“Demystifying the Publication Process” workshop notes

Dr. Denise Cuthbert, Dean, School of Graduate Research, RMIT University, Australia
Dr. Denise Cuthbert, Dean, School of Graduate Research, RMIT University, Australia

Below are my rough notes from an excellent workshop I attended last week. The workshop, entitled “Demystifying the Publication Process,” was sponsored by UNL’s Office of Graduate Studies. Dr. Denise Cuthbert, Dean of RMIT University’s School of Graduate Research was the workshop’s leader. Few workshops I attend got me as excited to get started on a project as this workshop. I can still hear Dr. Cuthbert’s charming Australian accent, spurring us on to publish!

Demystifying the Publication Process, September 4, 2014

  • Your publishing plans:
    • need to consider what your article is about in tandem with where you plan to publish it (and why)
    • should have a mindmap of the key journals in your field
      • which are prestigious, which will reach local/national/regional audience, which are more theoretical, etc.
      • go to the editorial page and/or website of journals to help map out your field
        • particular approaches, research will be good for one journal and not another
    • too late to begin thinking about all of the above after your paper is finished
  • Workshop goals:
    • learn more about the academic publishing system & how to target the right journals
      • big reason articles get rejected
    • talk about a range of writing techniques to help you refine your abstract (important writing tool) and get your paper to draft form
    • how to handle the submission and peer review process
  • publication = “the ultimate destination of all of your work” “It’s really not research until it’s published.”
    • “Research seeks to advance the stock of human knowledge and academic publishing is the key way in which knowledge is disseminated and shared amongst researchers. This occurs primarily through peer refereed scholarly journals, books and conferences.”
    • key feature of academic articles:
      • contain original research/findings or reviews
      • are blind peer-reviewed or validated
    • Cuthbert believes reach of journals = better than edited volumes, book chapters due to the digital reach of journals, potential and ability for “generating citations” of your work
  • Why publish during the doctorate?
    • Major change over time, within the last 30 years – changes in the purpose of the doctorate
      • leave grad school only with completed dissertation = no longer enough
      • 2-3 published papers whether published or “in the pipeline”
  • Academic publishing – Why is it so hard?
    • Kamler and Thomson (2006):
      • writing is a social practice → solitary nature of writing = deceptive. “We write ourselves, but we write for others.”
        • goes back to point of WHO are we writing for?
  • have an outlook that emphasizes writing for publication
    • to publish, you need to have something to say, but how will you know?
    • Discuss with your supervisor how to position your research
  • What makes a good paper? LESS is MORE
    • don’t make it more than it should be → keep it small, contained, focused, targeted
      • can briefly describe the larger project, but make clear which one to two major ideas/theses you’ll be focusing on
    • one great idea/significant finding/compelling argument = one good paper
      • see journals in your field, will see these examples
    • don’t make the mistake of attempting to put too much in a paper
    • a publication plan for a given paper should slice of ‘bits’ of the research and craft them into publishable papers
    • you cannot fit a whole thesis into a paper
  • “Fit the article to the journal, not the other way around.”
  • “Plan your publications before you start your research and experiments.”
  • Be prepared to go through many drafts as you exercise the “less is more” principle.
  • Making abstracts concrete:
    • through the writing process, the abstract is a living document
      • a very disciplined form of writing
    • concise “road map” of paper you intend to write/are writing – but modifiable as the writing process shows a better way through
    • a good abstract can keep you “honest” as a writer
    • on completion of paper, abstract needs to be revised and finalized to accurately reflect the paper now completed
    • good abstracts do not undersell or oversell the paper they describe
    • good abstracts will invite appropriate audience(s) to read paper
  • Responding to readers’ reports:
    • stay calm! → “blind review process = a brutally honest process”
      • also need to understand the “economy” of the reviewer process → reviewers not paid for their work – taking papers on a volunteer basis, on top of all their other work and duties
    • Accept – rarely happens that a paper is accepted outright (only twice in Cuthbert’s personal experience)
      • minor revisions
      • major revisions
    • reject (for that particular journal = the end, move on to another journal)
    • highlight main criticisms (major vs. minor)
    • criticisms versus suggestions for improvement
    • scope of journal, IF etc.
    • re-read the next day (not the same day you get the paper back)
    • send to co-authors (assign tasks with deadline)
    • track changes
    • usually several weeks to revise – thinking time!
  • building your C.V.
    • aim for both breadth and depth
      • get some runs on the board – not all need to be high-ranking
      • don’t ignore quality though
      • conferences
      • book chapters – can open a wider range of publication options (but often less accessible for citation purposes)
      • look for opportunities to publish different kinds of articles – i.e. review, methodological, results, etc.
    • consider time to publication (often longer than journals estimate; usually about a year)
    • cast a wide net
  • Finding the right journal
    • about 25,000+ peer reviewed English-language academic journals
    • different categories:
      • peer reviewed/non peer reviewed
      • subscription/open access
      • disciplinary/cross disciplinary audiences
      • special issues/standard issues
      • influential/not so influential
    • What are the journals that you’re currently reading, that you keep coming back to?
    • What are the key journals in your field?
      • Impact factor
      • average number of citations to articles per journal
      • journal rankings
    • particularly when you start out, consider not aiming too high and risking disappointment → take advice
  • look at the journal for:
    • aims
    • scope
    • nature of contribution sought
    • intended readership
    • editorial board members
  • also ask your supervisor(s) where they publish and why
  • Write early, write often:
    • from day one
    • “identify do-able chunks of writing that could form the basis of an article, say 700, 1000, 1500 and up to 3000 words on a specific topic or theme”
    • build up a body of writing by accretion – i.e. small bits at a time, one article after another
    • “Treat writing as research planning and development: Don’t turn what should be molehills into mountains.”
      • treat writing as exploratory, contingent, provisional → should always be able/open to revising, re-packaging for another process
      • every article is just another idea – not the whole thesis
    • get over perfectionism and masterpiece syndrome
      • good writing = heavily vetted writing
      • “there’s no such thing as perfect”
      • this is an attempt to give an account – the very best attempt one can give at a particular time, but an attempt nonetheless
  • Thinking things through:
    • many criticisms have merit, ask: Did the reviewer make a good point? Did you write clearly?
      • Sometimes reviewers miss the point, don’t appear to have read the paper carefully → if you really disagree with a criticism of the paper, you can argue your case—politely and respectfully—to the managing editor (be judicious, be polite)
    • keep a detailed list of all the revisions made, which reader (A, B, C) recommended → use when sending paper back to managing editor to explain what you’ve done
    • consider more experiments, major rewrite versus submitting paper elsewhere
    • bear in mind, overwhelming majority of the papers submitted through the peer review process are improved as a result of the process
  • What makes a good abstract?
    • “abstracts” key, salient features of the paper: it does not retell the paper in miniature
      • the what, why, how and so what statement of the research paper
    • What is the paper about? From what larger project does this paper arise?
    • Why is the research reported here necessary and important? So what? Why the paper addresses a significant gap in knowledge.
    • How was the research reported in the paper conducted?
    • Generally this statement is between 150-250 words
    • every word counts
    • consider vocabulary of abstract and keywords: accuracy and web searchability are key considerations (in BOTH abstract and the title of the paper)
      • you want people to find your paper
      • Cuthbert in favor of “non-poetic” paper titles – keywords, searchability over poeticism
  • examined abstracts submitted by workshop participants

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