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Disseminating research results

I attended a short seminar a few months ago that reviewed the academic publication process. At the time I thought it was reasonably informative and useful. Now, after having spent a bit more time thinking about the nature of formal, academic publication, I wonder if there isn’t a better, more efficient way to distribute new knowledge? The seminar seemed to revolve around an aging notion of what it means to be a credible researcher / author, with the main contention being that you must publish in accredited journals and that no other form of knowledge dissemination is as credible.

Over the past few months however, my own ideas of what constitutes a reasonable contribution to the body of knowledge have shifted from that older model to one in which a more informal method plays a central role. Is it really necessary to publish in “acceptable” journals to be taken seriously, or can one use other forms of publication, for example blogs? I’m not sure yet. Can you generate new (or modified) ideas and put them out there to be judged by your peers? Will the good content / ideas rise and evolve (through user input), while bad ones get relegated to the pile of fossils that didn’t quite make it? I think they will and yet, in order for me to be taken seriously as an academic (at least for now), I’m encouraged to avoid alternative forms of distributing academic content.

Anyway, those were a few thoughts that went through my head while I re-read my notes. We began by looking at the differences between a conference presentation and journal publication:

Conference presentation:

  • “Soft” review – one person reads your abstract to decide if you can present
  • No referee feedback – the abstract is either accepted or it’s not, there’s no suggestions to improve
  • No quality control – who decides if the study was well conducted?
  • Therefore presentations have little value for an academic
  • Note: only invited keynote speakers have real academic relevance, as they’re recognised as leaders in the field

Journal article:

  • Strict refereeing (one or several) means that the survey must contribute to the body of knowledge, can be extended / strengthened through feedback and is seen to be based on evidence through appropriate references
  • Only accepted after attention has been paid to reviewers comments
  • There is strict quality control

It was advised that only works in progress be presented at conferences, and that if the study is complete, results should rather be written up as an article.

In terms of selecting a journal, consider which publications cover your area, and give preference to international journals or those approved by the university. Review the authors guidelines for publication in that journal and follow them strictly.

As far as choosing authors, they must be involved in the academic content of the article. In other words, research assistants, data capturers, field workers, etc. should not be given authorship. Authors should be listed in terms of the greatest contribution.

In terms of addressing reviewers comments:

  • Remember that comments are not personal and that they’re there to strengthen your paper
  • Re-read the comments when you remember that they’re not personal (they won’t seem nearly as bad)
  • Address every point the reviewer made, bearing in mind that once addressed, you’re done with them. They can’t add new comments when it’s sent back.

And finally, ownership of the copyright must be transferred to the journal. From then on, you may only use your own paper for personal use.

Some links on blogging in academia:

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.