I’ve been publishing my own research as academic papers for more than 20 years. I look back on my career and think about my output; more than 280 papers since 1998. I published my first peer-reviewed paper when I was finishing my PhD. This was a huge thrill, I remember, especially when the proof copy of the article came through in the post. Yes: in the post. Academic publishing has changed beyond all recognition over the last two decades: for example, when I started (and I’m only 43) putting academic papers together it was still necessary to make photographs, print them out in high-resolution and stick them onto card with a plastic cover before mailing them in the post (yes, in the post!) to the journal publishing office for review.
So much has changed, especially speed. Email and social media has, of course, accelerated everything in academic publishing hugely. We can now receive submissions, track them, select reviewers, ask them if they are free to work on papers, and send out materials for peer review all in a matter of seconds. Has this made the process better? It’s made the publishing workflow process much more efficient, but some things will never change: the quality of papers depends on research authors and whether, or not, they get accepted into journals depends on the work of peer reviewers (working research academics: unpaid) and editors (often working research academics: often also unpaid). In some respects, academic publishing is the biggest scam in the world (and Robert Maxwell, the British newspaper magnate who first commercialised this process knew this, bless him): more often than not, journal editors and peer reviewers are working for free. How takes the profit from their labours and those of working research academics? The publishing companies. Is that fair? You decide.
My output as a working researcher is pretty standard, I’d say: some good well-received papers in high impact factor journals and some less good ones. Some works that have been highly cited over the years and some that have never been cited. One thing I must admit though is that I never knew which of my papers would be read when I wrote them: I wrote up work that I thought was worthy of publication and would be of interest to others. I think this is the right approach. At the end of the day, work that you think is going to be interesting is work that you should write up. Always aim for good journals, if possible, though (as we teach in our workshops and training materials) as outlets with higher impact factors (IFs) are likely to be read my more people. More colleagues. At the same time, however, the IF of your published work does not necessarily mean that this particular paper will be cited in the future.
I’ve been quite surprised by the citation history of some of my published work. Research trends change and what people find interesting now was not the same back 10 years or longer ago. I guess the lesson here is just try to write up the work you complete that you think is worthwhile and others will be interested in and try to always get your work into the most visible places possible (journals that other researchers in your field will be looking at: your target audience).
When you look back on your career after 20 years, what kinds of papers will you have written?
Everyone always talks about writing and publishing ‘research papers’ but what do this actually mean? What different kinds of research papers are there? What different kinds of papers will you write? Most online courses and workshops talk about, and teach about, standard academic research papers, those that usually have an « abstract, introduction, methods, results, and discussion » structure. Of course, these are the most common in academic research and the kind of papers that you will likely also write the most throughout your career. But you’ll also write review articles, commentaries, and responses to the published work of others.
We’ve covered regular research article writing in a number of previous post, including providing advice and templates for effectively constructing the different sections of these articles. How to write an effective research paper abstract, introduction, methods, results, and discussion, for example. In most cases, when writing up your research for most journals – although the names may vary – these are the kinds of articles you will put together. In my career, about two-thirds of my published, peer-reviewed work have been standard research papers.
Students and early career researchers often ask us about review papers, especially in the Q&A sections of our workshops. Surely it’s easier for me, at the start of my career, to write a review paper for publication especially I’ve already put together a literature review for my PhD or Masters work. While it’s certainly the case that these papers might be easier to write, however, it’s not a good idea career-wise to start your publishing history off with review papers. People looking at you for postdoctoral positions, jobs, or grants will be looking for a few pieces of original research on your CV at the start of your career; try to focus your energy on writing standard articles and getting them into the best journals possible, especially when just embarking as a young researchers.
Review papers are, more often than not, written on the invitation of journal editors and so to have ‘kudos’ when writing one you’ll also want to have built up some status in your field. One rule of thumb taught to be by my PhD supervisor in the UK is: try to write a review paper after you’ve been an author on four or five regular papers within a particular field. Doing this helps you to build strong reputation in your subject area and also gives you the opportunity to cite your previous work, building your impact, citation rate, and H-index.
So, while review papers are often perceived as being ‘easier to write’ than regular research articles (and have quite a different structure, which we’ll cover in later posts in this series), writing them is not the best approach, the best stategy, when you are at the start of your career. Put your energy and limited time into regular research papers and target them at the best possible journals in your field.
Our advice is to make a list of 10 or 15 journals in your field that you would like to see your work appear in. Your wish list of top journals that you’ve seen other articles written in your area published in recently, over the last two or three years. Then rank this list by impact factors and always try to preferentially submit your work to journals with higher numbers.
Check the recent list, just released by Clarivate Analytics (https://clarivate.com/blog/science-research-connect/announcing-the-2019-journal-citation-reports/) for the most recent numbers for journals in your field. This collation of data helps us to measure the impact and influence of academic journals with the help of a combination of metrics and indicators such as the Journal Impact Factor (and citation data from the Web of Science database. This is one useful resource you can look at when deciding which journals to use for your submissions and determining their impact factors.
What about other kinds of papers you might write?
Well, in addition to ‘regular’ and ‘review’ articles, I developed something of a reputation at the start of my own career for writing ‘responses’ to the work of others. A paper would appear in one of the journals in my field, I’d read it, disagree, and so write a short commentary: ‘I disagree with the findings of x for the following reasons’. Short and sweet. negative. Again, at the start of your career, building a reputation as a researcher and publisher in your field it’s a much better strategy to stick to writing up your own work and making sure that the papers you put together are positive and appear in the best journals possible. Don’t waste time and energy, as I used to do, writing short negative commentaries on the work of others!
Remember: academic reputations are hard won, they take time to build up and develop. The publications that you write and the journals that you publish in are an important part of developing a good reputation at the start of your career. Take time to write strong papers that will enhance rather than damage your reputation as an academic author: two or three strong and well-cited articles in high impact factor journals will stand you in much better stead that more, less well-written papers in lower ranked journals. Our services, workshops and presentations can help you with writing and journal selection processes. Why not get in touch with our team for more information?