Writing for Publication: How Do I Get Started?

Ask eAIR covers topics about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. This month’s question is answered by Sharron L. Ronco, Assessment Director at Marquette University and 2014-2016 Coordinating Editor of AIR Professional Files. The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Members are invited to join the discussion by commenting below. 

Dear Sharron: I want to write for publication, but I don’t have any experience. How do I get started? 

Sharing your work with your IR colleagues is a great way to contribute to your profession while potentially advancing your own career. Fortunately, there are a number of publication avenues in AIR, ranging from theoretical and scholarly to practical and instructional, from the more selective to the more accessible. Below are some considerations as you prepare to take the publication plunge.   

Ronco.jpgWrite about what you do. People often question whether they have anything worthwhile to write about that would be of value to others. If you have an application of a tool or a particular technique has been successful at your institution, or you helped develop a solution to a challenge your office faced, chances are excellent that others will benefit from your experience. Did you take notes about the challenge itself, your exploration for solutions, and the process you took to address it?  Or did you develop a literature review to prepare for a project at work? In either case, you have the basis for a paper that can guide colleagues who are involved in similar projects. Keep a log of what you do at work, think of how your efforts would scale to other institutions, distill the key lessons learned, and commit your experiences to writing. Take a fresh look at a report, graduate thesis, or conference presentation to see whether it can be reworked for a particular publication.  

Ease into it (with a little help from your friends). If you’re not ready to take the scholarly publication plunge, volunteer to write Tech Tips or Visual Displays of Data in eAIR. You will gain experience and confidence. When you are ready to write more comprehensive pieces, enlist a colleague to serve as a co-author or as a critical reviewer to provide feedback on your topic, approach, and writing. Explore opportunities with publications that feature practical applications related to institutional research, such as AIR Professional Files, and higher education journals, such as Research in Higher Education and New Directions for Institutional Research

Find a good fit. Before submitting your work to a publication, familiarize yourself with its content. Make sure your submission is consistent with the publication’s aims and adheres to the instructions for authors. Your submission should be thoughtfully prepared and conform to the conventions of academic writing. Avoid simultaneous submissions to multiple publications for the same reasons you should avoid dating multiple partners; eventually someone will get dumped and left out in the cold—probably you! 

Take feedback seriously, but not personally! Some people hesitate to submit for publication because they fear rejection. A rejected manuscript is simply an opportunity to rethink your work and perhaps seek another avenue for publication. Often, editors invite authors to revise and resubmit to the same publication. This means that your work has strong potential and is considered to be a worthwhile contribution. Be sure to accept the offer and make some or all of the recommended revisions, and explain why you opted not to pursue others. Perseverance is key—most resubmitted manuscripts are eventually published. Constructive feedback is intended to help you improve your piece. None of it is commentary on your character or your value as a professional, scholar, or individual! 

Just do it. Waiting for your desk or inbox to clear so you can dedicate time to writing means you will never get published. Reassign a realistic amount of time on a set schedule to devote to your manuscript. Strive to submit a quality product, but avoid the perils of perfection—you are not Ernest Hemingway (who is said to have written the last chapter of Farewell to Arms 119 times!) Finally, recognize that writing, even if it doesn’t result in publication, has many benefits. It helps clarify your thinking, leads to new directions for research and inquiry, and contributes to your personal and professional growth. Writing is also a valuable form of networking. As editors and readers learn more about your skills and interests, they will start to think of you for future opportunities, including conference presentations, research projects, and job openings. 

Do you have suggestions for readers eager to start writing and publishing? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.




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Total Comments: 5
Danielle posted on 6/19/2014 1:53 PM
These are great tips! Finding a mentor that already has some publications under his/her belt can be very helpful. Creating a writing group of colleagues in similar positions career-wise is another alternative if you don't have a mentor to rely on. It can allow you to produce more publication and members can alternate as serving as key author.
Julia posted on 6/20/2014 10:15 AM
These tips are very helpful. Another way I have found to get started is by writing blog posts for online publications. This eases you into writing without having to produce a long manuscript.
Felice posted on 6/20/2014 12:27 PM
This is an excellent piece for anyone seeking to break into the publishing arena - and the steps Sharron offers are practical and easy to accomplish. Should be a must-read for all new aspiring publishers in the educational research field. IR officers have more to offer than they realize!
Jon posted on 6/20/2014 1:35 PM
After 30 years of teaching and 28 years as Series Editor of the ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Series I have found that these are the six most useful rules to begin a publishing career:
1. Decide on a topic you are passionate about: no passion - no publication! Passion is created by believing that what you have to say is important and others will benefit from what you have to say.
2. Know what you want to say. Talk to yourself until you have a direction about what you feel is the essence of your topic. Stand in a corner and hear your voice. Look in a mirror and see your face. Create a mental confidence that convinces you that what you have to say others want to hear.
3. Turn on your computer and start writing. Go from random thoughts to create a basic outline. Don't worry about how complete the outline is - just make sure it has a beginning (a head or thoughtful conceptual structure), a body (or rationale of why your topic is important) and legs and feet or a structure to carry your topic to your conclusion.
4. Talk about what you are writing - talk to your close friends, talk to your professional colleagues, and don't forget the mirror and the corner of the room.
5. Be a slave to deadlines. Set deadlines for your outline, your first draft and your last draft. Then submit your efforts for review. Enjoy the compliments but listen to the constructive criticism. No constructive criticism, than get better friends, colleagues or editors. And finally -
6. Their is no such thing as writing only rewriting. Writing is like any skill, the more you do it the better you become. But like any skill, writing is not a skill of perfect. However, the more you write the more you will achieve success.
Sheila posted on 6/23/2014 10:00 AM
I figure that writing for publication serves public and private purposes for me: the former is certainly for the public good, and the latter is for declaring the existence of one's mind. When I claim my existence of my mind, which simultaneously responds to the public need, explains a big question, clarifies a perplexing phenomenon, that's such a wonderful mix of the two purposes for publication!