‘Publish or Perish.’ It’s a familiar refrain to any academic for whom research output is not just an important vocational responsibility, but a key metric of professional performance. Thus it was that two-dozen researchers from all stages of their careers joined Associate Professor John Dumay in a workshop run in the lead up to Learning and Teaching Week on developing academic research, writing and publishing strategies. Phil Betts looks at some of the top tips offered in the workshop to help optimize your chances of a successful publication.
Rules that can be Learned
John Dumay’s academic career was late blooming, having completed a PhD in 2008 after 15 years running his own management consulting firm. Originally trained as an engineer, he was struck on returning to academia by the ‘game-like’ nature of publishing. According to John, publishing is governed by a system of rules both written and unwritten – “rules that can be learned”. John examines these rules as part of his diverse research output, with published articles on research methods and writing complimenting an extensive bibliography in the fields of management, accounting, and intellectual capital.
Drawing from plenty of first-hand experience as both a widely published (and cited!) writer and editor, John led the workshop through the process of unpacking the rules of the publishing game, with practical ways to address them.
John’s Top Tips
1. Publishing takes time.
A project will generally take 2-5 years from initiation to appearing in print. With such a long path to publication, the goal is to have many projects at different stages of completion, to ensure a continuous cycle of output.
Research and writing: 1-3 years
Journal submission and 1st referee reports: 3-6 months
Revision time: 3 months – 2 years
Second referee reports: 3-6 months
Publication lag: 3 months – 2 years
TOTAL TIME: 2-5 years
2. Create an inventory of your research projects.
Include timelines and priorities. With multiple projects at different stages, it’s essential to keep track of them with a research plan. This is also a useful resource for demonstrating your current work to your department head.
3. You need to have a strategy.
As John says, “the traditional approach – ‘I’m going to write about what I’m interested in and take it to the best publication’ – is an almost guaranteed strategy for rejection.” There are decisions to be made at every stage, from the design of the project and its subject matter to the choice of journal. Be strategic from the start.
4. Citations are the lifeblood of an academic’s success.
Be familiar with which journals and what types of articles that are most cited in your field. Use tools like Google Scholar, which releases ‘impact factors’ for journals based on how frequently their articles are cited. Set up a ResearcherID and citation notifications – manage and monitor your own research profile.
5. Create new knowledge and new ideas.
Good research is ‘sufficiently novel’, and avoids the trap of the ‘copycat study’: “When a widely cited article comes out, people get starry eyed and think ‘wow, I could do research like that’. So what do they do? They do the same research, in a different time, in a different place.”
As John’s own research on academic publishing has shown, copycat studies have an increasingly diminishing impact, earning fewer and fewer citations with each generation. By contrast, articles outlining future propositions for research are relatively quick to produce, and tend to be highly cited, so it’s a good idea to include some of those in your overall research output. Another strategy is to “look outside at things that are happening in the world today” – cutting edge research on new developments, new research methods and the impact of new technology is always in demand, and is ‘sufficiently novel’ by definition!
6. So what?
Make it clear why your research is important – “Why is this article a ‘must-read’?” If you can’t answer that, then you can’t expect anybody else to do so.
7. Who’s your co-author?
This is especially important for early-career researchers looking to build a profile, but is true at any level. Whether it’s working with someone who can navigate through the submission process of a journal they’ve previously published in, or finding somebody who can break through your own research obstructions and sticking points, it’s difficult to overstate the value of co-authors. Consider those who cite your work – each one is a potential future collaborator. “Go out there and co-author with people from other universities” – world-leading research often comes from globe-spanning co-authorship, boosting both your and your department’s international profile.
8. Develop relationships with editors.
Knowing what different editors are looking for in terms of subject matters and research design; being able to run concepts and proposals by them before writing them up – these are invaluable benefits that help you tailor your work to greatly reduce the chance of a ‘desk reject’ – being rejected outright without even making it to the first review stage. Journals are highly strategic – they’re looking for articles that will earn them the highest number of citations, and consequently rankings. The best journals are proactive, and will work with you to maximize the likelihood of your article being accepted. If you don’t hear anything back from them, move on.
9. Writing is a craft.
There are many tools to help develop your technical writing skills, addressing areas such as grammar, consistency and brevity. The grammar features in MS Word, and resources like The Writer’s Diet, gramarly.com and PerfectIt Intelligent Editing, can all help greatly improve your writing.
10. Bloat is the enemy of a good article
…and yet it infects vast swathes of academic writing. Avoid over-citing – two of the top, most relevant citations on a topic are generally enough – three at most. Demonstrate your ability to synthesise what’s important by only citing the most important articles, and preferably the most contemporary, rather than everything that’s ever been written on the topic.
11. Rejection happens to everyone.
Get used to it. John muses: “Reviewers are the crappiest people in the world, unless they accept our papers, in which case they’re the best!” Even the most highly cited authors get knocked back. It’s just a part of the game.
Be Part of the Next Workshop
The University is looking to expand this workshop to offer it as a semi-regular event. If you’re interested in attending John’s next workshop, please send your details to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are some endorsements from prior participants:
Dr John Dumay’s excellent presentation about the craft of academic writing was very informative, insightful and inspiring. This was three hours very well spent, and a must for all PhD students and early career researchers!
– Milica Misic, Lecturer, Dept of Accounting and Corporate Governance
The workshop was informative and engaging, and provided us with a range of tools that will greatly assist our writing strategies.
– Dana Skopal, Tutor/PhD Candidate, Dept of Linguistics
Such publication support resources are really useful and will become increasingly so as the university moves into its new era of intense research output focus. Well done!
– Dr Maria Herke, Lecturer, Dept of Linguistics
Written by Phil Betts