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.

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