Publishing your research findings

Webber, Charles

Is the notion of publishing in the academic domain daunting to you? These practical tips and advice include editorial processes, writing structure, and reasons to establish a publishing record.

Research, long considered the domain of university professors, has been largely removed from the practice of teachers and principals. However, that notion has changed drastically in light of the large numbers of teachers who pursue advanced degrees while continuing to have schoolbased careers. As well, our understanding of acceptable research now includes teacher-initiated, school-based action research conducted as a normal part of school decision making and professional development. Therefore, the sharing of research findings has taken on new significance for educational practitioners.

Graduate students in education interested in pursuing research careers must recognize the importance of establishing a publication record as early as possible. Certainly, successful completion of the graduate degree is most important, but beginning to publish is a strong second priority. Therefore, both practitioners and students should consider the following issues when reporting their research in peer-reviewed journals. Peerreviewed or “refereed” journals publish only those articles that have been accepted after systematic review by specialists in the field. Articles published in such journals are highly valued by committees responsible for evaluating the work of faculty members or applicants for faculty positions. This article focuses on writing for refereed journals, which for far too long have been considered a mysterious domain by researchers outside of university settings. Of course, nonrefereed or professional publications-which publish articles selected by editors without a review process-make valuable contributions to education and also should be considered by graduate students and school– based researchers as potential publishers. Although this article focuses on publishing research findings, graduate students and teachers also should consider publishing manuscripts that offer theoretical and analytical perspectives. Students should, of course, consult with their academic advisors as they prepare manuscripts for publication to determine the structure and content most suitable for their specific areas of research.

Research-Journal Match

When preparing to publish, the first step is to search for the most appropriate journal for research reports. journals vary in qualitative or quantitative focus, preference for empirical or theoretical works, readership, length of manuscripts accepted for publication, degree of formality, wait time between acceptance of a manuscript and publication, and reputation for quality. In addition, students should pay particular attention to journal attributes such as the clarity of instructions to contributors, type of review process employed by editors, and editorial board composition. Importantly, students should look to see if a recent change in journal editors has altered the type of manuscripts published in a journal. Academic writers often find they do well to submit their manuscripts to the journals they most frequently read.

Preparing the Manuscript

The format for journal manuscripts varies widely and, although the following general suggestions fit with the preferences of many journal editors, researchers working in various education disciplines will use other equally acceptable formats for reporting research findings. Be sure to consult the style manual preferred by the editors of specific journals, for example, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association or the Chicago Manual of Style.

First and foremost, your manuscript must look as professional as possible. Pay close attention to journal guidelines regarding the preferred style format, spelling style, type font, and margin requirements. Also, most academic journals ask that manuscripts include abstracts of a specific length, and some will not publish manuscripts that exceed the preferred number of words. The title selected for the article should match the details of the abstract and, consequently, the entire article.

The body of the manuscript should begin with an introduction that articulates clearly what the focus and content of the report will be. The introduction acts as an advance organizer for readers. Then, the article must provide a contextual background and a literature review that presents sufficient knowledge to allow for a critical read of the remainder of the manuscripit. Next, consider including a section that describes the conceptual framework guiding your study-the theoretical and empirical justification for the assumptions, parameters, and focus of the research. Next, offer readers a description of the research methodologies used in the study. The methodology section should be concise yet provide enough information to allow others to determine the credibility of your work. It is important to include in the methodology section details such as a demographic profile of participants in the study. Follow the methodology component of the manuscript with a detailed description of the study findings. The structure of the findings section may vary from a clinical presentation of raw facts to a discussion of the contradictions and assumptions implicit in the findings to a weaving together of findings, other reports in the literature, and personal interpretations.

At some point in the report usually toward the end of the manuscript, reviewers will look for answers to the so what question. That is, why are the findings interesting or useful? What is the significance of the study for researchers and practitioners? Finally, end the paper with a conclusion that provides readers with a sense of closure. Approaches to writing a conclusion include suggesting possibilities for future research, summarizing the report, and highlighting key recommendations.

When submitting a manuscript to a journal editor, it is the responsibility of authors to remove temporarily any material that will identify them or their institutions. This procedure facilitates a blind review of the work so that it is judged solely on its merit. However, it is appropriate to include in a separate file or document other information that journals may require-for example, a short biography of the author, contact information, and perhaps a photograph of the author. Editors will not include the identifying material in the packages sent to reviewers but will retain it for use if the paper is accepted for publication. Be sure to include the number of copies of the manuscript required by the journal and write a short cover letter indicating that the manuscript is original, unpublished work-a usual requirement of refereed journals. Finally, authors should always retain electronic or print copies of their manuscripts.

Print or Electronic Journal?

Until recently, the sole option for researchers was to write for print journals. In fact, journals with the strongest reputations for high quality work still are almost exclusively print publications, primarily because they have been around for many years and have long histories with readers. To pick one example, the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary (http:// is currently the site of several highly credible print journals, including the International Journal of Practical Approaches to Disability, Interchange, and the Journal of Educational Thought. Students would be well advised to consider these and other print journals specific to their fields as publication venues for their work.

In addition, students should examine the option of writing for electronic journals that have emerged in recent years. Although they lack the long history of print journals, some electronic journals are rapidly becoming known as highly credible publications as well. Continuing with the previous example, the faculty of education at the University of Calgary publishes the International Electronic Journal for Leadership in Learning (, and there are increasing numbers of strong electronic publications at faculties of education across Canada and internationally. For examples, see the American Educational Research Association’s Communication of Research Special Interest Group listing of electronic journals in the field of education ( html). A significant advantage of publishing in electronic journals is that articles will appear within a matter of days or weeks rather than the months or years it may take for work to be published in print journals.

Key considerations for students considering specific academic journals, print or electronic, continue to be the intended audience, the composition of the editorial board, clarity of instructions to contributors, theoretical focus, frequency of publication, cultural bias, editorial style, and the peer– review process described by the editor.

Ethical Considerations

Beginning researchers must understand the ethical considerations that guide publication practices in the academic community. Perhaps most important, students should never submit for publication a report based on research conducted prior to formal ethical approval by their university. Ethics committees will look, for example, for assurances that study participants are not harmed in any way and that participation in the study is based on informed consent.

Students also should acknowledge the contributions of others to the research. For substantive contributions, acknowledgment should take the form of co-authorship rather than a simple statement of appreciation. In this case, agreement should be reached on the order of authorship, and the usual guideline is that authors’ names should appear in the order of the magnitude of contributions to the work. That is, the name of the author who contributed most to the work should appear first, and so on in descending order of contribution. If contributions are equal, the order of authors’ names may be random or alphabetical, but an explanatory footnote should be included.

It is not uncommon for graduate students and their academic advisors to co-author manuscripts, even when reporting the findings of a thesis or dissertation study. In fact, professors often will attempt to introduce their graduate students to academic publishing by co-authoring manuscripts, and most graduate students appreciate this kind of support. However, co– authorship by a graduate student and a professor should occur only when both parties agree freely to the project. In the instance of a graduate student basing a thesis or dissertation study on a professor’s already-established research project, agreement on authorship and subsequent use of the study findings should occur prior to the start of the student’s study. Of course, all collaboration between a graduate student and a professor must be in accordance with their university’s guidelines.

Other ethical considerations include making readers aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the study being reported. For example, the age of data should be reported so the currency of the findings can be assessed. Also, information about qualitative or quantitative analyses should be provided, even when that data highlights study limitations. For example, authors have a responsibility to report that a factor analysis required a large number of iterations to reach convergence or that an ethnography was terminated prior to the anticipated closure date because study participants became unexpectedly inaccessible. In addition, the financial sponsors of a study must be identified. Furthermore, researchers must understand that it is inappropriate for them to submit a particular manuscript to more than one journal at a time. Finally, it is incumbent upon authors to keep journal editors fully informed about the status of a manuscript submission. Thus, authors should let editors know if they intend to respond to an acceptance for publication subject to revision or to an invitation to resubmit a revised manuscript.

Publication Decisions

Common editorial decisions after a manuscript is reviewed include the following: definitely accept, accept subject to revision, reject but invite resubmission of a revised version, worthy of dissemination but inappropriate for journal in question, and reject. Regardless of the final editorial decision, authors should anticipate that reviewers’ comments seldom will be entirely consistent. That is, reviewers’ recommendations about the same article may range from accept through reject. Editors must decide what the general pattern of recommendations is for each article and proceed accordingly.

Other than responding to acceptance with no revisions necessary-a rare occurrence-responding to an outright rejection of a manuscript is the most straightforward decision-making process authors will encounter. That is, they consider revising their manuscripts according to reviewers’ recommendations and then submit the new version to another journal. However, acceptance subject to revision, or even an invitation to re– submit a revised manuscript, requires that authors decide whether they can, in good conscience, proceed in accordance with editors’ recommendations. Whatever authors decide, they should not leave editors wondering if a revised manuscript will be forthcoming. Thus, authors should advise editors when to expect a revised paper or, alternatively, that the authors will be submitting their work elsewhere. If authors decide to revise, they should strive to submit the revised manuscript as soon as possible so publication can proceed quickly.

Significance of Publishing

Graduate students and those practitioner-researchers who wish to establish themselves as credible researchers should seek to publish a series of articles in a particular field as early as possible. It is important to avoid a wide-ranging approach to publication if students wish to be recognized as making significant academic contributions. Individuals interested in research should know that university hiring, tenure, and promotion committees will look for a balance in the following areas:

* local, national, and international publications;

* single and co-authored articles;

* academic (that is, refereed) and professional (nonrefereed) publications; and

* professional contracts and academic research grants.

In summary, individuals with a recognizable research program will have built on the work of others in their areas of study, introduced new lenses to view the field, and established a history of consistent publication in reputable journals.

Acknowledgment: Dr. Webber expresses his appreciation to Christine Bennet-Clark, Veronika Bohac-Clarke, William Hunter, and Douglas Roberts for their feedback on an early draft of this report.

Charles Webber is associate dean, Graduate Division of Educational Research, at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. He serves on the KDP Publications Committee and the Editorial Review Panel for the KDP Record. He is a member of the Omicron Omicron Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi.

Copyright Kappa Delta Pi Spring 2001

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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