Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Reflections on the Publication Process

Working in scholarly communication for the last eighteen months has been a steep learning curve in a lot of ways. I have responsibility for training others in an area that is still relatively new to me and constantly evolving which means that I spend as much time in training as they do! 

One way in which I've been learning about the process of scholarly communication is by taking part in it and publishing my first peer reviewed article. Doing this allowed me to better understand how the traditional publication life cycle works at the same time as developing my writing skills. Although I have published shorter articles in the professional press before these have usually been as the result of a specific request or winning a bursary. This was the first time that I actually responded to a call for contributions and been through the process of having my work critiqued and changed.

I always aim to encourage others to get more involved in the profession through research and sharing their knowledge so I wanted to document the experience of getting published here. Although it wasn't always a smooth ride hopefully it will encourage more people than it will put off!

Full disclosure: I sit on the Editorial Board of the New Review of Academic Librarianship where my article was published (although I hope that didn't sway the decision!). It did mean that I got to see the process from both sides which was an interesting experience - but that's for another blog post.

It really can take a long time to get published
Obviously this depends on where you publish but I hadn't fully appreciated how long the writing and peer review process can take. I first saw the call for papers in May 2016 which means that it was a year from responding to the final article being published. Obviously this is different from discipline to discipline and I don't mean it as a slight on the process used by this particular journal (if anything sitting on the Board and undertaking some peer review myself has given me a new insight into this). Understanding how complex the process can be has helped me to better understand what researchers go through to get to publication.

Aim to write for a particular journal
It's a good idea to aim for a certain journal when thinking about publishing your work, either by answering a specific call for papers or by checking their submission guidelines. The call that I responded to was for a special issue with a particular focus. Although the general idea of what I wanted to write fit within the scope they were looking for I was still able to tailor my approach to the article to meet the needs of the journal. Focusing your article in this way can increase the likelihood of acceptance to the journal you want to publish in.

Conform to the standards of the journal
We all know that it's easier to take care of references and citation styles as we go along but in practice when trying to write these things can slip. However it really is a big time (and stress) saver further down the line so try to make an effort to format the article as you go along. Most journals will offer some guidance on how best to approach this on their webpages.

Allow yourself plenty of time to write and edit your work
No matter how much you want to write your article real life will get in the way so allow yourself more time than you will need. I was always a good student who had her assignments in before the deadline but I don't mind admitting that there were a few times during this writing process that I was up into the early hours of the morning to complete a draft! Unless you're lucky enough to have writing time as part of your job you'll probably be juggling writing with your job. Things come up that need to be dealt with and writing is not always the top of the priority list. Planning more time into the schedule can help to take the pressure off slightly.

Keeping the momentum going
This is a problem all writers have - whether it's an academic assignment or a report due at work. It's easy to lose sight of your goal when there is so much else going on so try and reward yourself where you can. For every draft you complete give yourself a little reward. Alternatively set small, achievable goals to divide up your workload. If you have a period of time to write then try to finish just one section rather than the whole article. Everyone has different ways of getting through the process so find yours and make use of it.

Develop a thick skin
I was lucky in that my article was accepted fairly easily after peer review but this isn't always the case. The comments I received after the first round of review were very constructive and really helped to improve my final article. However I won't deny that it hurts a little to have something you have worked so hard on criticized in any way. Hopefully now that I've been through the process I've developed a little bit of immunity to critical comments. As I said, the comments I received were helpful so it's really just a personal thing that I need to get over!

Think about how you will promote your work
Publication used to be the end of a project. You had been through drafting, peer review and changes and your work was now out in the world which means it's time to start the next project. Today it's important to make sure you share your work so that people actually get to see it. In the Office of Scholarly Communication we practice what we preach and we were lucky that we were able to make the final version of our article available Open Access. Even if you can't do this it is often possible to share a version of it in an institutional or subject repository so that those outside academia can access it. You will have put a lot of effort into producing your work so feel free to brag about it! Share a link on social media, blog about it, put a link in your email signature - whatever works. More tips on how to share your work can be found here.

Use the knowledge you gain from writing
I work with librarians and researchers so the experiences I've gained have some direct applications to my role. When talking to researchers I have a slightly better understanding of some of the common experiences they go through. I can commiserate on the length of the process or how disheartening it can be to get negative comments during peer review. It's also helped me to explain the publication process to library staff which is a crucial step in preparing them to support the research community. How you use your experience might be different but please try and share it in some way if you can. I think it's really important to encourage others to get involved in sharing their knowledge in this way but this can only happen if they are supported and encouraged through the process.

These are just a few of the things that I've learnt over the last year. As academic libraries change and move more towards research support developing a deeper understanding of the publication process will become more important. Whichever sector you work in I think it's important to share what you are doing with the wider profession so that we can learn about what works and what doesn't work.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Predatory Publishers - Problem or Business Model?

A lot of the training I give as part of my role happens as a result of questions and interest from Cambridge librarians. Like a Bat Signal, if they're getting questions on a particular scholarly communication topic that they don't know how to answer I step in with some training. Recently I started getting a lot of questions about so-called 'predatory publishers' so last month I put together a training session on how best to determine if a certain publisher is appropriate to your work. The following blog post summarizes this training and my slides can be found at the end.

What do we mean by the term 'predatory publisher'?

So-called predatory publishers are a growing phenomenon in the world of academic publishing. These firms typically contact potential authors directly via email offering a chance to publish. To the novice researcher this can seem like a very tempting offer but it often comes with a sting in the tail. Unhelpfully there isn't one single definition you can point to to showcase what a predatory publisher is and the more you explore the topic the more it becomes clear that the term can mean different things to different people. 

Most librarians will have heard of predatory publishers thanks to the (in)famous Beall's List maintained by Jeffrey Beall, a scholarly communication librarian from the University of Colarado. Beall maintained a list of publishers which in his words "unprofessionally exploit the gold Open Access model for their own profit" (paywalled article - ironically). This list was removed without warning at the start of 2017 causing a number of online conspiracy theories about the reasons why to develop. 

Essentially predatory publishers are taken to be those who charge a fee for the publication of either articles or books without providing any of the publication services an author would expect such a fee to cover. This exploits the Open Access publishing model which charges for publication but provides author services such as peer review to ensure that academic standards are met. Missing out these important steps can result in bad quality research entering the scholarly landscape. 

Some of these publishing firms have also started to branch out into academic conferences. Having received a few invitations myself I know that these these can be very flattering but a quick Internet search will show that the reality of these events is not always so great. There are reports of several conferences being held at the same time in small hotels with little room and time for interaction with colleagues. Sometimes big names on the programme fail to turn up having never been contacted in the first place. As speakers have to pay to attend these events it can often prove to be a waste of money for little gain in academic reputation. 

Are these publishers a problem?

It depends on what you want from the publication process. Traditionally the motivation for publishing your work includes enhancing your reputation and visibility as an author and getting recognition of the work you have done. Some so-called predatory publishers meet this need but there are significant downsides. Many of these firms will do nothing to enhance an author's reputation and in extreme cases it may even result in damage. Even if your research is sound the lack of editorial and peer review services means it may end up sitting alongside work that is substandard or even wrong. 

Typically publishing with one of these firms means that the author has signed a copyright transfer agreement which may mean that they lose the right to use their material in better publications. Even if the work can be withdrawn at a later stage this often incurs a hefty fee and the damage may already have been done.

Having said this there is an argument that these publishing models are fulfilling a need. Different countries have different academic reward systems and if what you need is a physical copy of your work then this is a business model which works for you. In some countries it is also common to see authors trying to avoid the risk of (and lengthy time associated with) rejection by traditional publishers. If these researchers are prepared to pay to see their work in print should be just accept that these publishers are going to work to meet this need?

Checklist of things to consider

So given all this how do you spot a predatory publisher? There are a number of factors you can think about but be careful not to consider them in isolation. Just because a publisher meets one of the criteria doesn't mean they're not legitimate.

  • Transparency - a good publisher will share their information and details such as location, contact information and a mission statement should be easy to find. If a publisher claims to focus on a huge range of topics then treat with caution as this may indicate a for-huge-profit approach. If you receive an invitation to publish then check it's from a professional address rather than something personal like Gmail. Check for spelling and grammatical mistakes but be aware of cultural differences which may explain overly formal language.
  • Indexing - being listed in the typical indexes and databases for their discipline is a good sign but remember that there may be perfectly valid reasons why a particular title doesn't appear (it may be too niche or new). If you can't find a specific title then check for others by the same publisher.
  • Quality of previous publications - look at previous articles in the journal in question. Do these look like good quality articles or are there spelling and grammatical mistakes? Does the abstract make sense? Some journals have been known to publish abstracts with mistakes because they simply don't understand the terminology of the subject.
  • Fees - any author fees should be clearly accessible and explained prior to publication. Be aware of hidden fees - if the journal starts asking for extra payments then alarm bells should be ringing.
  • Copyright - if the publisher claims to be making the work available Open Access then check whether a Creative Commons or other type of open licence is being used to make sure that the resource is available. The publisher should also be upfront about the rights that the author will retain after publication.
  • Peer review - robust peer review is key to the academic publishing process and a good publisher should set out clear guidelines for both authors and reviewers. Be wary of the promise of review periods which seem to be fast - these are often too good to be true and may indicate a lack of thoroughness.
  • Editorial board - members should be listed on the website, with a named person acting as Editor in Chief. These people may be names you recognize but they should have some connection with the field the journal is publishing in. It may also be worth checking the web presence of some of the members to see if they mention their affiliation with the journal as some publications have been known to use the names of people without actually asking them!
  • Website quality - check that the website looks professional but be aware of cultural differences here. What may look sophisticated to someone from a large UK university may be out of reach of a smaller publisher in another country.

Above all, trust your judgement

If something doesn't feel right then you need to investigate further. Think of the publication process as you would online shopping - if a shop looks unreliable you are unlikely to give them your credit card details so exercise a similar level of caution!

For those who prefer their information in a more visual form the (slightly edited) slides from my presentation can be found below.


Thursday, 4 May 2017

My Role as a Social Media Editor: One Year On

Last year I wrote about my new role as Associate Editor (Social Media) on the Board of the New Review of Academic Librarianship. It's been a bit of a challenge at times but I've also learnt a lot from my experiences - something which has been really useful for my role within scholarly communication. 

When I took on the role I was interviewed about my plans and earlier this year I was contacted to do a follow up on the last twelve months. It's been a busy and exciting time for the journal as we've worked to establish our social media presence. The interview can be found here or by clicking the image below.