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Professional praxis and publication: a challenge

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Associate Professor Peter Clayton, University of Canberra, Australia

Getting published

If you're a newer member of the information profession you may need to be encouraged to publish your work, as this isn't common. Why not? Is it because you feel that it's not your place, that this is something which should be left to the "experts" in the field? Or perhaps that your work wouldn't be good enough?

In fact there are many contributions younger professionals could consider making. Have you just completed a higher degree with a project or thesis component to it? Then, unless your assessors were quite uncomplimentary, you should be considering turning that project or thesis into at least one article. The work has in large part already been done, after all; the tough job will merely be to cut it back to around 5,000 words – and your supervisor will almost certainly be happy to advise on this, and even suggest a possible place to publish it. However, you will almost certainly need to turn it from "thesis speak" (third person, cautious in its claims, full of detail, footnote-dense) into something more readable.

Writing publishable articles

Rather than do a cut-and-paste from the thesis, then, it may be better to start again and imagine you are describing your project to an interested colleague. What would he or she want to know about it? Not about your literature review or methodology, probably; they'd be interested in what you found, and what the implications of your work might be.

Have you recently consulted or surveyed your library or institution's users about some current issue? Then, if the project was properly designed and executed, you may well have something to report which will be of interest to others (and if it wasn't properly designed and executed, then you wouldn't want to rely on it for management or policy decisions either).

Whether your contribution is based on a thesis or a project undertaken for work, by preparing it for publication you are getting twice the value out of your work: it's serving both that original purpose, and this new one. Consider too, that when you ask respondents or interviewees to give their time to help you, the least you can do is make full use of that rather than bury it as a thesis or report which will not be read by more than a handful of people. (The typical PhD thesis is read by just six people: the supervisors, the examiners, and perhaps the longsuffering spouse...)

Choosing where to get published

Choose a journal which publishes in the relevant area, preferably refereed, and ideally one which you have cited in your work. Top journals will be inundated with far more contributions than they can ever publish, so choose more modestly. If you're outside the USA, one of your own national titles is far more likely to accept the work of a new author. Indeed, I'm sure that the editor of any Emerald journal would say, "let's have a look" – and these are excellent places in which to publish.

Look at the journal: has it a guide for contributors? How long are most of the articles it publishes, and how are they structured and set out? Do they include tables, graphs or photos? Adopt whatever footnote style they use (every journal seems to have a different style, for no reason which has ever been apparent to me). The aim is for your contribution to look as if it belongs in that journal. Ask a colleague to read and comment on your paper before you submit it, then contact the editor by e-mail and submit by e-mail if possible.

Finally, hope that you will be asked to revise your contribution: this is a positive, not a negative, outcome! A negative outcome would be rejection, but even here you're likely to receive helpful feedback on your contribution which should enable you to revise it, and then try elsewhere. Getting published can be a little like completing a higher degree, in fact: sometimes what counts in the end is persistence.

Supporting your colleagues

Those who are far from being younger members of the profession might also care to think about their role in all this, as examples to our less experienced colleagues, as coaches and as mentors. You can encourage, support and advise. You can also celebrate the achievements of those who do rise to the challenge.

The résumé of an experienced professional consists of more than the degrees you hold, and the jobs you've done. It should also record something of your contribution to the profession – and publication, and supporting those who do publish, is one way you can give back part of what you've gained from others.