Getting Published

Nicholas A. Bowman will become Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa in fall 2015.

Dear Nick: I noticed that you recently had two different articles published in two separate journals. I am collaborating with some colleagues on an article for IR practitioners, but we are not sure how to proceed with submitting our work. How does one get published?

Bowman_web.jpgLooking to have your work published can be exhilarating and frustrating, regardless of whether you are new to the field or have decades of experience. Below, I have provided some suggestions that guide my strategy for publication. Many of these guidelines are relevant to a broad array of publication types, but some are specific to empirical, peer-reviewed journal articles and chapters, including those found in New Directions for Institutional Research, Research in Higher Education, and AIR Professional Files.

Consider and Identify Potential Co-Authors – Many higher education publications have only one author, and that might be the right decision for you. However, other publications have multiple authors for a variety of reasons, which can include bringing additional expertise or knowledge, having access to key resources, engaging in a mentoring relationship, and lightening the workload for writing the manuscript.

Find the Right Outlet – Where you should look to publish depends upon the desired audience (institutional researchers, policymakers, etc.), the rigor of the outlet (e.g., Research in Higher Education has approximately a 10-percent acceptance rate, so submissions here should be very high in quality), and the type of publication you want to write (e.g., some issues of New Directions in Institutional Research contain reviews of existing research and descriptions of best practices, whereas other outlets want only original research findings). Bray and Major’s 2011 article in The Journal of Higher Education contains a partial list of higher education journals, and a center at Virginia Tech has compiled an extensive list of higher education outlets.

Follow the Rules – Once you know where you want to submit your work, you need to know exactly what that outlet is looking for. Almost all publications have “instructions for authors” or “manuscript guidelines” that you should review and follow closely, since many outlets will send back submissions that do not adhere to key aspects of these directions. It is also useful to know some of the unwritten rules of that publication (e.g., Research in Higher Education almost exclusively publishes quantitative work, even though this is not a formal criterion for submission or acceptance). Many outlets also have norms about what sections to include and in what order. The best ways to identify these expectations is to peruse several previous issues and/or ask someone who has experience with that outlet.

Start Strong – Reviewers may quickly form an opinion about the quality of your work that affects how they read the rest of the manuscript. Therefore, the introduction and abstract (if applicable) must provide a clear overview of your work and the broader context in which it is situated. In particular, you must make a strong case for the novel contribution of your paper, especially when reporting on empirical research findings. What useful knowledge does this paper provide, and how is this different from what has been done before?

Provide Relevant Literature – A good literature review must cite key papers (which are highly influential within the area of study) and recent papers (which may explore similar issues to the manuscript that you are writing). It is nearly impossible to cite every paper that is relevant to your topic, but seeking to cover important and recent work will be a good start.

Use Strong Methodology – For empirical research papers, there is simply no replacement for having a data source that was created with a rigorous research design and was analyzed appropriately. The “best” design and analysis depends on the research questions that are being addressed, but some approaches are certainly preferable to others in particular circumstances. For instance, although experimental designs are rare in higher education, they are almost always the best approach for determining causal relationships.

Discuss Results Meaningfully – As an author of an original research paper or a reviewer of existing work, your job is not only to summarize the findings, but also to make sense of them. When taken as a whole, what does the previous literature say about this topic? How do you reconcile any apparent inconsistencies in the literature? For empirical articles in particular, why do you think that you obtained those results? What might explain any unexpected findings? And what do your results suggest about the phenomenon that you are studying?

Offer Useful Implications – The nature of implications that you provide will differ considerably, depending on the outlet and the intended audience. Implications could include suggestions for practitioners, researchers, policymakers, and any combination thereof. Moreover, those broad constituent groups can be narrowed down much further, since higher education “practitioners” could include institutional researchers, course instructors, student affairs administrators, college and university presidents, leaders of professional organizations, and so on.

Write Clearly and Concisely – If your reader has difficulty understanding your message, then your submission is unlikely to be accepted. In addition to general principles of effective writing, be sure to define key terms (including acronyms) and do not assume that your audience is an expert on the topic, except in the rare instance that your outlet narrowly targets individuals who are experts.

Obtain Feedback and Revise – Finally, it is always a good idea to read and revise your own work, and you should also receive feedback from co-author(s) and someone who is not involved with writing that particular item. Ideally, this person would have some familiarity with the outlet for which you are writing. The manuscript development process may include the following steps (in this order):

  1. Write a first draft of sections for which you are primarily responsible (which could be the whole manuscript).
  2. Revise your own writing.
  3. Send it to co-authors and others for their suggestions.
  4. Make revisions accordingly.
  5. Re-read the entire document one last time before submitting your work.




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Total Comments: 1
Bill posted on 7/16/2015 2:09 PM
Great advice here and congratulations to Nick on this next phase of his career.

Bill Knight