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What is a Monograph?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A monograph, sometimes called a scholarly treatise, is an extremely detailed essay or book covering a very specific or limited subject. It is designed to stand alone in most cases, although some are produced with a finite number of volumes. The publication presents new information that advances the author’s career and field, and it generally follows a predictable pattern in terms of the content covered. Usually, only one author is involved, but a writer may collaborate if necessary. Review, defense, and presentation usually are part of the monograph publication process, and document itself generally is brief.


The main objective of a monograph is to present information and scholarly research on a very specific topic. The data included is always meant to educate others in some way, and ideally, it also should advance the author’s field as a foundation for future research. This means that individuals who write these documents always need to make sure that they are not conducting research and writing on previously covered topics without contributing something new.

Given the main purpose scholarly treatises hold, professionals typically produce them as a means to show their expertise and gain credibility and, as a result, advance to new, higher positions. Many fields require publication of these texts before an author can obtain a degree or particular job. In general, the more an author publishes, the more respected he becomes, although in some cases, a single essay or book may be so influential that the author is always known for that one work, regardless of additional publications.

Key Contents

Monographs generally share the same basic elements, no matter the topics covered. They usually identify a purpose for the research and the main question the author was trying to answer, as well as what the author expected the results of his research to be. These documents outline the results and discuss the implications and applications the work has. The last element is sources and references.

Even though most scholarly treatises include these elements, the author might be required to present them in a slightly different way, depending on his field, or he might have to add or omit sections. People in liberal arts and humanities usually format the document using the Modern Language Association (MLA) format, for example, while those in the social sciences, usually use the American Psychological Association (APA) format.


Only one author is behind a scholarly treatise most of the time, although two academics may collaborate if they have been carrying out research together. In cases where more than one person writes the work, the author whose name appears first generally is considered to be the primary author or research leader. The more complex a research study is, or the more time it takes, the more likely it is for the essay or book to be longer and use multiple authors. Collaboration lends additional expertise and ideas to a project, but it can make writing the work more challenging logistically and may result in conflicts if the authors disagree over what's being said.

Length and Construction Time

Short monographs are similar to long essays, although they are usually longer than articles because they have to go into more detail. Long publications are the length of books. An author may take several weeks or months to write a short one, but a long version can take a year or more to write. When these longer papers also require an extensive research period, commitment to the topic has to be solid.

Review, Defense, and Presentation

Virtually all scholarly papers go through a period of review. Peers from the author’s field examine the work for issues such as methodological flaws and basic structural errors. The author may need to revise extensively based on the review findings, which sometimes means doing additional research. He will sometimes have a final review of the paper in the form of a defense, particularly when the text relates to the acquisition of a degree. The author will then typically present the final version at conferences or other events relevant to his field.


Authors usually are offered one-run publication for scholarly treatises. Very rarely, one will be of interest to a larger community, meriting a slightly bigger printing to meet demand. Because the print runs are very small, within several years of publication, it can be difficult to obtain a copy.

When one of these works takes the form of an essay, it is typically published in an academic journal. University or small presses usually handle the book versions, but the rising costs of publication can make it impractical to publish books with limited copies and potential interests. There is an ongoing debate about the future of the monograph, although an increasing number of technologies are seen by many scholars as a potential solution. Publishing a treatise on the Internet can make it more widely available, and electronic publications are often much less expensive to produce than print ones. Some individuals question the legitimacy of such publications, fearing that they may be subject to less thorough review and evaluation, but the value of these outlets has increased in recent years.

Distribution and Location

Monographs usually go to research libraries once they are published. They also go to academic departments at universities and businesses closely related to the research. A work on anatomy, for example, might be of use to both a biology department and a hospital. With an increase in digital publication, an increasing number of publications are made available online — often for free — for anyone who is interested.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon994521 — On Feb 15, 2016

Can we say a monograph is an extended or longer version of a scholarly journal article?

By anon255562 — On Mar 18, 2012

This is a great article. Although monographs apply to a limited group of specialized readers but it is important not to leave it for the dead! Usually cutting edge research will demand it.

By anon140133 — On Jan 06, 2011

How interesting. I am reading a Sherlock Holmes story and I come across the term "monograph". To clarify my understanding, I searched the meaning on my Kindle. With my new understanding of "monograph", I decided to look it up online. Lo and behold, not only do I come upon extensive information here but two articles of discussion actually referring to Holmes' practice of monographing. Fate is a funny fact finder.

By anon86181 — On May 24, 2010

I would like to use an article I found on the 'net written by Lukas Muntingh and titled Successful Reintegration. I have a ministry to help women newly released from prison and I want to include the article (as I found it in Monograph 52) in my newsletter which goes out to about 700 families. How may I do it legally?

By anon55055 — On Dec 04, 2009

Yes, Watson even claims that a couple of them (whose names I have forgotten) were the last ever written on those subjects.

Holmes even writes one on something like -what's the word?- procrastinating by posing you are unwell - in 'The Dying Detective,' if I am not quite mistaken.

By knittingpro — On Apr 01, 2008

In the Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes writes a number of monographs on subjects such as fingerprints and footprints, as well as more obscure detective methods.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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