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Help for Beleaguered Political Scientists

- June 20, 2008

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I’m generally a little leery of “how-to” books, perhaps because I’m lousy at following directions and have managed to do pretty well by making it up as I go, flying by the seat of my pants, ad-hocking, etc.

However, in several years of service as an NSF program director and later as the APSR editor and as a senior member of a department full of publication-conscious colleagues, I’ve repeatedly found myself being called on to answer questions ranging from the rudimentary to the sophisticated about the way that peer review processes work; and I’ve found that many scholars — especially but by no means exclusively the younger ones — are grateful for specific, concrete advice about how to proceed.

All this by way of introduction to a just-released and extremely useful “how to” collection for political scientists, focused specifically on publication-related issues, titled Publishing Political Science: APSA Guide to Writing and Publishing (Stephen Yoder, editor). I was asked to provide a back-cover blurb for this volume, but because I was skeptical I decided that I’d better read the book before saying yes or no. After reading just a few chapters, I quickly said yes. Here’s the blurb I wrote after reading the rest of the chapters:

bq. Publishing Political Science is a wonderful resource that should be read thoroughly and consulted frequently by scholars at all stages of their careers, ranging from college students writing an honors paper through graduate students confronting for the first time the manifold mysteries of their intended craft and junior faculty members trying to negotiate their way through the strange and sometimes forbidding world of academic publishing, and yes, extending even to senior faculty members who think they already have a good grasp of the way things work (but probably don’t). The beauty of this volume is that it conveys so much useable information about the structure of the publishing industry or the nature of the review process, for example, along with how-to hints about writing not only article and book manuscripts, but also reference works, textbooks, and blog items, among others. If every aspiring or practicing political scientist would read this book and take its lessons seriously, our discpline would be enormously improved.

And I meant every word of it. If you’re a political scientist (or, for that matter, a social scientist of a different stripe), this is a volume that should be on your bookshelf. Even if you think you already know everything you need to know, you’re going to find this a very handy book to have on hand.