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June 08, 2012

Unpublished papers: what happens to them? How do we tell a quality paper?

Writing about web page http://www.researchgate.net/publictopics.PublicTopicRewriteHandler.html?params=%2FAcademic_Writing%2Fpost%2FHow_far_are_scientists_willing_to_go_to_publish_their_rejected_articles_or_scientific_reviews

Researchers are discussing some interesting topics on ResearchGate. I have linked to a discussion on what happens to papers that they don't manage to get published. I like the answer that they keep refining papers until they are good enough to get accepted for publication eventually. Academic authors need to be persistent and resilient, and published content needs to be of high quality!

However, there is a hierarchy of publication quality out there, and as well as improving their articles, authors can approach less selective or rigorous journals, if their aim is simply to get their work published and out in the public domain. The discussion on ResearchGate was started by someone who has established a website for "Unpublished Articles In Science" (http://www.un-a-i-s.com/). It's a new site and I didn't find any content. I am also not sure if they want any kind of article or only review articles, and they are asking for donations so I will wait and see if it takes off in any way.

This is not a new idea, to provide a "mop up" place online for academic work that would otherwise not be discoverable. Some institutional repositories were set up as places to make all kinds of research outputs available, including unpublished work. I guess that some authors might just get frustrated enough that their work cannot be published in any other way and put their article(s) somewhere like that, but I wonder what the value is in doing this? Perhaps some really important scholarly works are being missed by the world, but perhaps some works are just not of high enough quality and so should not be publicly available: they might even be misleading.

Surely the peer review and editorial processes of journals exist for a reason? If the work is not of high enough quality to be published, then should it really be in the public domain? Would it not damage an author's career, to have lesser quality work attributed to him/her in such a public way? It is possible that a particular piece of research is just too different for there to be an appropriate journal or publishing outlet, even though it is of high quality and importance. The "differentness" of the output could be that it is in an unusual format or that the subject is highly unusual, and the researcher might be glad of a place that simply makes the work publicly available.

Institutional repositories which accept any kind of output, whether published or not, rely on their academics' judgement about what is a good output. In a way, there is a quality filter of some sort because the author must be employed by the institution, so there is some likelihood that s/he will be able to select what should and should not be in the public domain and associated with his/her name. Some institutions even introduce internal peer review in some way, for unpublished outputs.

At the same time, publishers are introducing new journal titles which appear a little less selective. I am thinking of their author-pays open access (OA) titles, since authors' letters of rejection from their journal of choice sometimes include a suggestion that the article could now be submitted to the publisher's open access journal. The concept of the author paying a publication fee has always been an argument against the open access model of publication, because it interferes with the quality filters in the existing reader-pays model. Of course, the article could still be rejected from the OA journal and there is no reason why peer review could not operate just as rigorously in OA journals as in any other journals.

New, online journals or article collections are not bound by the same format and issue restrictions as traditional journals, and that does allow them to accept more "different" content. The selectiveness or otherwise of an online journal need not be dictated by the amount of print space and paper, but it can use selective criteria based on quality alone. That sounds like a "good thing"!

OA journals can still be of very high quality, as evidenced by the PLoS journals' high impact factor. (I have blogged about these kinds of publication before, and of course I know that impact factors are not infallible measures of quality.) PLoS ONE is the largest, most inclusive journal from PLoS and it has some really interesting features and filters, to enable people to discover high quality research outputs.

With online journals and collections of academic outputs, as with all online materials, the reader needs to be more aware than ever of the features that indicate the quality of the work s/he is reading. Hopefully, the reader will read widely and so be aware of the field, when reading academic content, but beyond the readers' own expertise and academic insight, websites and online journals have features to help readers to assess quality.

Here is a little list of clues on academic quality, including traditional as well as new online features:

  1. place of publication: eg journal title, or special collection within a wider collection like PLoS ONE
  2. information about the authors: institution employed at, membership of organisations, etc
  3. information about who funded the work - they value it, but you might also want to ask why.
  4. when the work was published: this might be recent or it might be before a defining discovery altered academic understanding, so dates are important clues!
  5. whose work is referenced and acknowledged, and therefore this work builds upon
  6. news & media coverage
  7. reviews or comments by other readers, either on the collection site or on readers' blogs.
  8. ratings/scores by other readers
  9. tweets about the article (or other social network discussions)
  10. number of "likes" or bookmarks by other readers
  11. number of views or downloads of an article
  12. citations of the article by others (NB citation sources might matter, i.e. who is citing the work)

Publishers can help readers to access these clues, and providing trackback URLs and ways for readers to bookmark articles in their tool of choice, in a way that the publisher can monitor and publicise are important contributions that a publisher can make. And bullet points 7 onwards in my list are numerical scores, and as such should be taken in context. What is a high score for an article in one discipline might seem low in another discipline: publishers could also provide that context, if they want to help readers to appreciate the quality of the work that they are publishing.

Sites like the UNAIS, institutional repositories and even authors' own sites need to be as good as publishers at providing clues as to quality, if not better, since their quality filters are less well known and understood. And readers do need to be aware.


April 03, 2012

Guest Post: Emerald Author’s Workshop at Warwick – Guide to Getting Published

On 29th March 2012 we invited publisher Emerald to present their ‘Guide to Getting Published’ at the Research Exchange. Many thanks to Sharon Parkinson for her very informative presentation; I wanted to share some of the best tips and advice to come out of the session…

Advice on getting published in journals:

1) Pick the right journal: This might seem obvious, but it was interesting to hear that the majority of rejections made by journal publishers were still due to the article being submitted to an inappropriate journal. You will need to:

  • Consider who you research audience is, what they want to know, and what they are reading.
  • Read at least one issue of a journal before you choose to submit work for it.
  • Make sure you consider usage rates as well as journal rankings (which you are more interested in will depend on your motivations for publishing and what you hope to achieve with your work). Emerald suggested most editors would be happy to provide you with usage/download rates for a journal.

2) Send the editor an abstract: This is a great way to avoid problem 1. If you have done your research, but are still unsure if your paper is right for the journal, send an abstract to the editor asking for their opinion on its suitability. Check the author’s guidelines for the publisher you’re contacting to make sure your abstract fits their specifications. (Emerald’s can be found here: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/authors/guides/write/abstracts.htm)

3) Treat it like a job application: I’m not a fan of analogies, but this one seemed too apt to ignore. Much like you would tailor your CV to each position, Emerald emphasised the importance of tailoring your submission carefully to suit the journal/publisher you are approaching. You can also include a cover letter which, like a job application, should focus very clearly on what your paper has to offer to the journal and its readership, rather than on the benefits for yourself.

4) Get your own peer review: Don’t underestimate the value of getting an objective view; someone who isn’t close to your work will find it much easier to critically appraise it. From a personal perspective, I’ve always thought it useful to have someone outside of your field read your work; they tend to be able to spot jumps in your logic very easily.

5) Don’t give up: Getting a paper rejected is very common and shouldn’t deter you. Get feedback from the editor, work on their points and resubmit elsewhere. Also, requests for revisions can be seen as a very positive step – if a publisher has taken the time to do this, then they have obviously seen potential in your work, so don’t give up at this stage.

Advice on getting books published:

1) Make it travel: Obviously the key difference from publishing in journals is that a book must have considerable commercial appeal. Therefore, it needs to be of interest to and accessible by a wide audience: know your market and make sure your work has reach.

2) Attend a publishers’ conference: Emerald were clear that if you want your book commissioned, conferences are the place to be. You can contact a publisher in advance to book an appointment with a commissioning editor at the conference. Arrive prepared – you should complete a detailed proposal form and be ready to answer the publisher’s queries.

3) Keep track of time: You need to be aware of the time constraints that apply to book publishing. Since the publishers will need to promote the book and publicise its release date, you can’t afford to fall behind. Make sure you discuss targets and timescales carefully with the editor and any other involved authors at an early stage.


February 22, 2012

Journal acceptance rates: where can we find them?

If you know of any sources, please do share them! I have only been able to collate the following:

1) Cabell’s directory that you have to pay for: http://www.cabells.com/index.aspx
2) The American Psychological Association produce a nice table of their journals’ stats: http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/2010-statistics.pdf
3) MLA Directory of Periodicals: look out for the “Updated” date in the journal’s record, though: if there isn’t a date then the information might not be that current. They try to update records every two years, apparently. And they get their submitted and published numbers from editors of journals.

Obviously, there are journal home pages to explore, too. But it takes a long time for authors to have to navigate through all of those.There are some scholarly articles to be found, on this topic, for some disciplines: I have come across one or two in the biomedical sciences, in the past.

Of course, it may not be so very useful for an author to find such information from any source: the rates are likely to be adjusted in the way they are reported, to make the high quality journals look accessible enough that it is worth the authors' while submitting, and to give a prestigious enough impression at journals which might have high acceptance rates!

And then there is the turnaround time: how quickly the article is accepted or rejected might be more important than the actual chances of acceptance.

I found this page which covers much of the same topic: http://guides.lib.umich.edu/content.php?pid=98218&sid=814212


February 10, 2012

High acceptance rates & any almost any topic: bulk publishing journals

My thoughts on a new breed of online journals...

SAGE Open and Springer Plus look to me like similar journals the PLoS One model (both were launched relatively recently). PLoS One was launched in 2006: 6 years ago, and it has an impact factor of around 4. Not bad, but is the bulk publishing model something that has worked for the science and medicine community but might not work in other disciplines?

PLoS One are said to have a 70% acceptance rate, and Springer Plus are currently tweeting about how they publish on any topic, but they are also publishing in the sciences. SAGE Open are for the social sciences and humanities in general, and all three of these journals charge authors fees of around $1000.

PLoS claim to discount or waive the fee if the researcher cannot pay, and Springer Plus also offer discounts for those from low income countries. SAGE Open are cheapest of the three, at $700 and are offering an introductory author discount rate at the moment of $395… but who is going to pay, with what?!

We don't have a central authors' fund at Warwick. I'm not sure what the latest news is from institutions that have tried them, but I did hear a while ago that they were under-used by authors.

BioMed Central also publish journals on open access with fees set at journal title level: most in the region of $2000, but the library’s subscription entitles authors to a 50% discount. This is an area for me to investigate in future, because we do get stats from BMC about authors' take up of that discount... and that might be an indication of authors' willingness to use a central fund in some way. That and the handful of enquiries that reach me each year.

But are the biomedical sciences different? The Wellcome Trust not only mandate that research outputs should be made available on OA, but that the publisher should be paid to do this. They pay for it: we have a Wellcome Trust fund at Warwick, for authors whose work is funded by them. Another possible indicator of authors' interest in central funds to investigate... So one major funder could be forcing the publishing environment, and publishers like BioMed Central (incidentally, part of the Springer stable) and PLoS are able to charge fees and get them paid.

So, I also need to watch what funders in the other disciplines are mandating.

What is different about PLoS One and Sage Open and Springer Plus though, is not that they are open access journals which charge authors a fee, but it is their lack of subject specificity which interests me… bulk publishing is a model that would not work if you’re charging traditional subscription fees, but it potentially works on the digital, OA environment.

Lots more space to watch!


June 30, 2011

Getting published

Writing about web page http://www.uk.sagepub.com/journalgateway/getPublished.htm

I used this title for a workshop that I ran for research staff earlier in the year. I ran similar sessions for PhD students as well, although I called them Disseminating your Research and included some consideration of blogs and microblogs. I'll be re-designing these sessions over the summer and hopefully they will run again next academic year in some guise or another.

I really like Sage's author gateway and they have a section by this title. I think there's an awful lot to getting published beyond what either I or this guide could cover, but I also hear that the secret to getting published can be summed up in one word: Persistence!


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