Writing the second edition

Helen KaraHelen Kara’s main interest is in research methods, which she writes about and teaches to practitioners and postgraduate students. She also self-publishes short e-books for doctoral students. She tweets at @DrHelenKara.

This post is timed to coincide with the official publication of the second edition of her first research methods book, Research and Evaluation for Busy Students and Practitioners: A Time-Saving Guide, by Policy Press. (Not that official dates mean much nowadays. The official publication date is tomorrow, but copies have been available for the last two weeks.)

A detail from the cover of the book, showing Helen's name and the words 'Second Edition'. The cover design shows different jigsaw puzzle pieces fitting together.
A detail from Helen’s new edition.

If you’ve written a textbook or monograph, you should be thinking about a second edition.

Readers who love your book can have an up-to-date version, and you can bring out a new book for a lot less work than writing an actual new book. Win-win!

I’ve just been through the process of preparing a second edition and, as so often with my writing, this is the post I wish I’d been able to read at the outset.

When I decided it might be time for a second edition, I looked around online for advice, but there wasn’t much information available. I needed some clues. My lovely editor was helpful. ‘We’re not just going to tweak a few things and slap a new cover on,’ she said (which was fine by me). She offered to ask a couple of people who had been using the book for teaching to give suggestions of changes they would like to see, which I thought was a great idea. One person sent a couple of paragraphs of comments, the other sent two and a half pages; they didn’t always agree with each other, but their feedback was usefully thought-provoking.

Then I had to do a proposal for my publisher. It’s similar to a new book proposal, and in fact I was able to copy-and-paste several sections from the original proposal in 2011, but I needed to provide a rationale for the new edition.

Why bother doing another version? I gathered the reviews and other feedback that had come my way after the first edition was published, and re-read them for nuggets of useful information. As a result, I decided it would be good to include a new chapter on research in public services, to cover consultation methods, the use of Randomised Controlled Trials for research such as evaluation, and the role of service user researchers. I thought that this would strengthen the usefulness of the book for practitioners. I also thought a second edition would be commercially successful. The first edition had sold well but my most recent book was doing a lot better, and I thought that it might give a boost to this one.

Policy Press sent me five reviews of my proposal, which was great. They were all really supportive and constructive, and also quite confusing because some of them contradicted each other. In particular, they had a wide variety of ideas about what the new chapter should cover.

My editor and I had in-depth discussions about the way forward, by email and by phone, and eventually I came up with a whole new idea. The relevant sentence from my email of last September says, “I wonder whether the extra chapter should be something along the lines of ‘approaches and methodologies’ which could include action research, mixed methods, evaluation, using the internet, arts-based methods, phenomenological research, etc.” I felt that it worked much better. My editor loved this idea. It fits so well I can’t quite understand why I didn’t include it in the first edition – except, to be honest, I don’t think I could have written it five years ago.

So, that was a chunk of new writing. I also needed to revise the whole of the rest of the book – ten other chapters – which meant everything from checking for the inevitable typos, to writing new sections on subjects as diverse as managing and commissioning research and evaluation, using archival data, and data visualisation. We decided to add one or more exercises at the end of each chapter, along with some annotated further reading, so I had to devise those as well. The companion website also needed a complete overhaul.

Then I was involved in the cover redesign and finding people to write testimonials for the back of the book; I was delighted to find people from the UK, Canada, and Australia. I was thrilled when Professor Patrick Sturgis, Director of the UK National Centre for Research Methods, agreed to write a foreword. I’ve come a long way since the first edition, with just one testimonial.

I have learned that, while creating a good second edition is a sizeable task, it’s nowhere near as much hard graft as writing a book in the first place. I now have a ‘third edition’ folder for this book (yes, already!) and a ‘second edition’ folder for Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. (Not that I’ll be doing the second edition of that any time soon, as it’s only been out for a couple of years, but the time will come.) I use those folders to stash thoughts, links, notes, copies of relevant documents.

Earlier this month, the estimable Textbook and Academic Authors Association (TAAA) published a useful post on second editions. I was delighted to discover that I’m not the only one who starts a new folder (or equivalent) for the next edition as soon as the last one is finished. It was also interesting to see how the timescales for new editions vary. In a very fast-moving field (some technology fields, for example), new editions might be needed every two years. While it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, five years feels about the right interval for me. Howard Becker’s classic text Writing for Social Scientists was first published in 1986, and the second edition came out 21 years later in 2007. I don’t know if that’s a record, but it gives you some idea of the potential range.

I’m now working on a book on research ethics – as soon as the final typescript goes to the publisher, I’ll create a folder for its second edition. The Textbook and Academic Authors Associate suggests that preparing for second and subsequent editions is the key to textbook longevity. I can only hope that that is true.


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