could be a key selling point down the track. Are there options for open access – and if so, what are the fees and charges? Some contracts or research projects include funding for these costs.

Once you have conducted this initial research, a publisher may invite you to write a proposal – this is a formal expression of what you hope your book will contain, which provides the basis for the publisher (and others) to make a final decision regarding a potential book contract.

Usually there is a form or template available on the publisher’s website or which they can send you, which must be carefully followed. These forms vary across publisher, so it is important to access this early in your process to tailor your proposal to what the publisher is asking for. While completing this form:

  • Consult examples of successful proposals – colleagues in your department or wider network will often be happy to share.
  • Provide details of your writing or editing experience – this is an opportunity to outline what you have already published from your PhD.
  • The proposed timeline for someone drawing on their finished thesis will be much shorter than that of someone starting from scratch with a new research project. It is important to be realistic about how much writing you have done already, and your existing commitments. A typical timeline may be around one year from the date on which the book contract is signed, but this varies greatly depending on individual circumstances.
  • Many publishers prescribe a minimum and maximum length for the finished book (normally around 80,000 words) but this varies between publishers, and there is increasing variety in length.
  • A book proposal should also include a concise overview expressing the unique selling point of your book, a chapter-by-chapter summary, a list of competing titles in the same area as your proposed book (and what makes your book distinct from these) and the potential market for your book (academics, students, researchers, others?). Some of this can be more challenging with edited collections if you are planning a call for proposals, but both publishers and peer reviewers need to see what you are planning to include to assess the proposal fully.

Some further writing advice from a publisher’s perspective is:

  • Take your time writing

It is obvious to those assessing a proposal if it has been rushed. Use the proposal as an opportunity to best advertise yourself, your author voice, and your ideas. Ensure you answer all questions on the template provided by the publisher or series editor fully – missing out on questions can imply to the publisher that your idea is not fully developed.

  • Be clear and accessible in your language

While the editor you submit your proposal to at the publisher will work within your subject area, e.g. education, they are unlikely to be an expert in your specific topic. Make sure you spell out acronyms or technical terms the first time you use them and reference the work you are building upon.

  • Think about the market/intended audience for the book

Publishers need to know that there is a clear route to market for your book, in addition to its academic merit. Make sure you express who you think your reader will be and how they are going to use your book. What are the key objectives of your book, and why is it needed? Making this clear in your proposal shows that you are serious about writing a book and that you have a good awareness of your key market and what else has published in the area.

  • Recommend potential reviewers

The publisher may ask you to recommend peer reviewers as part of the proposal stage, generally requesting that they are at a different institution to you and spanning a range of locations if you are aiming at an international audience. Routledge does not guarantee to contact all of these people – and their peer review process is anonymised so you won’t know this for definite – but they provide another indication of who you are writing for. This can help the publisher search for other potential reviewers and ensure your book is correctly positioned within their publishing programme.

If you are considering proposing a book for inclusion in the SRHE/Routledge Book Series Research in Higher Education, please contact Rachel Brooks (, Sarah O’Shea ( or Helen Perkins (SRHE Director,

Professor Rachel Brooks is Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean for Research and Innovation at the University of Surrey, UK. As well as being co-editor of the Routledge/SRHE book series, she is editor-in-chief of Sociology and an executive editor of the British Journal of Sociology of Education. She has published widely in the sociology of higher education. Recent books include Student Migrants and Contemporary Educational Mobilities (with Johanna Waters); Reimagining the Higher Education Student (with Sarah O’Shea) and Sharing Care (with Paul Hodkinson).

Professor Sarah O’Shea is the Director, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) and a national and international recognised educator and researcher. Sarah’s particular expertise in educational inclusion and equity issues has resulted in invitations to present keynotes, symposia, and workshops globally as well as providing contributions across media including print, television and radio. She is a prolific writer, with over 80 publications including books, book chapters, scholarly journal articles, media articles and commissioned reports produced in the last decade.

Zoe Thomson is Commissioning Editor for Education at Routledge. She publishes books in the areas of Higher Education (covering both the study of Higher Education itself and practical books that will help academics teach more effectively), Study Skills (including Academic Writing) and Educational Research Methods. She also commissions Social and Emotional Wellbeing books under the Speechmark imprint.

Paul Temple


Why don’t other people’s children become plumbers?

by Paul Temple

Nearly 60 years ago, the Robbins Committee (1963) set out the case for university expansion in Britain. Robbins was part of the zeitgeist: just a few weeks before the report was published, Harold Wilson, en route to his 1964 election victory, presented his vision for a new “Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this [scientific] revolution” (Pimlott, 1992: 304). The “knowledge economy” wasn’t then an idea in common currency or Wilson would surely have worked it into his speech, but he emphasised the importance of higher education in creating economic and social change. University development was key.

Robbins’ historic task was to clear the path intellectually for university expansion by driving a stake through the heart of the “more means worse” argument – though like one of the undead in a cheap horror movie, it still emerges regularly from its grave. What Robbins’ research showed about “the so-called pool of ability” was that entry to university largely depended not on some measure of innate ability but on your father’s occupation: the better your dad’s job, the more likely you were to go to university.

The case that David Goodhart wants to make in his new book Head Hand Heart (2020) is that the Robbins agenda has over-reached itself, causing a “headlong rush into mass academic higher education” (p93). Universities have produced an “expanded cognitive class” allowing “smart people [to] become too powerful” (p4). Robbins, then, on Goodhart’s reckoning, has surely been vindicated: the “pool of ability”, if not limitless, has proved capable of steady enlargement. But this is Goodhart’s problem: whereas once people could have satisfying and worthwhile careers on the basis of “hand” (that is, craft) or “heart” (that is, caring) skills, university expansion, Goodhart claims, has meant that academic qualifications have become the main determinant of career success. (Much of Goodhart’s case here follows Ronald Dore’s “diploma disease” argument from the 1970s and 1980s – though Dore is not mentioned in the book.)

Goodhart’s argumentation relies significantly on “straw man” methods, illustrated with anecdotes about friends’ children. So we have the lad who really wants to be a professional footballer who somehow finds himself studying physics, unhappily, at university; or the university dropout who develops a successful career as a car technician. But who has ever claimed that university education suits everyone, or that there aren’t worthwhile careers that don’t demand a degree? Goodhart has a particular beef about nursing becoming a graduate profession: there is, he says, “quite widespread popular hostility” (p133) to the change. (I’d like to be present, incidentally, when the nurses at my GP surgery are ticked off for their lack of “real-life experience” (p134).)

Quite a lot of Goodhart’s argument assumes that there is such a thing as “a graduate job”; but “A graduate job”, a careers service director once told me, “is a job a graduate does.” Most employers value graduates not for their knowledge of medieval history or whatever, but because their degree attests to a range of transferable skills – analysing data, drawing conclusions, presenting an argument, and the rest of it. So the Café Rouge junior purchasing manager who is “very unlikely to use [at work] anything they have learned doing a three year bachelor’s degree” (p246) would probably do a better job in preparing a report on, say, trends in wine consumption than her non-graduate colleagues: she has spent three years learning from experts the craft of report-writing. When promotions come round, we can imagine someone at head office saying, “Oh yes, she’s the woman who did that great report on drinking habits.” Her envious colleagues might then read Goodhart and conclude that her promotion merely reflected corporate bias in favour of the cognitive class.

Which brings us, I’m afraid, to Brexit, largely brought about, Goodhart thinks, by “cultural-education divides in politics” (p158) caused by the values and priorities of our Café Rouge junior purchasing manager being implemented at the expense of those without the advantages of her gilded career. (Or formerly gilded: the group that owns the Café Rouge chain went into administration in July 2020.)

As I’ve suggested, Goodhart sets out to challenge positions that hardly anybody holds. Of course there are worthwhile careers that don’t need degrees: becoming expert at a craft is a serious undertaking, and you’re not a bad person because you don’t fancy student life. What bothers me is that the people who will be encouraged to think that university isn’t for them will not generally be from middle-class families, unable to decide between physics and football: they will be mainly from families with no experience of higher education and from schools where relatively few students go on to university. I’m therefore uneasy about advantaged people promoting a view that others should settle for “skills and qualities other than cognitive-analytical intelligence” (p4). Goodhart would take us back to pre-Robbins days, where family circumstances framed the emancipatory possibilities of higher education.

SRHE member Paul Temple is Honorary Associate Professor, Centre for Higher Education Studies, UCL Institute of Education, University College London. See his latest paper ‘University spaces: Creating cité and place’, London Review of Education, 17 (2): 223–235 at


Committee on Higher Education (1963) Higher Education: Report (Cmnd 2154) London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

Goodhart, D (2020) Head Hand Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century London: Allen Lane/Penguin Books

Pimlott, B (1992). Harold Wilson London: HarperCollins

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Higher Education Research, What Else?

by Ulrich Teichler, in conversation with Rob Cuthbert

Read the German language version here.

Hochschulforschung, was sonst? (Higher Education Research, What Else?) is an autobiographical book by and about Ulrich Teichler, one of the foremost scholars in and founders of the field of research into higher education in Europe.

Two young academic scholars, Anna Kosmützky (Teichler’s former colleague at Kassel, now professor in Methodology for Higher Education and Science Studies at Leibniz University, Hannover) and Christiane Rittgerott (International Centre for Higher Education Research, Kassel), talked with Ulrich Teichler – the first full professor of higher education in German – in a series of dinner meetings to develop a book which is in effect an outline of the development of the whole field of research into higher education in Germany, and much more widely.

Teichler looks back over the five decades of his academic career, which began at a time when the traditional German term “Ordinarius” for a full professor was not popular anymore in Germany and when doubts had grown whether the university was “basically healthy” (“Im Kern gesund”). Suddenly systematic information about the state of higher education was called for. Teichler answered the call.

Direct and blunt questions from his interlocutors guided the autobiographical self-reflection. Why did you opt for an academic career? Why did you choose the almost unknown field of higher education was chosen? Why did you go to the newly founded university in Kassel without any established reputation, instead of accepting the offer from the University of Chicago? Which “elephants of higher education research” were important for your path?

How was it possible that the institute could develop from modest beginnings to eventually become a centre with such an international reputation? How could you combine pioneering work in the field with substance and coping with the managerial challenges involved in establishing and developing the institute? How did you get the idea that international comparison can be so important for higher education research, even though higher education systems may seem to be so look very nation-specific?

Why should higher education research watch the grassroots growing and why should one “look at the mouth of the people”? How can one strive for the highest academic quality, if so much attention is paid in research to practitioners’ problem-based questions? How could you combine the hard work of producing more than 1,400 publications and more than 2,000 professional trips – to more than 80 countries – with and a rewarding family life?

How did you happen to meet Yoko – your wife who accompanied your academic life with so much empathy? Many responses took the form of anecdotes. Yoko, for example, said: “You have no friends with whom you regularly spend leisure time, but somehow you might have a thousand friends all over the world”. Ulrich Teichler tells the story of historical upheavals in universities, politics and society as a witness and unrivalled analyst.

As his interviewers say: “Typical Ulrich Teichler: amusing, complex, surprising.” The title of the book is ambivalent. It could be misunderstood as “Higher Education Research, and What Else?”. But the message of the book is clear: “Higher Education Research, Not Anything Else”!

Ulrich Teichler, born 1942, was full professor from 1978 to 2013 at the International Centre for Higher Education Research Kassel and at the Department for Social Sciences of the University of Kassel. He was Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Research Kassel for 16 years, and has held academic posts in the USA, Japan China, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria.

Hochschulforschung, was sonst? Von Ulrich Teichler, im Gespräch mit Rob Cuthbert

„Hochschulforschung, was sonst?“ ist ein autobiographisches Buch des Autors, das aus Interviews bei einer Reihe von Abendessen mit Ulrich Teichler herausgewachsen ist – einem der herausragenden Wissenschaftler und Gründer des Gebiets der Hochschulforschung in Europa.

Zwei junge Wissenschaftlerinnen, Anna Kosmützky (Teichlers frühere Kollegin in Kassel, die jetzt Professorin für Methoden der Hochschul- und Wissenschaftsforschung an der Leibniz-Universität Hannover ist) und Christiane Rittgerott (International Centre for Higher Education Research Kassel) quetschten Ulrich Teichler  – den ersten Professor für Hochschulforschung in Deutschland – bei einer Reihe von Abendessen aus und trugen damit zur Entstehung eines Buches bei, das tatsächlich die Entwicklung des gesamten wissenschaftlichen Themengebiets Hochschulforschung in Deutschland und weit darüber hinaus aufzeigt.

Teichler schaut fünf Jahrzehnte seines wissenschaftlichen Weges zurück, der zu der Zeit begann, als der traditionelle Begriff „Ordinarius“ seine Selbstverständlichkeit verlor und der Glaube ins Wanken geriet, dass die Universität „im Kern gesund“ sei. Plötzlich wurde systematische Information zur Lage des Hochschulwesens nachgefragt. Teichler hat darauf reagiert.

Direkte und bohrende Fragen seitens der beiden Interviewerinnen tragen das ganze Buch: Warum überhaupt die Wahl von Wissenschaft als Beruf? Warum ausgerechnet Hochschulforschung? Warum die Entschediung für die gerade erst gegründete Universität in Kassel ohne gewachsene Reputation, obwohl die Tür zur University of Chicago offen stand? Welche „Elefanten der Hochschulforschung“ waren für den wissenschaftlichen Weg wichtig?

Wie konnte aus so kleinen Anfängen so ein international so bekanntes Forschungszentrum entstehen? Wie verträgt sich Pioniertätigkeit auf einem Forschungsgebiet mit den Managementanforderungen im Alltag? Wie kamst Du darauf, dass internationaler Vergleich für die Hochschulforschung so wichtig ist, wo doch Hochschulsysteme so viele nationale Spezifika haben?

Wieso sollen Hochschulforscher versuchen, bei der Planung ihrer Forschungstätigkeit früh „das Gras wachsen zu sehen“ und „den Leuten aufs Maul schauen“? Wieso kann für wissenschaftliche Qualität zentral sein, dass Wissenschaftler so sehr die Fragen der praktischen Akteure zum Anlass für Analysen nehmen? Wie lässt sich so großer Einsatz für den Beruf, der zu über 1.400 Publikationen und zu über 2.000 berufliche Reisen – sogar in mehr als 80 Länder – geführt hat, mit einem lebendigen Familienleben vereinbaren?

Wie kam es dazu, dass Du Yoko kennengelernt hast – Deine Frau, die Dein berufliches Leben so einsatzbereit begleitet hat? Viele Antworten sind als Anekdoten erzählt. So sagte Yoko: „Ulrich, Du hast keine Freunde, mit denen man wöchentlich Freizeitaktivitäten nachgeht, aber irgendwie hast Du vielleicht tausend Freunde in der ganzen Welt“.

Ulrich Teichler erzählt die Geschichte der Umbrüche in Hochschule, Politik und Gesellschaft als Zeitzeuge und als unbestechlicher Analytiker. Wie die Interviewerinnen sagen: „Typisch Ulrich Teichler: Amüsant, komplex, überraschend“. Der Titel des Buches ist ein wenig ambivalent; er könnte verstanden werden als „Hochschulforschung, und was noch?“. Aber die Botschaft des Buches ist klar: „Hochschulforschung, nichts anderes!“

Ulrich Teichler, geboren 1942, war von 1978 bis 2013 Professor am International Centre for Higher Education Research Kassel und am Fachbereich Sozialwissenschaften der Universität Kassel. Er war 16 Jahre lang Geschäftsführender Direktor des Zentrums und war für Forschungs- und Lehrzwecke in den USA, Japan, China, Belgien, den Niederlanden und Österreich tätig.


Yes, but what about the academic research?

by Steven Jones

Review of Influencing Higher Education Policy: A Professional Guide to Making an Impact, edited by Ant Bagshaw and Debbie McVitty (London: Routledge, 2020)

“The existence of Wonkhe won’t save us,” suggests Debbie McVitty (p13), “but it could be a good place to start.”

And so the tone is set for a new Routledge collection about HE ‘wonkery’, a relatively recent phenomenon that has doubtless changed the way in which the sector operates. Wonks are policy analysts, planners and strategists, and HE is blessed with more than its fair share. New policy development? Expect multiple ‘hot takes’ straight to your inbox. HE story in the mainstream media? Expect a range of insider perspectives that allow every possible angle to be explored. No more waiting for trade publications to drop through the letterbox, let alone for academic critiques to satisfy a journal’s peer review process. Thanks mostly to Wonkhe, we now have real-time analysis of everything that ever happens in HE.

In such a context, a book that explores the sector’s influence on policy is timely. Important questions need to be confronted. How can universities maintain integrity in an increasingly hostile regulatory and media environment? What does meaningful policy ‘impact’ look like? Which individuals or groups are most legitimately entitled to advocate on behalf of the sector? And, crucially, how can academic research evidence be communicated to those who most need to engage with it?

This collection, edited by Ant Bagshaw (Nous) and Debbie McVitty (Wonkhe) takes on some of these questions. It’s at its best when mapping legislative processes and regulatory frameworks, as William Hammonds and Chris Hale (both Universities UK) do, or comparing policy contexts, as Cathy Mitchell (Scottish Funding Council) does in relation to performance measurement. Anna Bradshaw (British Academy) and Megan Dunn (Greater London Authority) theorise the relationship between evidence and policy in valuable new ways, while Adam Wright (British Academy) and Rille Raaper (Durham University) perceptively characterise students’ framing within HE policy. Clare Randerson (University of Lincoln) enlightens readers on the OECD’s under-acknowledged role in HE policy-making, while Diane Beech’s (University of Warwick) chapter offers a useful guide to think-tanks, until spiralling into an advert for the Higher Education Policy Institute.

However, many questions remain unanswered. Partly, this is because some of the book’s contributors spend more time celebrating their own influence than critically evaluating the assumptions that underpin their proposed solutions. Indeed, many university staff will feel perplexed by McVitty’s opening assertion. Who is the ‘us’ that the existence of Wonkhe won’t save? What then makes Wonkhe a good place to start? And why does the ‘us’ need saving anyway?

This is not the sort of detail on which the book’s contributors tend to dwell. Rather, the style is choppy and pacey. In many chapters, soundbites are favoured over deeper reflection. Blunt recommendations (often bullet pointed and emboldened) are ubiquitous, generally urging ‘us’ to do things differently.

As usual in HE wonk discourses, academics hold a strange and curious place. Often we’re problematised. Sometimes we’re patronised. But mostly we’re just ignored. Rarely is it acknowledged that academic research might actually have anything useful to contribute. Universities are assumed to be desperately in need of some wonk savviness to overcome their policy naivety. Why would any institution turn to its own academic expertise when it can commission all-knowing external consultants? Scholarship isn’t part of the solution. If anything, it’s part of the problem.

Take Iain Mansfield’s (Policy Exchange) list of the “additional constraints” (p87) that he argues make policy influence tougher in HE than in other sectors. Among the subheadings presented is ‘left-leaning’. Here, academics and students are homogenised as anti-consumer, anti-rankings and generally difficult. There’s even a censorious mention of “cultural attitudes to issues such as class, race and gender” (p88). Another of Mansfield’s subheadings is ‘non-independence of research’. Here, the focus is academics’ perceived partiality. With so few scholarly sources cited, it is difficult to know on what evidence suspicion rests. However, the implication is clear: academics can’t be trusted to research themselves or their professional environment with objectivity. “Although any sector is subject to vested interests and unconscious bias,” Mansfield snipes, “only in HE are those same people writing the research” (p90).

Elsewhere in the collection, Josie Cluer (EYNews) and Sean Byrne (Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College) make the case that “only by understanding, predicting, and being ready for the Politics – with a capital P – will [wonks] be able to influence the policies that will support the sector to thrive.” Among the few examples offered is that of vice-chancellors’ pay. Here the implication is that the sector should have better managed recent negative media coverage that resulted in “a series of uncomfortable moments” (p22). While brand management matters greatly, and while the authors are right to suggest that some universities are suboptimal when it comes to shielding their reputation, the issue of senior pay is surely more nuanced than the single-paragraph analysis suggests. Being ‘ready for the Politics’ (with or without a capital P) requires universities to develop carefully thought-out internal policies, consistent with their claimed civic role and open to public scrutiny. The message implied by this book, in places, is that HE can continue its merry march toward the market, just so long as it remembers to buy in the right kind of spin.

Granted, the editors pre-empt some of these criticisms, emphasising that engagement with academic literature is not their priority, and that the collection essentially functions as a “professional guide” (p xvii). However, the analysis presented is often alarmingly thin. The first of Colette Fletcher’s (University of Winchester) five ‘lessons’ on how to influence policy – “have the confidence to be yourself” (p134) – captures something of the book’s tendency to drift into feelgood self-help rhetoric where close-up, critical analysis might be more appropriate.

Nonetheless, contributors are clearly satisfied that they have what it takes to save the sector. Everyone should get behind the wonks’ solutions, not least us pesky, prejudiced academics. Indeed, what Influencing Higher Education Policy arguably does best is highlight the growing challenge to the ways in which scholarly work is undertaken and disseminated. Wonkhe’s central role in bringing multiple perspectives to HE debates, usually in super-fast time, should be welcomed. But in such an environment, the book reminds us how easily academics and their research can be marginalised.

Without question, the UK HE sector needs to become better at influencing policy. Bagshaw is right to say we’ve relied on “benign amateurism” (p169) for too long. And without question, this collection includes several chapters’ worth of considered reflections and constructive recommendations. But elsewhere the book lapses into glib strategising where it could be reconnecting with universities’ core purpose. The best way to improve the sector’s standing is to ensure that it operates according to the highest possible ethical standards, and makes policy recommendations firmly grounded in empirical evidence.

One of the book’s contributors quotes Richard Branson to illustrates a policy point: “it’s amazing what doors can open if you reach out to people with a smile” (p139). But who knows, perhaps it’s even more amazing what doors can open if you reach out to people with rigorous academic research?

SRHE member Steven Jones is a Professor of Higher Education at the Manchester Institute of Education. His research focuses on equity issues around students’ access, experiences and outcomes. Steven is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and he teaches on the University of Manchester’s PGCert in Higher Education. The views expressed here are his own.

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Being a Scholar in the Digital Era: Transforming Scholarly Practice for the Public Good

Reviewed by James Hartley

Daniels, J and Thistlethwaite, P (2016) Being a Scholar in the Digital Era: Transforming Scholarly Practice for the Public Good  London: Policy Press, ISBN 978-1-4473-2926-8 (pbk), 170pp  £19.99

Being a scholar in the digital era is an interesting book, but who is it for? Presumably not for people like me, retired academics from the mainly pre-digital era,  so it must be for current academics, or for people who want to read about what academics do today. Authors Jessie Daniels and Polly Thistlethwaite are professors of sociology at the City University of New York (CUNY). The book describes a course they developed in 2013 for academics, activists and journalists, designed to encourage academics to change how they communicate amongst themselves and with others. ‘Our experiment sought to leverage the reciprocal power of social activism and the connected platforms of digital media to meet demands for accessible and impactful information that retains the integrity and authority of scholarly research’ (p18).

The text has five main chapters between an Introduction and a conclusion. Chapter 2 describes what it is like to be ‘a scholar activist’, then and now, discussing the effects of new digital media on teaching, writing and researching, journalism and film making. The authors describe several ‘summits’  in which they brought together scholars, journalists, film-makers and activists, on themes including ‘Re-imagining Scholarly Communication for the 21st century’, and ‘Resisting Criminalisation through Academic-media-activist Partnerships’. Materials for these summits were posted in online blogs and podcasts and reproduced in e-books.

Chapter 3 criticises massive online open courses (MOOCS) as a way of providing instructional materials for those people who cannot afford to go to university or college and have to study at home. As the authors see it, commercial MOOCs are designed to work well for people who are already skilled at learning, and who can afford to pay for them. Further, they are an administrator’s dream: ‘The ratio of two faculty to nine-thousand students is the sort of ‘productivity’ that administrators want to see realised in the academy through the use of digital technologies’(p46). In contrast the authors describe their ‘POOCs’ – much smaller participatory online courses – designed to open the CUNY campus to students in East Harlem.

Chapter 4, ‘Acting up, Opening up Knowledge’, comments that ‘the way scholarly publishing works is difficult to explain to anyone outside the system, because it makes so little sense’. Authors are not paid for publishing and people without university affiliations (and former students) have sharply limited access to academic research. The major publishers take most of the profits and control access to journals and scholarly societies. According to the authors the price of textbooks has risen 812% since 1978 and ‘The College Board in 2015-16 advised students attending US public two-year institutions to budget a whopping $1,364 for books and supplies’.

Open access is seen as at least a partial answer to this dilemma,  aiming to make texts and learning freely available to as many people as possible. In this study this is done via a series of e-books tied to the summits, and through ‘POOCs’. In addition research communities such as ResearchGate and Kudos share information and provide access to members’ publications.

In Chapter 5, ‘Training scholars for the digital era’, doctoral training at CUNY is described as ‘somewhat unique’ in that there are several programs that emphasize and teach the use of digital technology for PhD students and mid-to-late career academics. The authors describe how they organised MediaCamp workshops free of charge for faculty and graduate students, academic administrators, non-governmental organisations, and community activists. During the first year of operation MediaCamp featured more than 40 sessions, most with 10 to 20 participants, covering a range of topics – including television interviewing techniques, writing for a general audience , creating a podcast, blogging, using twitter, and making sense of web analytics. The authors report that their MediaCamps met with resistance from some and enthusiasm from others, and that it was best to teach individually or in small groups. They say that such training is important as academic institutions now have a vested interest in the use of digital media by both faculty and administrators.

Until recently, engagement with the public has not generally been rewarded in universities. Chapter 6 thus turns to a new concern, that of measuring scholarly impact. Here a good deal of attention is given to ‘impact factors’, and their strengths and limitations: the general picture (rightly in my view) is negative. The authors conclude (following Boyer) in favour of broader measures of impact that involve social justice.

Nonetheless, the argument used in this chapter illustrates the difficulties for authors of relying on hearsay and blog-dependent sentences. In my view, neither of the following sentences is true:

 ….and the way it works in British Universities, the JIF (Journal Impact Factor) is regarded as a      valid and reliable measure of scholarly impact. (p113)

It is common practice among journal editors, once an article is accepted for publication, to ask authors to add a few citations from that particular publication… (p113)     

Chapter 7 ends with a brief discussion on the future of being a scholar that includes some optimistic speculations about the effects of new technology on teaching, learning and research. The authors argue that scholars will be more collaborative, share their research in the social media, and boost the profile and reputation of universities. They also foresee the end of the commercial domination of universities and their research. Such optimism belies the research discussed in earlier chapters.

The book is driven by the view that academics are – or should be – concerned with the public good. Daniels and Thistlethwaite argue that using new media is the way to achieve it. Many of the references in this text are to blogs rather than scholarly publications, but such sources are not always scholarly; bloggers are not always careful or detailed in their analyses or reports, and may make statements without supporting references. Being a scholar in the digital era: transforming scholarly practice for the public good offers some useful and interesting perspectives on what it is like to be an academic today but leaves two key questions unanswered: who decides what needs transforming, and who decides what is the public good?

SRHE Member James Hartley is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Keele University.

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All you need to know about how to write a literature review

Book Review by James Hartley

Onwuegbuzie, A.J. and Frels, R. (2016). Seven steps to a comprehensive literature review: a multi-modal and cultural approach, London: Sage

ISBN 978-1-4462-4898 (pbk) 424pp. £26.99

With over 400 pages, this book is a comprehensive and weighty tome. But who is it for? Possibly final year and PhD students, but it is really for full-time researchers assessing and reporting on the strengths and weaknesses of the whole of previous research in a particular field in order to advise others what to do (or not to do) next.

The text is divided into four sections, following a brief Introduction – Overview (4 chapters), Exploration (5 chapters), Integration (3 chapters), and Communication (2 chapters, plus 5 exemplars, general conclusions, and final thoughts).

The Overview (60 pages) covers the history and the methodology of several different types of literature review, including narrative, systematic, and combined. Exploration (150 pages) describes how to initiate a literature search, store and organise the results, determine the main findings, and expand the search into related areas. Integration (44 pages) considers how to pool the results from different approaches – qualitative, quantitative and mixed, and Communication (100 pages) outlines different ways of planning and writing the final document.

Each chapter within each of these main sections is filled – sometimes overfilled – with diagrams, charts, examples and summary checklists. We see how computer-based techniques and tools (described in detail) are essential for the modern reviewer, with copious (but possibly some dated) examples. With so much detail, different parts of this book will be more appropriate for different researchers at different stages than others. And not everyone will agree with all of the advice given. I found, for example, the advice to aim at a Flesch readability score of 30 and below for reports to be disconcerting. To my mind this should read 30 and above. Reviews need to be readable.

Seven Steps is generally readable and useful – but it is a door stopper.

SRHE Member James Hartley is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Keele University. He is the author of ‘Designing Instructional Text’ (3rd ed. 1994, Kogan Page) and ‘Academic Writing and Publishing’ (Routledge, 2008). 

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Writing fast and slow

Book Review by James Hartley

Berg, M. & Seeber, B. K.  (2016) The Slow Professor: Changing the Culture of Speed in the Academy, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

ISBN 978-1-4426-4556-1

128pp  £15-00

In the USA and Canada there is a movement to reject ‘Fast Food’ in favour of something more nutritious – apparently called ‘Slow Food’. The title of this book is built on this analogy.  The authors, two Canadian Professors of English, reject the language and the common currency of commercially framed universities in favour of something more substantive.

The Slow Professor has 4 chapters encased in an Introduction and Conclusion.  The first chapter reviews the literature on academic time management.  The authors prefer a slow-baked meal to the fast-food currently on offer – where overworked academics are taught extraordinary techniques to get on and publish their research (which often amounts to getting others – especially postgrads – to do your work for you).  Readers are persuaded to enjoy their teaching and research – rather than to delegate it.

The authors provide many useful tips.  Research with others often emerges from good conversations – working together can be more pleasurable than working alone – difficulties will be withstood and issues better discussed together – partners will trust each other – research topics will emerge rather than being imposed by funding models. In short, ‘Slow professors act with purpose, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience to the effects of corporatization in higher education’.

All of this seems a bit odd or nostalgic in today’s climate – but what’s the harm in that? This text reminds us of what universities are (were?) for and where, gadarene-like, we are going.

James Hartley is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Keele University. He is the author of ‘Designing Instructional Text’ (3rd ed. 1994, Kogan Page) and ‘Academic Writing and Publishing’ (Routledge, 2008).