By Julia Howe
Many of us aspire to write for publication but the process can seem daunting. Despite this being published is very satisfying and there are good reasons why we might want to think about publication as a way of sharing our work. We are a small profession and writing about our work can help to raise awareness of what we do and increase our impact. Also, many of the approaches that we use and recommend have a limited evidence base and publication can help to build this. The following advice is based upon my experience of publication as a writer and reviewer.
Choosing a journal:
Think about who you want to read about your work. The first step when thinking about publication is to chose the journal that you would like to publish in. You need to start by thinking about your audience. Who do you want to read your work? Who would your work be useful for? Where will your research have most impact? We often resort to our “own” professional journals but sometimes we should be talking to other professionals about our work. So think about where your research will have the most impact.
Do your research. Once you have chosen a journal it’s crucial that you take some time to do some research about it. The most important thing to establish that the journal is likely to be interested in the type of research that you have completed. Many journals are generic and take different types of papers, while some are specialist. So your first step should be to read some copies of the journal to see if your paper is likely to fit with their style and content.
Check the journal’s guidelines. Journals have author guidelines to help you understand the journal style and technical details like how to reference your paper. You can find these on the journal’s website.
Writing a paper from a large piece of work (like a thesis):
Have a clear story that you want to tell. It’s not possible to simply condense a large piece of research into a journal paper. So it’s important to decide before you start writing what the story or narrative of your paper will be. This will mean selecting the parts of your research that tell this story.
Write your abstract first. One useful tip is to try writing your abstract first and to use this to organise your ideas. This can be feel difficult as summarising a paper into a single paragraph is hard.
Take out any unnecessary details. Again, looking at some copies of the journal can give you some idea of how much detail you need to have in each section. One example is that journal papers rarely have a lengthy methods section.
Writing a paper from practice:
Plan to write before you start a piece of work. It is helpful to decide before you start a piece of work that you might like to write it up. This will allow you to think about factors such as pre and post measures if you want to measure change.
Use a theory or model. It can be helpful to have a theory or model to fit your work within this can give you a structure for your writing.
Get permission. Although you will not have a formal ethical submission, make sure that the people involved in your research have given their consent for you to write it up.
Getting the writing done:
Find a writing partner. Writing with a colleague can be motivating and will help to share some of the pain.
Set aside time to write. The inevitable question that authors always get asked in interviews is to give some advice to new writers. Their response is usually some variation on “you need to make yourself sit at your desk and write”. With this in mind, it’s worth setting aside some time and then making yourself sit and write, even if you think what you are doing is not that good. My experience is that when you come back to your work you’ll find it’s better than you thought. I have found that writing is a little like exercising a muscle: the more you do the easier it gets (even if it is still sometimes painful!)
Write in an accessible way. Try to aim for readability in your writing. Using plain English and providing clear definitions of technical terms is helpful. Also, don’t invent your own acronyms as these can be very confusing for the reader.
The review process:
Be prepared. Comments from reviewers are intended to help you to make the paper ready for publication. They are usually fair but they can be sometimes be brutal. Be prepared to make some changes to your paper and set some time aside to do this.
Give feedback if you don’t agree with a recommendation. A review isn’t the same as a viva. If you think that a reviewer is asking you to change something because they’ve misunderstood what your paper is about, you can send a comment to the editor saying this. They may reply and still ask you to make the change.
Once your paper is published:
Bask in your sense of achievement and the admiration of your colleagues!
Publicise it. Let your colleagues know, use social media to promote the paper.
Write a blog about it so it’s accessible people who may not have access to the journal. This blog is for past and present trainees at the University of Birmingham and we would love to hear from you. If you did not train with us the blog at ed.psy.org.uk is widely read.
Julia is a tutor on the initial training course for educational psychology at the University of Birmingham and a member of the Editorial Board of Educational Psychology in Practice.
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