Sex, Lives and Red Tape

Getting your paper published: why and where

Having recently enrolled at UCL I’ve been taking advantage of the brilliant range of graduate skills development courses on offer. I know that getting work published is important in academia; I’ve heard it can be a long and frustrating process yet I had no idea where to start… It is also one of my objectives for this year to prepare and submit a paper for publication – so I decided to enroll on the course “Getting Your Paper Published – a beginner’s guide”. Here are some reflections and things I’ve learnt from the course (provided by the UCL Library Service).

Why publish?

There are many reasons and motivators to publish work. Our group came up with the following reasons:

  • To share learning and disseminate knowledge
  • To develop an academic reputation
  • To open a dialogue with wider audiences
  • To get funding
  • For professional development
  • To comment on other publications
  • To demonstrate impact as a researcher
  • Looks good on a CV
  • Because your supervisor has told you to

…whatever your reason, it’s important to know the different options available for publication.

Where: choosing the right journal

First, consider matching your subject to your audience – there are so many journals out there, but which ones are most relevant to your subject area? Here are some tips:

  • If your subject is of importance to a general audience, choose a general journal within the specialty (e.g. Journal of Public Health)
  • If your subject is highly complex or specialised, choose a journal which is specific to your subject (e.g. AIDS Care: Psychological Socio-medical Aspects of HIV/AIDS)
  • If your subject reflects upon changes in practice, consider one of the ‘big titles’ (e.g. Nature, Lancet, BMJ)

Once you have a journal in mind, it is worthwhile checking what types of articles they publish (e.g. research findings, case reports) which is often journal-specific. It’s important to read the ‘instructions to authors’ section carefully.

peer-review-cartoon21Where: high impact journals

Publishing in a high impact journal is an attractive proposition; they are well-regarded and the chances of your paper being cited by other academics is great. However, it’s important to consider also…

  • High impact is only one measure of journal ‘success’ and is measured (crudely) by number of journals published divided by the number of citations. Therefore certain journals will always be disadvantaged in this equation (e.g. journals who publish less frequently, journals whose subject matter is highly complex or specialised).
  • High impact journals tend to attract a lot of paper submissions, and therefore many papers get rejected.
  • Submitting your paper to a high impact journal may be a lengthy process requiring many revisions. This is particularly important if your research paper would have greater impact if published sooner rather than later

Unfortunately you are only able to submit your paper to one journal at a time, so choosing the right journal for your audience, subject matter and research impact is an important part of the process.

(NB – the preferred method is to select a journal prior to writing your paper, however if you have written an abstract there are some clever websites which can suggest likely journals such as JANE (Journal/Author Name Estimator) and Edanz Journal Advisor).

Where: Open Access

There are two main categories of Open Access (OA);

  1. Gold OA refers to journals which have similar editorial and production processes to traditional journals. Authors typically maintain copyright and journals get their revenue by charging authors to publish. There are some good reasons to publish in an OA journal for example it can maximise your research impact, your paper will be available to society at large (not just those with academic links!), and it may be a requirement of your funders/institution.
  2. Green OA refers to authors depositing their work in an open repository – these could be subject or institution based. Many authors are able to deposit their closed access publications once embargo periods have ceased.

OA publishing is on the rise following the Finch Report which recommended the UK moves towards an OA model of publishing. Personally, having managed the Public Health Twitter Journal Club I believe there are real advantages to OA publishing – both for researchers and authors, and certainly would like to explore publishing OA myself. Although, its worth scrutinising any OA journal you are considering, as there are some rubbish ones out there (steer clear of any which promise to publish anything and everything!)

dog-blog1Where: social media

Aside from ‘formal’ publications in journals, one should also remember that there are many means to share your research, ideas and gain rapid feedback through social media.

Many researchers have their own blogs (such as this one!) or contribute to subject specific / institution blogs, and increasingly it is becoming acceptable to cite blogs in academic work. Blogs can help to create your academic identity, engage with peers and reflect upon topics, as well as a means to practice writing skills.

Social media can also be useful in informing the research cycle. You can build professional networks through LinkedIn an Mendeley, share information (such as when at conferences via Twitter), and keep up to date by monitoring blogs, people and organisations important to your field.

I did a Prezi last year which showcases some examples of how social media can be used to get the public health message out – click this link to find out more.

As many research findings never get published, and in particular we know that positive research findings are more likely to be published than neutral or negative findings (known as publication bias), I feel that social media provides a range of means to disseminate research output.

Over to you.

I hope these tips have been useful, and I’m keen to hear from others.

  • What advice would you give early-career researchers regarding publication?
  • Are there any nuggets of wisdom you wish you can pass on?
  • Would you prefer to publish in a closed or open access journal, and why?

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