Academic Pubs, Part 1: Getting Started

For previous posts on this topic, see:

(No, I’m not talking about taverns. But goshdarnit “academic publishing” is a mouthful and a line-full, and I do like the idea of an academic pub, like the “Bird and Baby” where the Inklings hung out with pints and pipes.)

I’ve received questions about how to publish (and present) from several colleagues and library students in the past six months, so here are thoughts, tips, and insights from my own experience. I’m planning this as an 8-part series (yeah… I have a lot of thoughts on this process!), so it will probably go on for a couple weeks.

Why is it so gosh-darned HARD?

  • Chances are, you think it’s harder than it is.
  • You think it’s more important than it is. Even a dissertation isn’t designed to be Your Lifetime Achievement of Excellence; it’s supposed to simply get done.
  • You think of writing as “have to” instead of “get to” activity.
  • You think it’s boring and dry.
  • You’d rather read that genre novel on your bedside table. (Trust me, I’m there with you.)
  • You’re hung up on perfectionism in your writing mechanics or in your writing habits.

The solution to the above? Calm down, don’t put so much pressure on yourself, and realize that many many people have done this, and you can do it, too. It will get a little easier with time… but trust me on this, it won’t get super-easy. (At least, not for me.) I love writing and it’s still like pulling teeth to make the time to sit down and work on something. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s how it is.

Brainstorming Topics
(aka, What the Heck Do I Write About?)

  • What in your job is… unique, a problem you’ve solved, a problem you’d like to solve, an innovative solution to a common problem, or have you documented a process not published elsewhere?
  • What do you voluntarily read about, outside of work or required professional development?   (This is how I realized that although I’m interested in distance education, I’m far more interested in academic library leadership, because I will drop anything to read an article on that topic. This completely changed how I formulated my dissertation topic last year.)
  • What do you want to know or learn about libraries or in your job?
  • What problem would you like to solve?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What services, resources, etc. at your library need assessment or revamping?
  • What do you find yourself talking to colleagues about? Repeatedly? Until they beg you to stop?

Still Stumped for Ideas?

  • Look at the table of contents for a few of the top academic journals in your field (or ones that you frequently read, enjoy, etc.). Note the titles, topic areas, keywords, and repeated authors (and what they’re working on).
  • Read articles that spark your interest, and mark the ideas designated for future research (especially in the discussion section, but sometimes sprinkled throughout an article). Most research articles mention this at least once, often several times. It’s a gift: a topic that someone’s already started, they’ve provided the beginning of the relevant literature, and a direction they weren’t able to follow. And it directly builds on existing research, which is the point of knowledge accrual through research!
  • Replicate an existing study. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH. Higher education, I’m looking at you, but library science needs to listen, as well. One research study does not make a complete picture, yet educational decision-makers (when they actually do use evidence-based research for decisions) are frequently forced to base these decisions on a one-time study, because the social sciences haven’t caught on to the importance of replication (the hard sciences have known this for centuries). This is a tremendous loss for our profession. No matter how great and large your sample is or how rigorous your methods or how relevant your research questions, one study alone is not enough. There needs to be replication of the same study with the same methods, questions, and sampling strategy by different researchers in different settings at different times to produce a reliable, replicable result. And you know what? The existing study’s methodology section already contains all the instructions you need to get started! If you have questions about it, contact the author(s); usually they’re flattered that a) you read their work, b) you found it interesting, and c) it’s important enough to you to contact them and replicate it. Remember that cliche? Yep, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery–and if that in the process gains you another colleague in your academic network, then you’ve gained a valuable contact as well.
  • Sit down with a few colleagues and brainstorm a collaborative project or topic. I LOVE this, it is the reason I’ve actually published, because I ask talented people who share my interests to work with me. Because I’m accountable to them (and want them to have a good experience), I forsake my usual procrastination and stay up late at night to get proposals in on time and papers finished. Another benefit: you AND a colleague(s) get a publication/ presentation out of it. Two for one! Granted, some institutions count collaborative articles with less “merit” or points or whatnot for raises or tenure, but I figure ANY work is better than none, and working collaboratively allows me to complete more projects in a year than I would independently. Plus, 1) I don’t have to come up with all the ideas, 2) if I’m stumped on wording or concept I can send that section to my partner with an email titled “PLEASE HELP,” and 3) we can break up the writing into sections or drafts, thus making the task easier, quicker, and just more fun. My research becomes more relevant and rigorous when I collaborate.
  • Ask colleagues, especially those at other institutions (conferences, twitter, other social networks!) what they’re interested in, what problems they’re trying to solve.

Later in this series, I’ll be discussing various types of academic articles or presentations, how to get the most out of your research (or other type of writing), how to format a typical social sciences article, how to find relevant journals and/or conferences, and tips on drafting, editing, and submitting your work.

I wish you good writing!!

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