One irritating thing about starting anything new, whether it is grad school or a job, is all of the jargon that no one seems to like to explain. So, in this post I explain what publications are, and the publication process.
What Academics Mean When They Talk About Publications
A publication generally refers to a piece of writing that is published in a journal or in a book. Popular press (i.e. magazine, newspaper) and blog pieces generally do not count as “publications.”
All Publications Are Not Created Equally
There are several different types of publications, and they are not all equally respected. And, further, the respect that each gets varies across disciplines. If you are in psychology, journal articles are generally most highly respected. If you are in some subdisciplines of sociology, books are most highly respected.
Journal articles in peer-reviewed journals are held in highest esteem, and the more the journal the article is published in gets cited, the higher the esteem of the journal, in general.
Peer review means that the paper was reviewed by other scholars in the field, most likely professors or advanced graduate students, and the author had to respond to the reviews to get published.
Editor reviewed means that the paper was reviewed by the editor only, and the author only had to respond to editorial comments to get published.
There are also journals where authors can pay to have their papers published, and this are usually regarded as the lowest quality.
As an example, Family Relations, the Journal of Marriage and Family, and the NCFR Report are all published by the National Council on Family Relations. The NCFR Report is editor reviewed, not peer reviewed, so articles in this journal are not highly regarded or highly cited. Family Relations is peer-reviewed, but it less often cited than the Journal of Marriage and Family so it is less highly regarded than the Journal of Marriage and Family.
How do I know if a Journal Gets Cited?
To get a relative idea of how often a particular journal is cited, and how highly respected it is, you can check out its Impact Factor. A journal’s impact factor can be founded in the InCites Journal Citation Reports. Most grad students do not worry about impact factors, but for to get tenure, most universities and colleges require that the candidate report each journals impact factor. At Ohio State, the ranking of that journal within a particular discipline is also reported.
So, the Journal of Marriage and Family has an impact factor of 1.873, which is good for a family/sociology/psychology journal. It is ranked the 9/43 journals in family studies and 21/142 journals in sociology. In contrast, Family Relations has an impact factor of 0.912, and is ranked 27/43 in family studies and 18/41 in social work. The NCFR Report does not even have an impact factor.
The impact factor has been criticized several times, and is only one marker of the quality of a journal. Another marker is journal reputation, which is harder to quantify than number of citations. Review this post as you consider where to submit your journal article to.
I know less about the prestige of books, but I do know that university presses are more prestigious than other presses, and I also believe that the more elite the university, the more elite the press, and the more respected it is. For those of you in book-heavy disciplines, feel free to comment below to correct or clarify this.
Book chapters can be either review pieces [a piece that reviews research on a particular topic] or original empirical research [a piece that tests a research question with data and reads like an empirical journal article] that appear in a book that has editors who review all the pieces. The editor(s) not only review the pieces, they also secure a press for the book and work with the press to assemble the book. I have one edited volume with my former mentor Liz Peters. It was a lot of work, from putting together the book proposal, reminding authors of deadlines, providing reviews to authors, re-reviewing chapters, etcetera. In fact, my department chair told me not to do another book or book chapter while I was on the tenure track. In general, book chapters are not as well cited as journal articles, with some exceptions. Fortunately, books are more often available online as well as in print, which makes it easier to access a book chapter even without the book, and to cite it.
Why do Citations Matter?
So, I just talked a lot about citations. First, just a reminder, a citation is a reference to a publication in a separate journal article, book chapter, or book. Citation counts for individual publications as well as overall citation counts are often reported in promotion and tenure materials. Google Scholar profiles even include references to the number of times a scholar has been cited and a couple of indeces of citation counts such as the h-index. Thus, you want citations of your work because the more your work is cited the better your chances of advancing your career, at least if you end up a research-intensive university. Plus, you want your work to be cited because you want other scholars to actually read it!
I Just Got an Email Soliciting My Work. Now What?
If you get an email soliciting your work for a journal, in general, you should probably delete it unless it is from a name you recognize from your field. The top journals can get more than 500 submissions a year. One of the very top sociology journals, the American Sociological Review received 719 submissions in 2015. Of these, 101 were rejected outright without going through peer review, and an additional 432 were rejected after going through peer review. The American Sociological Review is not soliciting submissions, and nor are top journals.
My Paper Got Rejected Without Peer Review
Many journals will reject papers without even putting a paper through the peer review process (see previous section). This is actually not always bad; that means you can resubmit your paper without having to wait 3 to 6 to 9 months for a rejection. Further, sometimes good papers are rejected just because they are not a good fit to the journal before submitting, it is a good idea to review which kinds of articles the journal is looking for. That said, sometimes papers are rejected without review due to poor writing. Make sure you work on your writing!
The Peer Review Process
In general, this is what the peer review process looks like:
Submit Paper -> Paper reviewed by editorial assistant to make sure that you followed the guidelines -> Paper reviewed by editor and/or associate editor -> Paper sent for peer review to 3 to 7 reviewers -> Reviews are returned. Editor or Associate Editor makes editorial decision -> Decision is returned to you along with the reviews. Depending on the decision, one of the following occurs:
If revise and resubmit, you revise the paper according to the reviewer comments, and include an additional document that states how you responded to the reviewers suggestions. Then you resubmit the paper and the entire process will likely start all over again.
If you are rejected, you might revise the paper based on the reviewer comments, or you might not. That is the subject of another blog post. But, most importantly, you resubmit the paper.
If you are conditionally accepted, you celebrate, then do what they want and resubmit.
If you are accepted, you celebrate, and wait for your page proofs, which are proofs of the pages that will appear in the print journal, and will be posted online. Check these carefully!
At most journals, the reviewers do not know who the author is. At other journals, they do. The reviewer’s identity is always blinded. To mask the reviewer’s identity, the journal will not share the name of the author, and the title page will contain no contact information. Sometimes citations to the author’s own work will be referred to as “Author Citation”. Overall, there is supposed to be no identifying information in the paper. However, often times reviewers will know who the author is based on a couple of clues. First, if the author is using community data like the New Parents Project, the reviewer may have already read published papers using these data and will assume that the authors may include myself and my colleague Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan who designed the study. Second, if an author is using secondary data, the reviewer may have seen the paper presented at a conference or may be familiar with who is conducting this kind of research. Thus, even blind peer review is often not truly blind. And note, authors often have ideas of who reviewers are as well, though they can never be certain. I remember one of my papers that had a reviewer who asked me to cite a four different publications by a particular author. I am pretty sure that person was a reviewer on the paper. And, I included the citations!
Preparing for Peer Review
Follow the instructions! I just submitted a paper to a journal last week, and it was unsubmitted because I didn’t read the directions carefully enough – it said to submit Word documents, rather than pdfs. Oops! I wasted the editorial assistant’s time, and I delayed the peer review of my paper. So, read the instructions.
Read your paper carefully, preferably out loud. You will amaze yourself at how many errors you catch when you read your paper out loud, and how many confusing sentences and needless words you have.
Allow a chunk of time to submit the paper. I had about an hour to submit the paper, and it took me about 50 minutes of that hour by time I prepared the manuscript the way the journal required, and answered several questions. I did save some time by having an ORCID, or a persistent digital identifier, so I suggest scholars get one of these. Some information was imported from my ORCID account, and because my last name is weird (I have a double last name: Kamp Dush) the ORCID will eventually better track my citation counts.
And that is your publishing primer! Go out there, submit your papers, and resubmit them. Remember that rejection happens to all of us, and try not to take it personally when it does. I remember once my advisor in grad school telling me that he had more papers rejected than accepted in his career, and he has more than 100 publications and has been cited more than 32000 times. Be gentle with yourself!