How To Deal With Reviewers’ Comments

editing textYour first set of reviewers’ comments lands in your inbox. Your heart begins to race. Will your work be accepted or rejected? Will they love it or hate it? Can you bear to open the email?

These may be reviews for a journal article, book proposal, or book typescript. In each case the process is the same. First you need to read the comments and give yourself time to react. Whether it’s the exultation of an acceptance, the despair of a rejection, or the mixed feelings that come with requests for revisions, you need time to process your emotional response before you do anything else. Whoop, cry, eat chocolate, do whatever you need to do.

Because of negativity bias, negative comments – even when constructively phrased – have more impact on most people than positive comments. We need to work to counteract this bias. So, unless you’ve received very favourable comments and you want to revel in their glory, I recommend waiting at least 24 hours before you read the comments again. This can help you to take a more balanced view, which is useful because if it’s a rejection or revisions, you’ll need to see how your work can benefit from the reviewers’ input before you send it off again. This can be quite a challenge, especially if the reviewers have different views of your work and how it can be improved. Your journal or commissioning editor may offer some guidance and if so you should take that into account. But sometimes they leave it all to you.

My solution to this is to treat the reviewers’ comments as data and go into analysis mode. I create a table with one column for the comments and another for each reviewer. Then I enter each substantive comment into the first column and put a mark in the other columns for each reviewer who has made a similar point. This helps me to pick up the instances where reviewers are effectively saying the same thing, though perhaps in very different ways. It also helps me to see at a glance which comments have been made by all or some reviewers, and which only by one of the reviewers.

I have said before on this blog that reviewers’ comments come in three categories: the no-brainer (act on this), the no-thanks (don’t act on this), and the oh-wait (probably act on this, though not necessarily in the way the reviewer suggests). So my next job is to sort comments into these categories.

If a comment has been made by more than one reviewer I will take it more seriously. That doesn’t mean I’ll definitely implement it, but I am more likely to do so. If a comment has been made by all reviewers I would need a very, very good reason not to implement it. If a comment has only been made by one reviewer, that in itself might be one reason I could decide not to implement it, though I would also expect to give at least one other reason.

Once I have sorted the comments into their categories, I will list them by category in the first column of another table with two further columns: a brief note of what I plan to do in response to each of the no-brainers and the oh-waits, and a brief note of what I plan to write in the cover letter against each comment from all three categories. This is useful because I can dip into it when I have a spare half-hour or so, and find a job or two to do to get me closer to the finish line.

It is important to be polite in your response to reviewers’ comments, even if you think they’re the biggest load of old rubbish you’ve seen since your last visit to the municipal tip. Some reviewers’ suggestions seem to be based more on what they would have written than on what you actually have written and this can be quite annoying at times. When you come across a suggestion you really don’t want to implement, there are some tactful ways to say so, such as:

“This is an excellent suggestion though unfortunately beyond the scope of this particular project.”

“I can see how this suggestion would improve my work but sadly I am unable to incorporate it within the allocated word count.”

“This is a really interesting idea. I have considered it carefully and concluded that it doesn’t quite fit with the thrust of my current article/book, but it will influence my thinking for future projects.”

Remember you are the author and, as such, you have authority. While authors do need reviewers’ input (at least, when it’s constructive), and your work should benefit from intelligent use of their feedback, you don’t have to do everything a reviewer says. Also, a rejection is only a rejection from this journal or publisher. It doesn’t mean your work is worthless; sometimes it’s only because they already have plans to publish something that is similar in some way. This post should help you make the best use you can of reviewers’ comments. That will produce the greatest benefit to your work and career, and is also a way to respect and honour the time and care (most) people put into writing reviews.

How To Market Your Academic Journal Article

millions

What can you do to stand out in such a crowd?

Last week I wrote about how to market your academic book. Journal articles, too, benefit from marketing. If you’ve ever had one published, you have probably had one or more emails from the publisher encouraging you to help market your article. It is in the publisher’s interest for you to help them with marketing, because higher visibility usually leads to more citations, and more citations (within two years of publication) help the journal concerned increase its impact factor. It may, though, be in your interest too.

Around two and a half million academic journal articles are published each year on this planet. Generally speaking, if you want your one journal article to be noticed and read among these millions, you need to help it along.

Marketing your journal article begins before you finish writing. A clear and descriptive title, and the most relevant keywords or phrases, will help your article to be visible online. Use as many keywords or phrases as the journal permits. If you find it difficult to come up with enough keywords or phrases, think about what your readers might search for. Also, make sure at least three or four of your keywords or phrases appear at least once in your abstract. This all helps to make your article easier for search engines to find.

The abstract, too, is important. It should tell a clear story in itself, and should include the key ‘take-away’ point you have made. To figure out what that is, it may help to think what headline a journalist would give to a piece based on your article. A well written and structured abstract will entice more people to read further.

Once your article is published, there is plenty more work to be done if you want your research to have an impact. Some publishers make your article free to access online for a specific period or give you a limited number of free eprints. Either way, you can advertise this through email, discussion lists, and social media. Talking of email, it can be useful to add a link to your article as part of your email signature. Also, you can add the link to any online presence, such as your institutional web page and your LinkedIn profile.

If you teach a course for which your article would be suitable material, add it to the reading list. Also, unless it’s open access, check whether your university library subscribes to the journal concerned; if not, recommend it to them.

It’s helpful to write a blog post about your research with a link to your article. This could be on your own blog (if you have one), or on a blog in your field with a wide readership, or on your publisher’s blog. Again, you can advertise the link through social media.

An infographic can be useful too, either as part of a blog post or as a stand-alone information source – or both. Information here on how to create an infographic.

You can make a short video abstract of your journal article and upload it to a video sharing site such as YouTube or Vimeo. This is becoming an increasingly popular way to share information, and there are some great examples online such as this one on social jetlag. It’s not difficult to do, and can be done using a smartphone; there is a tutorial here.

Another option is to create a press release to alert the mainstream media. This is generally only worth doing if the journal article contains information that will interest a lot of people. It also needs to be ‘newsworthy’, e.g. relevant to current news coverage, providing a new perspective on past news coverage, or coinciding with an anniversary. A press release is a short document, usually only a page or at most two, with a specific format; details here.

If this all sounds like a lot of extra work: it is. I’m not suggesting you should do everything listed above; nor am I suggesting that this post is exhaustive. But if you want to make your journal article visible to potential readers, you will almost certainly need to take one or more of these steps.

New Directions in Qualitative Research Ethics

TSRMcover 1..2I have co-edited a special issue of the International Journal of Social Research Methodology with my friend and colleague Dr Lucy Pickering from the University of Glasgow. It is online today – International Women’s Day, how timely! – and it’s called New Directions in Qualitative Research Ethics.

I am the ethics lead for the UK and Ireland Social Research Association, and Lucy is the ethics lead for the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth. Lucy and I both help our respective associations’ members with real-life ethical dilemmas (and trilemmas, and quadrilemmas). We have both found that the emphasis of the ethical review process on data gathering and participant well-being leaves researchers ill-equipped to cope with ethical difficulties at other stages of the research process. Overall, the ethics literature is similarly skewed, with most articles and chapters focusing on data gathering and participant well-being. Our aim was to produce a special issue that would help to shift this balance. We wrote one of the articles, on the ethics of presentation and representation, and of course the editorial. Other articles cover the teaching of research ethics, the ethics of recruitment and sampling, working ethically with participants who have profound intellectual disabilities, what to do when ethics committees’ stipulations prove irrelevant in the field, and some of the ethical issues raised by cross-cultural research. There is also a useful review essay of three recent books on research and social justice.

We are proud that our authors are truly international, hailing from New Zealand, Australia, Finland, America and Thailand as well as the UK. The journal is paywalled, but there are 50 free downloads of every article, so get in quick if you don’t have access.

 

Open Access Research Methods Journals

oaThis post was inspired by a recent post on the Global Social Change Research Project site, which lists a lot of free resources for social research and evaluation. Having taken the Open Access Pledge, and given my specialism, I was particularly interested in OA journals on research and evaluation methods. So I have compiled all those I could find, through gsocialchange and elsewhere, that focus primarily on methods, are peer reviewed, and publish in English. (Some also publish in other languages, but I only speak and read English – a limitation – so, sadly, I am unable to include non-English journals.) Almost all are exclusively digital.

I was interested to find that many of these journals have quick publication timescales, sometimes only a few weeks from submission to publication. I was also very relieved to find that few ask for financial contributions from authors. When OA came in, I was broadly in favour – I do believe that research funded by public money should be publicly available – but I was worried that article processing charges (APCs) levied on authors would exclude many scholarly writers from publishing their work. I’m delighted to discover that this is not the case (at least, not in my field) and I’m grateful to all the universities and others that sponsor these journals. Also, where APCs are levied by these journals, they are only charged on acceptance for publication, not on submission, and waivers are sometimes available in exceptional circumstances.

As far as I can tell, only one of these journals, the African Evaluation Journal, is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics. Some other journals have their own ethical statements, or follow a specified code of ethics from an institution or association. But most make no mention of ethics, which in the current climate seems a little lax at best.

So here they are, in alphabetical order, with brief details.

African Evaluation Journal

Funded and published by the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA); no APCs.

Publishes high quality peer-reviewed articles of merit on any subject related to evaluation, and provides targeted information of professional interest to members of AfrEA and its national associations and evaluators across the globe. Aims:

  • To build a high quality, useful body of evaluation knowledge for development.
  • To develop a culture of peer-reviewed publication in African evaluation.
  • To stimulate Africa-oriented knowledge networks and collaborative efforts.
  • To strengthen the African voice in evaluation.

Art/Research International

Sponsored by the University of Alberta. No APCs.

A transdisciplinary journal dedicated to exploring and advancing art as research, and/or within the research process, across disciplines and internationally. It offers a space for art/research practitioners: to draw on working examples to discuss challenges, best practices, ethical quandaries, and new directions  for the practice of bringing art and research together; to explore the methodological ambitions and theoretical or philosophical underpinnings and issues of art/research practices; and to provide insights and critiques of art/research projects of other art/research practitioners.

Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines

Published by CADAAD, which seems to be run voluntarily by academics from various universities. No APCs.

Publishes articles which investigate, from a ‘critical’ perspective, contemporary discourse and genres in social, political, public and professional communication.  Especially interested in articles which highlight, develop and apply new theoretical and methodological frameworks for critical discourse research or which assess established methods and assumptions.

Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Published by Academic Publishing Limited. APC of £250 (inc. VAT) on acceptance for publication – no submission fee.

Publishes articles and provides perspectives on topics relevant to research in the field of business and management. Aims to contribute to the development of theory and practice.

Forum: Qualitative Social Research

Supported by the Institute for Qualitative Research and the Center for Digital Systems, Freie Universität Berlin. No APCs.

Interested in empirical studies conducted using qualitative methods, and in contributions that deal with the theory, methodology and application of qualitative research. Innovative ways of thinking, writing, researching and presenting are especially welcome. They favour contributions with an inter-disciplinary and/or multinational perspective which was already manifest at the conceptualization stage, for example through co-authorship.

International Journal of Qualitative Methods

Published by Sage on behalf of the International Institute of Qualitative Methodology

APCs of $1,000-$1,750 on acceptance for publication – this funds the journal. Part payment and waivers possible in exceptional circumstances.

Publishes articles that report methodological advances, innovations, and insights in qualitative or mixed-methods studies. Also publishes funded full studies using qualitative or mixed-methods.

Journal of Methods and Measurement in the Social Sciences

Funded by the University of Arizona Library – no APCs.

An online scholarly publication focusing on methodology and research design, measurement, and data analysis – providing a new venue for unique and interesting contributions in these study areas which frequently overlap.

Journal of Modern Applied Statistical Methods

Published in partnership by JMASM Inc and Wayne State University Library System. No APCs.

Designed to provide an outlet for the scholarly works of applied nonparametric or parametric statisticians, data analysts, researchers, classical or modern psychometricians, and quantitative or qualitative methodologists/evaluators.

Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation

Published by Western Michigan University. No APCs.

Publishes work that contributes to the development of evaluation theory, methods, and practice.

Journal of Research Practice

Published by AU Press, Athabasca University. Funded by sponsorship. No APCs.

Aims to develop understanding of research as a type of practice, and to assist both research practitioners and research theorists to share their experiences with and ideas about research, so as to extend and enhance that practice in multiple domains.

methods, data, analyses

Published by Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences. No APCs.

Publishes research on all questions important to quantitative methods, with a special emphasis on survey methodology. In spite of this focus they welcome contributions on other methodological aspects.

Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation

Funded by sponsorship. No APCs. Despite being a professional researcher and skilled internet sleuth, I was unable to find out who publishes this journal.

Publishes scholarly syntheses of research and ideas about methodological issues and practices, designed to help members of the community keep up-to-date with effective methods, trends, and research developments from a variety of settings.

Qualitative Sociology Review

Published by Lodz University, Poland. No APCs.

Qualitative Sociology Review publishes empirical, theoretical and methodological articles applicable to all fields and specializations within sociology.

Social Research Practice

Funded and published by the UK and Ireland Social Research Association; no APCs.

They welcome articles from anyone working in social research or social policy, whether as a producer or a user of research. Aims: to encourage and promote high standards of social research for public benefit, and to encourage methodological development.

Survey Methods: Insights from the Field

Published jointly by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences and Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences. No APCs.

Aim: to promote professional exchange on practical survey research issues and discussion on new and promising paths in survey research. Focus is on practical aspects of the daily work of surveying, including questionnaire design, sampling, interviewer training, fieldwork administration, data preparation, documentation and dissemination.

Survey Practice

Published by the American Association for Public Opinion Research. No APCs.

 Aim: to emphasize useful and practical information designed to enhance survey quality by providing a forum to share advances in practical survey methods, current information on conditions affecting survey research, and interesting features about surveys and people who work in survey research.

Survey Research Methods

Published by the European Survey Research Association with the Communication, Information, Media Centre of the University of Konstanz.No APCs.

Topics of particular interest include survey design, sample design, question and questionnaire design, data collection, nonresponse, data capture, data processing, coding and editing, measurement errors, imputation, weighting and survey data analysis methods.

Turkish Online Journal of Qualitative Inquiry

Published by DergiPark. No APCs.

Publishes high quality and original research conducted with qualitative, mixed or action research methodology in educational sciences. Manuscripts required in both English and Turkish.

The Qualitative Report

Published by Nova Southeastern University. No APCs.

Methods may be qualitative, comparative, mixed, collaborative, action-oriented, appreciative, and/or critical in nature. Articles may be qualitative research studies, commentaries about the conduct of qualitative research, prescriptive pieces on carrying out qualitative research, “back stage” essays in which authors give a perspective on how they created and crafted a particular project, presentations on technological innovations relevant to qualitative researchers and their inquiries, and any other issues which would be important for practitioners, teachers, and learners of qualitative research. Scientific, artistic, critical and clinical approaches are all welcome.

And that’s the lot! If anyone knows of another OA methods journal I’ve missed, please leave a comment, with a link to the journal, and I’ll update the post.

New Year’s Resolution: Open Access Only

open-doorHappy New Year, all my lovely readers! I hope you’ve had a wonderful break and that any resolutions you may have made are the life-enhancing rather than the punitive kind.

My resolution for 2017 is that from now on, I will only write academic articles in my own time for open-access journals. If someone wants to pay me to write an academic article, then I’ll be open to submitting that article to a journal of their choice. (It has happened once in my life, so far.) But otherwise I’m going OA.

I can’t afford to do that with books, as I’m finding that academic self-publishing doesn’t pay, while academic traditional publishing does, a bit. (My trad pub royalties for the year 2015-16 finally broke four figures, which felt GREAT.  The actual figure was £1,627.20 which is a month’s money for me. Though it did take five-and-a-half years of dedicated writing and promo to reach this point… at that rate I should be able to give up the day job in 2071. When I’ll be 106 years old. Oh well!)

Articles for academic journals are much easier and quicker to write than books. They’re also good for testing and refining small ideas. I enjoy writing them, so I’m not going to stop. But I am planning to reduce the number I write to two a year, and publish those in OA journals or not at all.

This is primarily an ethical decision. Early in the days of OA publishing, although I liked the prospect from a reader’s viewpoint, I worried that many writers would be excluded because of the costs. I think that is still the case in some quarters, but I have found that reputable OA journals are often willing to waive their fees for independent researchers, and some don’t charge fees at all. Also, I would like my work to be more widely accessible, including to people who are temporarily or permanently outside the academy, or in parts of the world where it’s particularly difficult for people to access paywalled academic journals.

There are many more open access journals around now than there were five years ago. When I was working on the first edition of Research and Evaluation for Busy Practitioners, in 2012, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) listed 22 journals covering social work. Now it lists 125. There are similar levels of increase in other subject areas, and there are now 9,000 journals on the site as a whole. Yet the DOAJ only lists journals that are peer-reviewed or otherwise editorially controlled; they don’t list predatory journals. They promote best practice in OA publishing and have high ethical standards.

I feel ashamed to say that I have never published an article in an OA journal. To begin with I was advised on where to publish by academic mentors, then I wanted to publish in the journals I liked to read. Now I want to read more OA journals as well as publishing in them. I’m not going to rule out citing work from paywalled journals – yet – but I want to focus on finding and using more OA journals, rather than going straight to the usual suspects all the time.

I do have a couple of articles in the pipeline with paywalled journals, so it’ll be a while before I get to assess the impact of my New Year’s resolution for 2017. Nevertheless, I’m sure it’ll be an interesting adventure!

Research Ethics For Your PhD

REFYPhD_purple_compasses_LC_RGB.jpgWhile I’ve been away on holiday (yes, lovely, thank you!) a lot has been happening on the writing front. To begin with, the fifth e-book in my PhD Knowledge series is out. For my new followers (hello, new followers!) this is a series of six short e-books, each around 10,000 words, for potential and actual doctoral students in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. Although the titles mention PhDs, the books are also relevant for those doing professional doctorates such as EdDs, DBAs and so on. These e-books are designed to be readable by anyone with internet access – you don’t need a separate e-reader, you can download free software such as the Kindle App for your laptop, tablet, or phone. The first e-book in the series, Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know, is free to download, and the others are each around the same price as a take-away coffee. They are: Gathering Data For Your PhD, Analysing Data For Your PhD, and Writing Your PhD. I have produced them separately to keep them affordable, and so that doctoral students can have the information and advice they need, when they need it, rather than having to buy a whole big expensive book all at once.

The fifth in the series is Research Ethics For Your PhD: An Introduction. Whether or not you have to go through a formal process of ethical review, your examiners are likely to want to see evidence that you have at least considered ethical issues during your doctoral research. Research ethics is a large and complex topic. This e-book offers a straightforward introduction that will help you decide how far you want and need to engage with ethics during your doctoral study.

Some people think ethics is a dry, boring subject. I find it endlessly fascinating because, for me, it’s about people and the choices they make. I’m working on a full-length book about ethics and I’m determined that it won’t be dull and turgid; I want it to be lively and readable, even – if I can manage it – compelling. I lead on ethics for the UK and Ireland Social Research Association and, due to my interest in ethics, Dr Katy Vigurs asked me to collaborate on a journal article. Which has just been published in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology! It’s called Participants’ productive disruption of a community photo-elicitation project: improvised methodologies in practice; there are some free downloads available and you might get one if you’re quick.

I have other writing news, as well, but that will have to wait for the next post. I hope you, too, have had a pleasant and productive summer, and I wish you all the best for the new academic year.

Collaborative Writing

collaborative writingYesterday I came to the end of my first ever writing partnership with a proper academic. We began collaborating in May 2012, and decided we would work together for a year with the aim of producing two journal articles in that time. We ended up writing together for almost four years and produced one working paper, one journal article, and a book chapter (finally finished yesterday, and due to be published by Policy Press in an edited collection later this year).

I learned a lot from this collaboration, not least that co-writing can take longer than you think, especially when you’re working on conceptually difficult topics. My co-writer and I worked really well together, and the publications we produced were definitely richer and meatier than either of us could have produced alone. I also received some very useful mentoring in the process, with invaluable tips on how to optimise journal articles for acceptance, and useful insights into the workings of academia. My collaborator was even generous enough to start by presenting me with several areas she was interested in exploring, and letting me choose the one I preferred for us to work on.

For the first year of our collaboration, we were both based in the UK; after that, my collaborator moved to Sweden. But that didn’t matter; we’d had a few face-to-face meetings and got to know each other in that first year, and email and Skype supported our collaboration thereafter.

We were fairly compatible as co-writers, with one major exception: we had very different attitudes to deadlines. I don’t work at all well under deadline pressure, so I tend to meet my commitments ahead of time. My collaborator worked best under deadline pressure – and, at times, did particularly good work some time after the deadline had gone whooshing past. I found this quite nerve-racking and frustrating, and I suspect she found my timeliness annoying. But we navigated through this difficulty quite effectively, as our outputs show.

I also learned, from this experience, that I really like writing collaboratively. So now I’m working on one journal article with one co-writer, another with another; co-editing a special issue of one journal, and writing an article for another special issue in which the article is sole-authored but there is also a collaborative, dialogic component. And I’m doing another book chapter for an edited collection, despite having sworn I never would.

This is too much! I can do it, and I will, but after these are done I’ll be scaling down the academic journal articles and book chapters. I’m going to aim for two a year from 2017 onwards. No more. I do love writing journal articles and book chapters, and I love collaborating. But I do all this in my own time, and I need to focus more on work that pays.

Ten Ways To Get Hold Of Academic Literature

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jdickert/2570185865One of the big barriers to doing academic work when you’re not a salaried academic is lack of access to academic literature. Books are one problem, though you can often get hold of them through inter-library loans, national libraries, or (if they’re not too new) cheap second-hand copies online. But academic journals are the major difficulty.

People outside academia often don’t realise that even salaried academics won’t have access to everything. University libraries have budgets and have to decide which journals to subscribe to. Even professors sometimes need to use the techniques in this post. But those of us outside academia need to use them all the time. So, for those who don’t yet know, here are my top ten methods for getting hold of academic literature.

  1. Use openly accessible literature. Much of this can be found online. You may find relevant ‘grey’ (non-academic) literature through conventional search engines: anything from commercial research reports to zines. But for journal articles, I’d recommend starting with the Directory of Open Access Journals. This independent directory includes over 2 million articles in over 10,000 open access journals, more than half of which are searchable at article level, and more are being added all the time. The journals cover most topics and must be subject to peer review or editorial quality control.
  1. Look for conventionally published articles that are openly accessible. Publishers such as Sage, Taylor & Francis, Elsevier, Emerald, Wiley, and Springer are quietly making more and more content open access. Follow them on Twitter for the latest news. Sometimes a publisher will open its electronic doors completely for a limited period of time, which gives you a chance to get in and harvest pdfs to your heart’s content. More often they will offer a selection of openly accessible articles which you can find by digging around in their websites. And some have initiatives such as SpringerOpen which encompasses a range of fully open access journals in science, technology, and mathematics.
  1. When you search using Google Scholar, look beneath each search result for the small print that says ‘all X versions’ (X being a number). Click on that link and sometimes you will find that one or more of the versions includes a pdf you can download. This may be a pre-print or draft article, but it will be close enough to the final paper for you to assess whether you want to cite it.
  1. Academic social media sites, such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu, act as repositories for pre-prints and other openly accessible formats of articles which are uploaded by their authors. Anyone can sign up to these sites and they can be a useful way of keeping track, particularly of new literature by people whose work you respect.
  1. Google Books is a project for scanning and digitizing books. If a book is out of copyright, or the author has given consent, you can search and see full pages. Otherwise you can search and see small sections of text around the search string; sometimes this can be enough for your purposes.
  1. Amazon lets you ‘look inside’ some books, and again you can search and see parts of the text around the search string. Amazon is also handy for tracking down citation details as you can always look at the copyright page of any book with the ‘look inside’ feature.
  1. For much fuller access to academic literature, you could consider securing an affiliation with a university department. Universities can offer honorary titles such as Associate Fellow or Visiting Fellow. These don’t come with a salary attached, but they do come with benefits including access to electronic and hard copy literature, seminars, collaborations, and perhaps some mentoring. Also, it looks good on your CV. You might be asked to do some teaching or other academic work in return. If you know of a department where there are people in your field, you could ask whether they would take you on as an associate.
  1. Another option is to ask people you know in universities to get pdfs for you. If you’re going to do this, make sure first that the university concerned has access to the journal from which you want articles; you should be able to do this via the journal’s website, or the university library’s website, or both. It’s probably best not to ask people too often, though, as that can get annoying.
  1. Twitter is also a great place for sourcing articles. You can either put out a general tweet, perhaps with the ubiquitous ‘pls RT’ at the end, or you can use a hashtag such as #ICanHazPDF which will put your tweet in front of a wider audience. Do include the link for the article you want, and use a link shortener such as bitly to make more space in your tweet.
  1. If all else fails, email the corresponding author and ask for a copy of the article. Keep your email short, and polite, but try to say something about why you want the article and what you’ll be using it for. Authors are usually pleased if someone shows an interest in their work and will be happy to email an article to you.

However, there is a big question, for me, about the extent to which all this is ethical. And there are certainly some very unethical ways of accessing academic information, such as downloading pirated e-books – though I do realise that, in some countries, people have few or no alternatives. So next week I’ll say more about the ethics of academic publishing.

Being My Own Patron

love writingYou’ve probably worked out by now that I love to write. I still remember the joy of winning a class story competition when I was 7 or 8 years old. I filled most of an exercise book with the story of four children who had adventures in a flying car. It was an incredibly derivative Chitty Chitty Bang Bang/Swallows and Amazons mash-up, but I didn’t know, then, that you’re not supposed to nick other people’s ideas. I did know that writing, for me, was enormously satisfying.

It was a habit I never lost. As a young adult I found that I couldn’t not write: I wrote on buses, in bed, on holiday and at work, and when I wasn’t writing I was often thinking about writing. There’s a game I still play with myself when I have a bit of spare brain: which words would I use to describe the way sunlight shimmers on that wheat field, the taste of this flavoursome curry, how I feel when my partner is unexpectedly late home and I don’t know why. I’m looking for precision. I don’t want to conjure up any old wheat field, curry, or emotion, I want to describe the quality of light on that wheat field, the joy of this spice mix making my taste buds sing, the bittersweet combination of love and anxiety I’m experiencing right now.

I love to rewrite, too. In the previous paragraph, I originally wrote of the spice mix ‘exploding on my tongue’. That was a bit too cliched even for a disposable blog post. Then I tried ‘colonising my taste buds’, which pleased me because of the reverse colonisation implication for this UK resident, but then I began to doubt that phrase in case, even though I had associated it with joy, it could be read in the opposite way by someone with racist tendencies. So I went for ‘sing’ which has pleasing links with joy and mouth. As this is a blog post, which I am writing when I should be doing client work, I plumped for the third idea. If I was writing a book, I might have run through many more possibilities before making my choice.

If I didn’t love to write, I wouldn’t write. I certainly don’t do it for the money. When people find out that I’m a writer, they sometimes assume I’m rich, JK Rowling-style. Nope. It’s particularly dumb being an academic writer, whose average annual earnings are the lowest of all the categories at an average of £3,826 per year in the UK. I’m not sure of my own exact average, but in the 12 years since my first book was published, I know it is somewhere around £350 per year. I don’t earn anything for book chapters or, usually, academic journal articles, though I did get paid £1,500 for writing one in 2014. If I count my average earnings from writing over the three years since my first research methods book came out in 2012, that one single payment pushes it up to somewhere around £850 per year.

However, the calculation of direct earnings is not the whole story. In academic circles, my writing confers credibility and, quite literally, authority. I know I have obtained paid work, from academic and non-academic institutions (including, ironically given recent events, HM Government), as a direct result of my writing. But writing takes a lot of time and, when you’re self-employed, time is money. One of the really, really annoying things about being an indie researcher is that you can’t get funding from anywhere. Research councils will only fund institutions, I’m not arty enough for the Arts Council, not literary enough for a Royal Literary Fellowship, and even the Independent Social Research Foundation doesn’t do what I thought it did. I got all excited when I saw the name, but it seems to be the Foundation which is independent, not the researchers it funds who are all employed by academic institutions.

I have wondered whether to try using the web for its potential rather than its usefulness and go for some kind of crowdfunding. I’ve thought about Kickstarter, or Unbound, or Patreon. They all have slightly different models. With Kickstarter, you propose a project, set a funding limit, and offer ‘rewards’ which can be as nominal as funders getting their name in the acknowledgements/credits or as tangible as you like: a copy of the book, dinner with the author, feedback on a draft of your own work – whatever you want to offer for varying levels of contribution. Unbound is a bit like Kickstarter but specifically for books. And Patreon is a way in which fans of artists can pay a set amount per week, per month, or per output, again in return for rewards chosen by the artist to suit the size of the contribution.

cliffhangerI think these are interesting, useful platforms for creative people. I don’t think they’ll work for me. For a start, I don’t have millions of fans. Some projects get funded even though their generators don’t have millions of fans, because they have an idea that captures enough people’s imaginations. I don’t think my current project, a multi-disciplinary research ethics book, is going to capture many people’s imaginations. My ideas aren’t earth-shaking, though they may cause a small bounce in a few odd corners of academia. But they matter to me. And that’s why I am my own patron.

I am lucky that I can use my income to fund my writing habit – and that writing is the habit I want to fund; far more destructive habits are available. I am also lucky that I’m not materialistic. But I’m also not completely stupid when it comes to running a business. So I’ve decided that, where my writing is concerned, it’s time to diversify. I alluded to my Top Secret Project back in April, and now it’s almost ready to… ooh, is that the time? I’ll have to tell you the rest next week!

Desperate Soliciting from Academic Journals

begging and pleadingWhen you’ve published an academic journal article or two, you start getting emails which, at first sight, seem very flattering. They praise your previous work, or your expertise, or both, then invite you to write an article for their journal, or to edit a special issue, or produce an e-book. But when you look more closely, these emails start to look a bit odd. Some ask me to write for journals in medicine, life sciences, or STEM disciplines, all areas in which I have little knowledge and no expertise. Others want me to take on onerous editing responsibilities, sourcing articles from prestigious scholars in return for one whole free electronic journal issue or e-book. And some are verging on the surreal. Here is an example I did not make up:

“Dear Dr. H Helen,

Tranquil greets from [name of] Journal… We would be truly fortunate if you could assist us to successfully release the issues by your active and enthusiastic submission of manuscript which will be processed & published under [name of] Journal for upcoming glorious year…. It would be grateful if you would submit your manuscript by [date in three weeks’ time]… It would be our honor to be associated with such an intent, expeditious personality like you for future endeavours.”

Maybe it’s my intent and expeditious personality that causes me to be somewhat suspicious of these emails – particularly as they always seem to want me to produce an article in three weeks or thereabouts. Now I’m a fairly swift reader, thinker, and writer, but producing a journal article in three weeks from a standing start is a request I would find virtually impossible to grant. So it’s just as well I have more sense than to try.

Interestingly, these are not predatory journals. None of them ask me to pay for publication, and they don’t appear on Beall’s List. They seem to be desperate journals. One emailed me on 17 February, giving me a most generous deadline of 15 March, and finishing, ‘If it is not feasible for you to submit paper in the month of February, then kindly let us know your feasible time of contribution. Anticipating your quick response.’ They didn’t get any response, let alone a quick one. So the cheeky blighters emailed again on 16 March, giving me a revised deadline of 31 March.

When I check out the journals online, they appear to be for real. So why are they so desperate? “I wonder if you could submit Research article, Mini review, Case reports, short commentary, letter to the editor, book review for publication in our upcoming issue, to spread the essence of your eminent efforts throughout the world.” Despite the strange language they use, many are based in the US – or at least that’s what their websites say.

And who responds to these poorly targeted requests? I write on research methods in the social sciences, and there is some overlap with health services. So, at a stretch, you could excuse journals focusing on medicine from thinking I might like to write for them, particularly as I’ve published articles in journals such as the Journal of Public Mental Health and Perspectives in Public Health. But life sciences? STEM disciplines? No chance.

I’m on the editorial board of the International Journal of Social Research Methodology which has never been short of submissions. If we weren’t getting enough submissions, I’d suggest we should stop publishing the journal – and I’m sure the publisher would be there before me. Or we could try soliciting submissions, if we thought it was a temporary blip, but I’d want to be targeting people much more carefully than these almost random emails.

I once responded to a request to submit a journal article. I was at the inaugural meeting of the Arts and Sciences Research Forum, at CRASSH, University of Cambridge. In a plenary session, for reasons I can’t remember, I was banging on about the need to do participatory research properly if you’re going to do it at all (must blog about that one of these days). At the break, a man came up and introduced himself to me as Woody Caan. He said he edited a journal, and was very interested in what I’d been saying about involving service users in research, and would I like to consider maybe writing something about this for his journal? He thought it would interest his readers, and perhaps I could think about it and we could discuss it more by email in the coming days and weeks.

When I checked out Woody Caan online, this self-effacing and charming man turned out to be an eminent Professor. We did discuss options by email and I ended up writing the article. He was completely relaxed about the fact that it took me several months.

That, in my view, is a good way to solicit an article for an academic journal. But mostly I decide what I want to write, for which journal. Then they can decide whether they want to publish it. That works for me.