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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 26


Spinning straw into gold

Effective librarian authors often learn to make their work do double duty, cultivating the ability to share their ideas and content among multiple formats. If you have ever written an essay, researched a paper for an LIS class, or prepared a presentation, you now have useful content you can translate into another medium. The question then becomes how best to take this material and transform it into a publishable paper.

First, step back, take a deep breath, and realize that you have already conquered the most significant hurdle in any publishing effort: You have content; you have ideas; you have something to say. Second, though, realize you may have to let go of some parts you treasure to be able to adapt your work successfully to a new format. Be willing to approach your existing work with a fresh eye; depending on the project, you may even need to reduce your paper or presentation down to its core outline and start almost from scratch.

The sections below highlight several main ways that authors tend to rework existing content into publishable articles, with tips for success on each.

Presentations

Presentations differ from published articles in a number of major ways:

  • Visual cues. When you present on a given topic, you may be accustomed to having PowerPoint slides or other visual material to back you up, which is not always applicable in the written medium.
  • Audience interaction. When speaking in front of an audience, you have the advantage of a certain amount of give and take. If people look puzzled, you know you need to backtrack and explain yourself better. If people are nodding in agreement, you know you have struck a chord. In a written work, your audience is further removed, and you lack this sort of instant feedback.
  • Gaps. When you speak to an audience, you automatically fill in the gaps from your slides, notes, or other material. (Good speakers soon learn not to write their talks down word-for-word!)

Converting a presentation to a publishable work requires you to compensate for the lack of these cues, filling in the gaps where necessary and giving your readers the background to understand your main points. You might tend to put in verbal transitions automatically, for example, but need to make a conscious effort to work them into the written product.

Rather than trying to directly convert your presentation to an article, you may wish to reduce it down to its main ideas, then use these as an outline for your written work. This lets you see where the gaps are, but also gives you a structure to work from, rather than needing to start your article entirely from scratch.

Also understand that, when presenting on a project or on research you have completed, you may tend to skimp somewhat on background and methodology in order to keep the attention of your audience: some things translate less well into the verbal medium. When making the move to print, though, you will need to fill in all of this background for your reviewer, editor and readers.

Research papers

Writers of school papers have an advantage in that they have often been required to research and document their work. Papers, however, differ from publishable articles in several ways:

  • Tone. School papers are often easily identified as such; students get in a certain mode of writing that serves them well from college through graduate school. When moving to the professional literature, you will need to pay attention to the tone of a given journal and identify how it differs from your own.
  • Style. When you write a paper for class, you address a particular professor, who tends to make his preferences clearly known. When writing for a journal, you will need to adapt your material to follow their guidelines rather than those laid out by your instructor.
  • Content. Professional journals are often more strict in the content that they require from their authors, asking for every article to contain specific elements. If your initial paper lacks one or more of these elements, you will need to add them in prior to submitting your work for publication.

A number of organizations, associations, and journals recognize that student work can be eminently publishable. The American Library Association’s LITA, for example, gives out an annual LITA/Endeavor Student Writing award for the "best unpublished manuscript on a topic in the area of libraries and information technology written by a student or students enrolled in an ALA-accredited library and information studies graduate programme". Winners earn a cash prize, and their article is published in the association’s journal.

If, as a student, you are interested in publishing your work, keep this thought in mind as early as when researching a paper for class. Hold onto additional material and ideas that might not fit into your initial assignment; this research and notes may be useful when later reworking your paper for publication.

Think also about asking your professor for assistance. Most have experience with the publishing process, and many will be willing to share tips and advice with students. Get their honest opinion as to whether your paper might be revisable for the professional literature; get their feedback on areas they would change or beef up.

Essays

Essays also differ from professional articles, in:

  • Style. Essays are generally opinion based, and may or may not be grounded in research, data, or a larger project. Those that are solely opinion may not translate well into a larger article, but can spark an idea for later professional publication.
  • Tone. Essays are often more casual in tone than the articles that tend to get published in the professional literature. You’ll need to rework your phraseology and approach for most publications, adopting a more formal tone.

If you have written an essay, whether for publication, for a blog, for personal clarification, or for class, you need to take a hard look at whether its content will effectively translate to publication in a professional journal. If your original essay relies more on opinion than on research, it may belong on an opinion page or in a more general professional magazine. American Libraries and Library Journal, for example, both publish one-page opinion columns on a regular basis.

If your essay stems from a larger project, you will again need to step back and think about starting from close to the beginning. You may be able to use material from your essay in certain sections of your journal article, but will need first to fill in a lot of gaps; these are very different types of writing.

Last, recognize in all of these efforts the inherent differences between journal publishing and other types of professional participation. Those used to receiving timely feedback on papers or instant feedback on presentations must reconcile themselves to the drawn-out review process; realize that each step may take months, and that your article, even if accepted, may not appear in print for a year. Think of these activities as complementary; each fills in a piece of your career as an information professional.