Keep a scrapbook. In the long-ago pre-Internet days, I took notes and wrote drafts in a small spiral notebook. Flipping back through the pages of those old journals, I find newspaper articles, advertisements, photographs, napkins with sketches, and an assortment of other material taped to the pages. Most of my writing, drafting, and collecting happens in digital spaces now, and there are good tools like Pocket, Evernote, and Keep to store the memorabilia of intellectual travels. The difference is that the digitized content is all flat, all similar, and has no shape to it. The shape and feel of the inspiring or nostalgic artifact can be evocative, reminding us viscerally of both the questions and the answers. Artist and author Austin Kleon has written quite a lot about keeping a notebook in a similar and beautifully creative process. You can read a blog post about one of his recent notebooks here.
This guest post is from Mark Rubin, a senior lecturer in social psychology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. You can visit his ImpactStory profile at: http://impactstory.org/MarkRubin or follow him on Twitter @MarkRubinPsych.
I’ve recently conducted an “Introduction to Academic Publishing” seminar for PhD students at the University of Newcastle and the University of Canberra. During the seminar, I spend some time explaining to students the new emphasis on publication impact. Publication impact is the influence that scholarly publications have on other scholars and the general public, and it is becoming more and more important in academia. Below, I consider some of the ways in which publication impact is making an impact in the research world.
The quality and quantity of a researcher’s publications provide a key measure of their research productivity. Consequently, publication track records are often used to determine whether or not researchers get hired, promoted, or funded for their future research. In addition, at the institutional level, the quality and quantity of a university’s publication output help to determine its international reputation and the amount of funding that it receives based on national research performance reviews. So, there are several reasons why researchers find themselves and their research outputs to be objects of measurements.
© Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, Tape Measure, Creative Commons
The ethos of “publish or perish” has been around for a long time. However, in recent years, this message has become more articulated, and it now takes into account the impact of researchers’ publications. In particular, researchers are now told that they must not only publish their research but also get their publications acknowledged by other researchers and society at large. In practice, this means that researchers need to get their publications (a) cited in the work of other researchers and (b) discussed in traditional and online media. To help achieve a greater scholarly and public impact, researchers must promote and advertise their work as much as possible. In this respect, the message has now become “publish and publicise, or perish!”
Publications Need to Make a Big Splash!
© Nathan Rupert, A Little Trick, Creative Commons
Measuring Publication Impact in the Scholarly Literature: The H Index
The concern about impact in the scholarly literature explains the growing popularity of the h index, a metric that is used to quantify not only the number of articles that a researcher has published but also the number of citations that these articles have accrued in other scholarly work. My own h value is currently 12, meaning that 12 of my 33 research publications have each been cited at least 12 times in other research articles.High impact researchers are expected to have h indices that are at least as large as the number of years since their first publication. The h index is not without its critics, and some have argued that a more comprehensive assessment of publication impact should take into account a broader array of alternative impact metrics, or altmetrics, that include more than just citations in scholarly work.
The H Index
© LEOL30, Wooden Brick Letter h, Creative Commons
Altmetrics platforms such as altmetric and impact story count the number of times that scholarly articles are mentioned in both the scholarly literature and online social media and websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia.They can also measure the number of times that online articles are viewed, bookmarked, liked, and downloaded on document managers such as Mendeley and Citeulike. Like the h index, altmetrics has its critics. However, if used wisely, altmetrics can provide a useful tool for assessing publication impact.
© A J Cann, Altmetrics, Creative Commons
“Facebook for Researchers”
In an effort to increase their scholarly impact, researchers are now advertising their work on professional social networking websites such as Academia and ResearchGate, which have over 12 million researchers signed up between them. Researchers can follow other researchers in their area and be notified about their activities, including when they publish new articles. These sites also allow researchers to publish self-archived versions of their research papers that other users can then access, further increasing their citation potential.
By ResearchGate [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Funnelling News of Research Outputs: Research Blog Aggregators
Modern researchers are also blogging about their work. I do this myself and, although it takes a bit of time to prepare each post, I really enjoy turning a dry research abstract into a more accessible and appealing piece for my blog. Like many other researchers, I feed my posts through to research blog aggregators like ScienceSeeker and ResearchBlogging. These platforms funnel posts from many different research blogs into a single stream of the latest research.
© Marsmettnn Tallahassee, I think therefore I blog,Creative Commons
Open-Access = Greater Impact
The drive to publish lots of highly cited and publically-acknowledged articles also helps to explain the rise of open-access journals. Unlike traditional journals, open-access journals publish articles 100% online rather than in print and, without the associated printing costs, they are able to accommodate a greater number of journal articles. For example, PLOS ONE published 23,464 articles in 2012, making it the largest journal in the world!
Importantly, the appeal of open-access journals is not only their ability to publish more publications, but also their ability to make those publications more accessible to readers. Unlike traditional journals, which tend to hide their content behind subscriber-only paywalls, open-access journals make their content freely available to everyone with internet access. This has the effect of increasing publication impact by increasing citation rates among scholars as well as online discussion among the general public.
© Research and Graduate College Graduate Studies Office, Open_Access_PLoS, Creative Commons
Hello? Can Anyone Hear Me!?
If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no-one around to hear it, then does it make a noise? I can’t answer that one I’m afraid. But I do know that, nowadays, if a researcher publishes an article in a journal and no-one views it, downloads it, cites it, or Tweets it, then it certainly doesn’t make an impact!
© Sue Langford,Trees, Creative Commons
Get TOC notifications. Staying current with academic journals in your discipline and areas of research interest can help shape your research agenda in positive ways. Keeping track of what is being published can also be a time-consuming burden. You can facilitate the process with Table of Contents notifications from your favorite journals. If you have an RSS feed, you can easily subscribe for alerts. Many journals will also send email alerts to those who sign up for them.
Sort your projects. Many readers can see summer break around the corner, along with the opportunity to delve more deeply into research. If you don’t have that circumstance ahead of you, this is still a good time at the change of seasons to assess your research agenda. A writing group chum suggested sorting projects and project ideas into three categories: urgent, priority, and save for someday. Getting a sense of what you have to do and what you want to do—and making some choices in the process—can be a good first step to setting yourself on a productive trajectory. Don’t discard those “save for someday” ideas, as they may be a good for a call for proposals or a collaboration down the road.
Another note to self. Do you have a paragraph in an essay you’re working on that vexes you? Or maybe an idea that you can’t seem to sort out? Print out or write down some of your work-so-far and carry it with you. When you have a bit of downtime, pull out your note instead of your phone. Checking in with social media is important, but checking in with your research can be even more meaningful. Spending time with your research periodically in spaces away from those where there is pressure to write can also alleviate some of the discomfort that occurs when you get distanced from your research-in-progress.
Serve as a reviewer for conferences. While it varies across disciplines, large national and international conferences will often look to their membership to conduct peer review of conference submissions. Volunteering to serve as a reviewer has many benefits: You have an opportunity to see what research is underway in your field. You provide important service to the discipline, which 1) makes you part of the community, 2) strengthens connections and contacts, and 3) can be helpful if you are on the market or have service requirements toward tenure. You can also learn from the best practices and mistakes of other writers.
In the first of a new series, we talk with Michael LeVan, editor in chief of Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies. Dr. LeVan shares his advice for best practices for authors submitting work to academic journals.
I’d say that there a few common mistakes I’ve seen over the past decade at Liminalities, especially with graduate students and early career scholars. In many cases these can be avoided by having the intended submission vetted by a trusted mentor (like an advisor in grad school or an established researcher in your first faculty position). They can help a lot, but you have to ask them. Even though you know they are busy with other things. But if they are successful, someone probably helped them early on. Having your peers review your work is often helpful for your esteem, but they usually are not seasoned enough themselves to know the big differences between writing seminar papers and writing journal articles.
One common mistake I see is authors making big claims that are not supported by the arguments and examples. I think many times we have a hunch about a big idea and we really need to spend our tenure-seeking years articulating and working on that question. My advisor liked to tell people that the dissertation, for example, was your first word, not your only word. Worry about being consistent, clear, and rigorous on a small observation rather than trying to part the clouds.
Another mistake that is pretty specific to Liminalities is when I get an essay from a graduate student who is writing about his or her full-length show. It is difficult enough to do a thorough critical analysis of a performance (or other aesthetic text) by someone else. It is exponentially harder to do this when it is your own text being analyzed. All they see is their own brilliance that comes from a thousand tendrils of tenuous connections to other ideas. Teasing out those connections in concert with vivid descriptions usually gets lost by the wayside and you end up with another case of heavy claims with light support. Rather than writing about your brilliant show, write about the insights into a research question that you learned from the process of doing your show. Of course, now with multimedia journals, you can submit the aesthetic text itself as a form of research, maybe including an artist statement that frames the motivating question(s).
Another mistake I’ll mention in essays is having a stinker of a conclusion. The conclusion is what you are writing toward, what you are leading the readers to, and where you can show the readers why your work was worth reading. This is where you can connect to bigger questions that your modest article exposes. Often, it feels like authors just stop at the end of their observations and say, “Ta-da! See? See?” Tell us what we should see, and this will want to make us read your next essay.
The final mistake that I’ll mention is doing too much exegesis of some theorist and too little analysis of the thing that your scholarship is supposed to be about (be it a text, an object, a discourse, or whatever). Of course, doing exegesis is important to showing your professors that you understand what’s going on in difficult texts, and the best graduate students excel at this kind of writing. But readers of scholarship want you to already know (and know you know) that stuff so that you can get to the interesting work of applying it, expending it, or arguing against it in terms of some tangible examples.
Notes to self. Overwhelm and disorder are common to the writing process. Not only is it a challenge to keep papers, books, and electronic files in order so they are easy to access and use, it is also easy to get distracted. Sometimes a question will lead to an hour-long rabbit hole of searching for another source or pursuing an idea not immediately relevant to your writing project. An easy reminder to stay on task is to write your thesis statement on a sticky note and post it on the corner of your screen. It’s not there to nag you but to help you stay focused.