Academic books are complex, multilayered beasts. So, writing your first one can feel overwhelming. You might struggle to position it with respect to the existing literature. Or, conceptualizing how its structure can best serve its main argument and subclaims might seem particularly challenging.
As if that’s not enough, you must also master a genre you’ve never written before: “academic book style.”
Most, however, focus exclusively on a few main characteristics: “voice,” citational practices, and academic book style (at the sentence level).
In so doing, they ignore a key component that, if absent, can give reviewers pause about your manuscript: how thoughtfully and skillfully you position your book as a coherent, interconnected ecosystem rather than a series of independent, self-contained chapters preceded by an introduction that attempts to link them.
Skillful and selective “internal references“–references to other chapters or works examined elsewhere in the book–signal to readers that your book-level claims are paramount. (To distill your book-level claims and ensure they guide your chapters–and not the other way around–work ON your book before working IN it). Additionally, drawing these connections for your readers indicates that you have mastered how all of your book’s pieces fit together and that you care about the reader’s experience on your book’s intellectual journey.
A quick but extremely important note: notice my use of the qualifier “skillful and selective” above: use internal references to mark significant conversations between your book’s chapters. My own style probably falls more on the “overreferential” end of the spectrum.
Additionally, do be aware of the fact that different presses (and editors) have different preferences. Some presses, for instance, prohibit explicit book overviews (especially a chapter-by-chapter roadmap) in introductions. So, do consult seminal books in your field and books your target press has recently published. (Quick tip: access the ebook and search for instances of “chapter,” “later,” and “earlier.”)
Ready to instantly transform one dimension of your academic book style?
Complete the activity below to identify fruitful moments to include internal references. Then, scroll down to see some examples from my own book!
What to Signal: Questions to Identify Fruitful Moments to Foreshadow/Echo
Before turning to examples from my own book, however, I’d like you to think of some powerful moments when you could emphasize your own book’s interconnectedness.
Use these questions and suggestions to guide you.
ASK YOURSELF: What are your book’s main threads or questions? How do they evolve from chapter to chapter? What additional dimensions do later chapters reveal?
ACT: Use these answers to selectively situate one chapter or a work within the book’s overarching arcs. This works best at–but is not limited to–chapter introductions and conclusions.
Key Figures, Events, or Works
ASK YOURSELF: How are the key figures, events, or works studied in each chapter similar to and/or different from one another? Are these differences striking or nuanced?
ACT: Use phrases to compare and contrast the focus of your current chapter with what’s come before or what will come after. Simple phrases such as “Unlike [work/author/event A], examined in chapter 2, which [did this other thing], [work/author/event B] [does this other thing]” quickly put chapters, works, authors, etc. in conversation. Or, you can create more tension by contrasting, then comparing, or vice versa. For example: “Just as [work A] [did this thing], [work B] seems to [do this similar thing]. And yet, upon further scrutiny, [significant difference].”
ASK YOURSELF: What are some of your book’s key terms? Do you use the same terms from chapter to chapter? Or, do you use different terms to characterize different phenomena? If the latter, how do these terms relate to one another?
ACT: At key moments, remind your reader of these semantic relationships. What valences make term X in chapter 4 similar to term A in chapter 1? How is X different from A?
Touchstone Moments, Events, or Scenes
ASK YOURSELF: Are there key “touchstone” moments or scenes from one chapter that will resurface later? What new layers of meaning will evoking these touchstone moments add?
ACT: This need not be extended (note my final two examples below). Merely “pinging back” these earlier moments creates recognition in your reader. But, you can deploy this technique in a more advanced way, especially if you return to the same scene. In later chapters, underscore how your book’s intellectual journey has now given your reader the perspective shift to see this earlier scene with “new eyes.”
Examples of Where, When, and How to Signal: Chapter Introductions or Conclusions
Foreshadowing What’s to Come
This example comes from the conclusion to my second chapter–the end of my book’s first part. So, I gesture toward how later chapters will add new layers of meaning to the analyses I offered in the preceding chapter.
Note, however, that this internal reference is more extensive than most of yours will or should be, precisely because this paragraph opens the transition between my book’s two halves.
“Pinging Back” What You’ve Shown
This example comes from the introduction to my fifth and final chapter. Largely speaking, it situates this chapter within the book’s second half by reminding the reader of the threads uniting it. It does this, however, to then signal what new dimension this chapter will add to those discussions (not shown below).
Examples of Where, When, and How to Signal: When Analyzing Specific Works
Foreshadowing What’s to Come
In this analysis of one particular work (chapter 2) , I foreshadow what’s to come in chapter 5. Doing so reinforces–in its own small way–continuities between the book’s two parts.
“Pinging Back” What You’ve Shown
In both examples (chapter 3 and chapter 5), I recall a moment I analyzed in depth earlier in the book (chapter 1 and chapter 2, respectively). Doing so, like the example directly above, underscores connections between the book’s two halves.
Which of the examples above could serve as a model for your own foreshadowing/”pingback” moments? What questions do you have about foregrounding your academic book’s cohesiveness and coherence? Do you struggle to find appropriate spots to signal these throughlines? Let me know by email.
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