Publishing: Challenging Choices

This week I wanted to reflect a little on the issue of publishing and some of the challenges and choices we have had to face around this.


As an academic research project, we are expected to produce publications. As many as possible. In as high quality journals as possible. Academia is currently a publish or perish world and as early career scholars we are acutely aware of the importance of academic publications for securing full-time academic positions and competitive grants for the future. Indeed sometimes it feels as though everyone is so busy trying to publish that no one has any time to actually read what others are publishing, and if they do, it is in a very strategic and targeted way for the purposes of their own future publications.


                ‘Throes of Creation’ by Leonid Pasternak

Our project is still in its early stages and although we have dedicated significant time to writing this blog (none of which will be recognised as publications) we have also managed to have one academic paper published, with another one currently under review. Since our project is interdisciplinary, one of the first challenges we have faced for both papers is the question of where should we publish. We have found that most journals are connected to a particular discipline and that interdisciplinary work, while often bringing things together in unique ways, often fails to meet the level of depth required for publication within a particular disciplinary field. While there are good journals available for interdisciplinary work, not only are these more limited in number, they also tend to have a lower impact factor. This makes it difficult to meet classic academic standards and reward criteria with interdisciplinary work. Furthermore, interdisciplinary journals can also have a more restricted audience. For example, if you are working across disciplines, you may want your work to reach people in all the different fields you span. However, many of those people will not be reading the interdisciplinary journals that are available for you to publish in.

Another question we have faced when deciding where to submit and publish our work is the question of whether to pursue open access. As a team, we have agreed that we share common values concerning open access and are committed to it.

Open_Access_logo_PLoS_whiteWe are committed to open access publishing for several reasons. Firstly, it can potentially reach a broader audience since it is available for everyone to see, regardless of whether your institution subscribes to the journal or whether you have an academic affiliation or not. However, beyond just how many people can view the publication, we are also committed to open access because we believe that the results of our work should be available to all, especially since our project is funded by public money. Unfortunately though, very few journals that meet our interdisciplinary requirements have free open access publishing. That means that we have to also weigh up the costs involved and consider the value of spending our research money on making our publications open access versus other uses, such as supporting our empirical field work, funding our attendance at specialised courses (e.g. on how to write a successful blog!) or helping us to attend conferences and workshops to spread the word about our work that way.

Other factors we have weighed while considering places to publish include: the time taken to review and publish the materials (in our experience this can take years with some journals), the reputation of the journal, the makeup of the editorial board, whether the journal is indexed, what class or category the journal falls into, the word length permitted, the different formats available for research papers, and the referencing style used.


Clearly when we narrow the field of academic journals down to a) those that may be interested in our interdisciplinary work, b) those with a relevant audience for our work, c) those offering open access at a fair price, d) those with a decent turn around time for receiving reviews and e) those that are indexed, with a good reputation and an impact factor, and f) those that accept papers in the word length and format we have chosen – we are not actually left with that many options to choose from!

Therefore, we inevitably end up having to make priorities and tradeoffs across all these factors. For example, in our first publication we prioritised interdisciplinarity, speedy review and open access. For the second publication currently under review we prioritised relevant audience, open access and word length. This means (to the possible detriment of our research careers) we have not yet prioritised impact factor as being of primary importance. We find the tradeoffs required in making these publishing choices difficult and would certainly appreciate hearing how other researchers approach this task. We are also of course open to hearing about great journals that we may consider for our next submission!