An inside look at peer review

Academic presses invest a lot of effort in the peer review process. While most academics understand the process — either from personal experience or tales shared at conferences — less understood is how editors and publishers view peer review.

“The primary reason for peer reviewing manuscripts is to reinforce the publisher’s reputation as serious and professional,” said Jessica Gribble, an acquisitions editor at Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Individual editors also value peer review, she said: “We can’t be experts in every subject we acquire, so we rely on reviews to help us know whether the content of the manuscript is high quality.” Another goal of the peer review process is to confirm what the press believes to be the market for the book. “We’re getting both a content analysis and a market analysis,” said Gribble.

How to apply the theory of experiential learning to textbook writing

Experiential learning, a four-stage cycle that accommodates four distinct types of learners, is the ideal way for people to learn. While each person will prefer one part of the cycle over others, it is important for educators to guide their students through each stage in order to achieve the best possible learning experience.

According to Dr. Alice Kolb, president of Experience Based Learning Systems, Inc., textbook authors can use the following ideas to incorporate all four stages of the experiential learning cycle and maximize the educational potential of their books:

First Stage: Concrete Experience. Vignettes or quotes can help students identify with the content of a chapter, or you can provide introductory exercises to give students an initial experience with your topic.

Authors share advice for writing your first textbook

Writing that first textbook can be a really time-consuming and exhausting experience, but knowing the ropes beforehand can make it less daunting.

Easy money. A screenplay. Fame and glory. If you’re thinking about writing a textbook, put these out of your mind. But if you’ve got a lot of knowledge to share in return for the satisfaction of just doing it, there’s some advice out there for writing your first textbook.

When writing, focus on your strengths

There’s a world of knowledge out there and it all intertwines. The study of any one subject begins to touch on the boundaries of others, motivating study into the new subject. When reading and when writing, we learn new things, which could lead to feelings of treading on unfamiliar ground.

I’ve met some brilliant and hard-working people in my life in academia. I’ve met people who read articles by the bushel and books by the shelf, but I’ve never met one who had read everything worth reading. There’s too much knowledge out there for any one person to know everything there is to know and to read everything that has been written. And, of course, we recognize this; it is the motivation behind the specialization all around us. Nonetheless, it is not unusual to become paralyzed by the sense that we don’t know enough.

How to write readable academic prose

The purpose of writing is to transmit ideas, says Andrew Johnson, professor of Holistic Education at Minnesota State University, Mankato, not to show the reader how much you know about a particular subject. “I approach articles and books as if the reader knows nothing,” he said. “I enter a teaching mode, trying to make things as simple as possible. I have to bring my ideas to the reader. I’m not famous enough for the reader to come to me.”

How to make difficult concepts easier to understand

One of the most valuable attributes of a successful textbook author is their ability to present complex concepts in an effective and efficient format.

Mariëlle Hoefnagels, author of Biology: Concepts and Investigations, recommends textbook authors make listening to students a top priority when trying to explain a difficult concept. “Either listen in as students discuss difficult concepts with one another, or ask a student to explain the subject to you,” she said. “Pay close attention to the parts that confuse the students, then make sure the narrative and illustrations in your book confront those potential points of confusion.”