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Writing for Publication: Choosing an Audience

Overview

Having clearly determined dissemination goals is extremely important to becoming a productive and recognized scholar. Publishing is a very common strategy for sharing research. Whether you want to publish a journal article or book will dramatically affect your next steps, as will determining whether you want to communicate the results of your research to a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal, or whether you want to summarize that research for a more popular venue. There are many options one can take once the dissertation is finished.

Read on for more information about the various publishing choices a scholar with a completed dissertation can make!

Journal or Book?

Although publishing an entire dissertation as a book is not an easy task, with a lot of hard work and revision, it can happen. However, academic book publishing is an extremely competitive field, even for established scholars. If you do choose to go this route, be aware that you are facing an uphill battle! That said, if you are willing to start the climb, there are some important things to know:

Because a dissertation and an academic book have different purposes, most dissertations that are accepted for publication as a book require quite a bit of revision. The purpose of a dissertation is conducting primary research, whereas the main purpose of a book is to share your findings with a larger audience. For example, unlike in a dissertation, in a book, detailed methodological descriptions are often moved to a book's appendix, if they are included at all.

Academic publishers almost always require a book proposal or prospectus rather than a full-length manuscript. Your book proposal should consist of a summary of your research and findings as well as a concise statement of your central argument. Depending on the publisher's submission guidelines, you may be asked to include other information such as competition (a survey of other, already published books in your field) or whether you intend your book to be for specialists in your field or students. For more on writing an academic book proposal, see the Purdue OWL's resources.

Choosing a Journal

If you do choose to submit to a journal, the process of choosing where to submit your article is one of the most important decisions you can make. There are several ways in which you can identify top journals in your field. One of the easiest and most convenient resources is your own dissertation. Is there a journal that you found yourself citing over and over? If so, this publication may be interested in your work as well. Remember: most rejections are not due to the quality of research, but rather that the manuscript was not appropriate for the journal. With this in mind, submit wisely!

One way to determine the quality of a journal is by finding its impact factor. Almost all peer-reviewed journals have an impact factor, a number determined by how many authors cite articles that have appeared in its pages. You can find the top ranked journals in almost any field by visiting http://www.sciencegateway.org/rank/index.html. You can find out additional information, such as whether a journal is peer-reviewed, by visiting Ulrich's Guide.

Additionally, most high quality journals are indexed in various bibliographic databases. If you are considering submitting to a journal that is indexed in multiple databases, this inclusion can be considered a safe sign that the journal is a reputable and respected one.

Prospective authors should be careful of journals that do not follow the above accepted practices, paying particular attention to open-access journals' credentials. Open-access journals are publications that make their contents available for free online. The vast majority of open-access journals are reputable publications that conduct themselves with high standards. However, there are an increasing number of publications--both open-access and traditional--that have been known to engage in questionable practices.

Questionable or predatory publications may display the following behaviors:

  • Charging a fee for peer review or paper submission
  • Not sharing the comments of the peer reviewers with the author
  • Promises of rapid publication

Recently, the journal Nature published a checklist to identify reputable publishers. We recommend that you use it to evaluate any journal you are considering for submission.

Additionally, students can check whether specific titles are listed on the "potential, possible, or probable predatory journals" list.  Remember that many predatory journals often choose similar names to well-regarded, reputable publications as a purposeful form of deception. With thorough research prior to submission, students can easily avoid these publications.

Choosing a Publisher

One of the most important tasks in choosing where to submit is to choose an academic publisher that expresses an interest in topics related to your work. Most academic publishers provide a list of desired categories on their websites; only submit to publishers who express an interest in your area of study. One easy way to find publisher interested in your field is to go to an academic library and look at the publishers of text that may have inspired or assisted you as you conducted your own research.

You can also ask faculty members or mentors in your field whether they have any specific recommendations. Additionally, publishers often attend academic conferences in fields in which they are looking for material.

Splitting the Dissertation

One very common maneuver is to isolate specific chapters from a dissertation and to rewrite those chapters as articles to submit to academic journals. Numerous experts recommend this tactic. Other forms of revision include utilizing the key takeaway method in which scholars isolate the most important information from their dissertation and succinctly summarize it in article form.

Most chapters from a dissertation will not be ready for submission in their exact dissertation form. These articles will likely need introductions added for context and other adjustments to make them work on their own. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when choosing chapters from your dissertation that may be appropriate for submission to a journal:

Integration: Though the components of journal articles and dissertations may often be similar, the structure and length are quite different. For example, though both dissertations and journal articles contain Results and Conclusions sections, dissertations usually separate these sections into their own chapters. As your journal article will be significantly shorter than your dissertation, be sure that you include an abbreviated version of your results chapters in your article submission. When revising a chapter from your dissertation for publication as a journal article, you will likely draw from multiple sections of your dissertation.

Literature review: The literature review in your dissertation was likely many pages. However, in a journal article, you will have much less room to cover the same ground. Not all of the information from your dissertation's literature review can be included in the article you prepare for submission. Be sure to use articles that are representative of trends or practices in your field. Additionally, you may be submitting to a specialized journal in which your audience is already familiar with the major articles in your field, an advantage that can make trimming your literature review much easier.

Time frame: Publishing does not happen overnight! Although individual journals vary in their response times, even with journals now primarily accepting electronic submissions, most experts agree that 5 to 6 months from submission to publication is the absolute quickest time you can expect to see your work appear in print (or online). However, due to the careful nature of peer review and the close review that experts in your field will give your work before accepting or rejecting it, the acceptance process at some peer-reviewed journals can take a year or longer.

Another way to choose a journal for submission is to ask your mentor or thesis advisor, or colleagues in your field.  Most reputable academic journals do not charge a reading fee. However, depending on the structure of the journal, there may be some costs associated with publishing. Be sure and research the publication to ensure it follows ethical practices.

Scholarly or Popular Publishing?

One route that some students take is to revise their academic work for publication in a popular, or nonscholarly, source. Popular sources are sources that appeal to broader audiences and do not undergo the peer-review process, which is not to imply that these publications do not have standards of quality. Other options include trade publications, which are specialized journals that report on trends and other practical information within a given industry. Some ideas for revising to keep in mind if you would like to publish in a popular or trade source:

Organization: Popular sources are often designed to perform, persuade, or entertain. Thus, to publish findings from a dissertation in a popular source, an author would be expected to extract the most compelling and important evidence from a dissertation and to explain and analyze the dissertation's findings in a broad manner.

Language: As popular sources are not academic, the expected language is much more informal than most scholarly writing and should be broad and accessible. Thus, revising a dissertation chapter for a popular source would likely include converting your language from a more formal, academic tone, to a more understandable and reader-friendly one.

Length: Popular sources tend to have much shorter articles than peer reviewed, or scholarly journals.