Monday, 16 October 2017

Student Questions 3 - How do you get your research published?

In this series, I respond to questions that I was asked as part of "I'm a Researcher, get me out of here". See my earlier post on the event for more detail on the event as a whole. Students in secondary schools asked questions about my research, experiences, and researcher life. There was much less time and space to talk about these questions / issues than needed to give a full picture. So, this series has more of my thoughts and reflections on those questions. I'll keep the editing to a minimum, so that this is a more organic process, maybe I'll even get a podcast or two recorded on this topic. Comment or contact me directly to pose new questions, and I'll aim to answer them!

Today's question;

How do you get your research published?

Let me just say first that I am definitely not an expert in academic publishing. I currently have one published theoretical paper (A cognitive model of psychological resilience, which you can find here). Technically, I have no publication record for my empirical research. Fingers crossed that will change soon, when one or more of the around 6 or 7 papers that I have either submitted or are very close to submission with colleagues are published. Here, I'll talk about the research publishing cycle. Next time, I'll complain about it to show how it can be better.

So, you've completed a piece of research. The data have been analysed and the paper has been written in a format that will help others understand; what you did, how you did it, where it fits with other research in the field, and why people should care. Congrats! you have written a research paper. Now, how about we try to publish it?

Maybe you already have an idea of which journal you would like to see your paper published in. If not, then picking a journal comes next. You might ask yourself which journals are "good" in your area (I'm trying to save discussing journal metrics and other arbitrary judgements about quality for another post). Maybe your paper picks up where another one left off, and publishing in the same journal makes sense. In all likelihood, your supervisor will have an idea of which journal might make a good fit for your paper.

Now, you've picked a journal. You'll then head to the submissions page, probably find that you need to reformat a figure or something similar, eventually you'll fill in some information about the author(s) and the paper itself. You'll declare that it's your own work, and any conflicts of interest that would interfere with the research being conducted in a rigorous and objective way. Finally, you'll hit "submit" (and then "Yes, I agree to submit"). Apparently, this is where people tend to find/remember a typo. But, lets ignore little things like that.

Congratulations on submitting your paper. Party time.

small piece of advice - celebrate submitting, not just getting accepted. That's where you have most control. 

What comes next? Here's a super quick overview

The editor, or a handling editor will decide whether to send your manuscript to reviewers. They will gauge whether the paper might be a good fit for the journal itself. "Why did you submit a Psych paper to the Journal Of Kinetic Epistemology?" (to my knowledge not an actual journal, I just wanted to spell JOKE, because I am a child). If the paper is a good fit based on whatever the editors feel is important, they'll send it out to reviewers. Otherwise, they will usually get back to you fairly quickly with a reject decision letter.

Now the paper is out to reviewers. The number of reviewers depends on the journal/editor. Let's say your paper has two reviewers that kindly agreed to review the paper. Good reviewers will carefully read through the paper, give solid critical feedback, and make a recommendation to the editor on whether the paper should be published. (look up @YourPaperSucks for amazingly cruel responses to papers.

probably reviewer 2

The editor aggregates the reviews with their own review and emails you to give you their (hopefully good) decision on the paper. you'll likely get one of the following decisions.

  • Accepted with no revisions (unlikely for a first submission) - Amazing! pretty soon the paper will be out there for some to see
  • Accepted with major/minor revisions - still amazing! there's some work to do based on the feedback from reviewers, but the paper has been accepted. What more could you ask for?
  • Revise and resubmit - great! there's a blurred line between a revise and resubmit and accepted with revisions that I don't fully understand. But, importantly, it's not a "no, get away from me" response, which is always nice
  • Somewhere in between a R&R and a rejection is a grey area which amounts to "yes you can resubmit, but you have loads of work to fix this paper". At least it's not a rejection.
  • Reject - unfortunately the editor has decided based on the reviewers comments that the paper will not be published in this journal. This sucks, and can be based on loads of different factors. It's not just a case of whether the research / paper is good enough, it may still not be a good fit. 
There are still a few things still to happen after the paper is accepted (especially if there are additional rounds of revisions and re-submissions needed). There's typesetting, copyright statements and other bits and pieces. If the journal has a good set-up, the paper will be accessible online well in advance of the print version. This is great for getting things 'out there' quickly, before the paper gets put onto a bunch of dead trees for people to hold and love. Eventually, people will read your research and know your greatness

There you go, a super quick overview of getting your research published. Of course, there are loads of finer points that go into getting a paper published, and things can differ quite a bit from field to field and journal to journal. Next time, I'll complain about some parts of the publication cycle and talk about registered reports, a much better way of running and reporting research projects.

- SP

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