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Say I have a deep knowledge of an advanced technical topic, and have written a book on such a topic. Though this book does not contain any original research ideas, it is a well written and thorough treatise on a technical topic that is relevant in both academia and industry.

Would writing (and hopefully publishing) such a book help with PhD admissions, or do admissions committees generally only care about research publications (as far as publications go -- obviously they care about recommendations, grades, etc in addition to research)?

If the book were published with a major publisher such as O'Reilly Media, would this make a difference?

  • PhD admissions in what subject? and where (not the university but country)? – virmaior Apr 16 '16 at 18:06
  • @virmaior Computer Science in the United States – 01010110011001 Apr 16 '16 at 18:06
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    I would definitely consider it a proof that you are expert and accomplished in a given field, and that you can complete in a satisfactory fashion a complex endeavor. The risk is, if your research curriculum is not as outstanding, to appear as somebody who can 'talk the talk' but cannot 'walk the walk', in the sense that you are able to discuss your field but not originally contribute to it. – Joe_74 Apr 16 '16 at 18:36
  • "rather than"?? – JeffE Apr 16 '16 at 23:35
  • @JeffE That was a poor choice of words on my part. My intention was to clarify that I specifically meant publishing a book with no research content. – 01010110011001 Apr 17 '16 at 2:43
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Certainly it would be a plus---even a good technical blog or a nice portfolio of posts on SE can be helpful. It speaks to your level of sophistication and interest in the subject. One can tell a lot about scientific maturity by reading someone's expository works---it betrays the way one thinks about things and can also give an indication of scientific awareness.

At least some of your letter writers should be familiar with the book and be impressed with it. If you're lucky, some faculty at places you're applying may also be familiar with it as well.

For me, publishing with a well-known publisher would make a little stronger first impression (the publisher can lend the book a little credibility), but really what the letters say about it, or how the book reads if I decide to look at it myself (which is much easier for open access books) is much more important. (Note: open access books or online notes can actually get wider circulation in academia than traditionally published books.)

This is not to say that writing a technical book is a good way to get into a PhD program. It takes a lot of effort that could be put to other use if your only goal is to get a PhD. But if you already have one written, it would be silly not to mention it.

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Fundamentally, PhD programs are in the business of admitting and training academics, researchers, and teachers. In that sense, writing a technical book aimed a larger market won't be a substitute for a demonstrated interest and ability in scholarly work and research.

That said, publishing a "trade" book is solid sign that you can write well enough, that you're organized enough to complete a major project, and that you have a mastery of the technical field you have written about. These are all things that a potential graduate program will care about it.

For context, I wrote two technical books before I applied to graduate school and I think it was part of what helped me get accepted to a engineering program without an undergraduate degree in technical field. I did not use the book writing sample and I don't think anybody at any PhD program I applied to read it. In my case, the book compensated for what might have otherwise been a hole in my CV.

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