In the first three chapters, we provided advice to instructional technology researchers on three related subjects: designing and conducting research, preparing a research proposal for AECT, and making effective presentations at conventions. In this final chapter, we will address what for most researchers represents the culmination of their efforts--publishing their study in a professional journal.
Although the expression "publish or perish" has now become a cliché in academic circles, the importance of its message to faculty who desire to advance at their colleges or universities (and certainly in their disciplines) remains as strong as ever. For graduate students desiring to obtain an academic or research position, publications can provide that extra edge that sets their credentials apart from those of other candidates. But, even for those whose career success does not depend at all on publishing, there are considerable personal rewards of seeing one’s work appear in print. (We keep reminding ourselves that those rewards really exist, as we work to complete this article!)
Although most researchers would like very much to publish their work, the problem for new authors is breaking the ice by submitting their first manuscript to a journal. Some are plagued by a lack of confidence and fear of having an article rejected. These individuals spend considerable time "planning" to publish, but like Scarlett O’Hara, continually put the actual task off until a "tomorrow" that never comes. For others, it is not knowing how to publish with regard to writing style and the selection of an appropriate journal. These individuals are willing to make a try, but often experience disappointment as a result of submitting the wrong article to the wrong journal.
Based on these thoughts, our goal in the sections below will be to better prepare readers for publishing research studies in professional journals. Although most of our suggestions will apply to virtually any type of education publication (e.g., position paper, analytical study, review of the literature, evaluation report, descriptive report, etc.), style conventions specific to different types of papers do exist. Since our main focus will be research papers (as would be published, for example, in the Research section of ETR&D), please recognize that some adaptations may be needed to fit an alternative orientation.
A research study is hardly needed to prove that there is a strong causal relationship between submitting papers to journals and having papers published. When you submit a paper, a good thing that can happen is that it will be accepted, probably pending some revisions. The worst that can happen is that it will be rejected, but as part of that process, you will most likely receive invaluable, constructive criticisms on how your research and/or write-up can be improved. You will be then at liberty to submit the revised manuscript to another journal, probably with increased chances of receiving a favorable review. As the above heading indicates: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Okay, so let's assume that you decide to give publishing a try. What should you expect?
Typically, you will be requested to send from three to five copies of the manuscript to the journal editor. The editor will examine the manuscript to obtain an overall impression of its quality and suitability for the journal. If the manuscript looks "reasonable" on these dimensions, he/she will forward it to three or four reviewers who will be given a month or so to respond. (If the manuscript does not appear appropriate, it may be returned without receiving a formal review, which would only end up wasting time for both the author and the reviewers.) The reviews will be done in the "blind," i.e., without knowing the author’s identity. Where possible, the editor will select reviewers having the most experience with the particular research area. Using a ratings form and open-ended comments, reviewers will make recommendations regarding the acceptability of the manuscript. A sample rating form currently used for ETR&D reviews is shown in Figure 1. Once all the reviews are submitted, the editor will consider them collectively along with his/her own judgments, and make a decision. In nearly all cases, "accept" decisions will require some revisions, as suggested by the review process. Let's turn below to some suggested strategies for increasing your chances of receiving a positive review.
Your research is completed, comments from your AECT presentation were favorable, and now you'd like to see your study published. Don't write the final draft yet. First, some planning is needed.
Your first important decision is to select an appropriate journal. Journals differ considerably in their orientations and standards for quality. No matter how well written your manuscript may be, unless it provides a good fit with the particular journal, it will probably not be accepted. In fact, the only review you may receive is from the editor informing you of inappropriateness. This paper, for example, should be quite appropriate for Tech Trends, but it is not well suited for, say, the Journal of Educational Psychology or ETR&D. Both of the latter demand, among other things, a more research- and literature-based orientation than what is Tech Trends. Further, the Journal of Educational Psychology is much more selective than most research journals, since it is published by the American Psychological Association (APA) and receives a very high volume of manuscripts for review. On the other hand, ETR&D, a more specialized journal, will favor studies relating to certain domains, such as educational technology and instructional design, but might reject an article on the sociological organization of the classroom. Successful authors learn to make good selections of publication outlets, and not waste time having their articles reviewed (and rejected) by inappropriate journals.
Here are some quick tips for making your selection:
Based on your review of the selected journal, write the final version of the manuscript to fit that journal’s style and orientation. As journal reviewers and editors, we cannot overemphasize the importance of authors’ using the correct writing style for the journal. For ETR&D and most educational research journals, the adopted style is "APA," as described in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (3rd ed., 1983). APA also has guidelines on their web site (http://www.apa.org/journals/webref.html) for citing electronic documents. It's no secret that considerable subjectivity is involved in judging the quality of a manuscript. And, first impressions are powerful ones. When a submitted manuscript does not conform to the specified style, the message to the reviewers is that its author is not very experienced at professional writing and/or has not carefully read the instructions for authors. A third message may be that this article was originally prepared for another journal and was rejected.
Aside from style, you should also check on length, orientation, and finally, writing mechanics. Some journals favor relatively brief reports ("just the facts"), some favor more technical or comprehensive reports, some are more theoretical, and some are more applied. How well the writing orientation matches the "preferred approach" for the journal is a key factor influencing reviewers’ judgments. Finally, authors sometimes do all of the above things, but sacrifice the review decision to poor writing, represented by incorrect grammar, awkward phrasing, and explanations/discussions that are too limited or too verbose. Misspelled words create an immediate and often fatal negative impression. Carefully review and proofread your writing; ask a colleague to provide an additional check before you submit the manuscript.
Just as writing style makes an immediate impression, so does the way you submit the manuscript. An editor who has to make additional photocopies because too few were sent by the author will not be pleased. Read the guidelines in a current edition of the journal to determine to whom the manuscript should be mailed, how many copies are needed, whether a disk copy is required, and other procedures. Some journals will further request that information, which could identify the authors (citations of previous work, name of university, etc.) be removed from the cover page and text in a specified number of copies.
It is appropriate protocol to enclose a brief cover letter with the manuscript However, please do not follow in the footsteps of an author who recently submitted a manuscript to ETR&D, writing in his cover letter, "Please consider this manuscript for publication in Computers and Human Behavior."! (Using the wrong journal name is not a great beginning.) The cover letter is useful to editors for knowing to whom and where to send correspondence about the manuscript. A letter that is brief and business-like will do the trick, you do not need to provide an abstract of your article in the letter.
Picture the following scene. Several weeks (or months) after submitting the manuscript, you receive an envelope bearing the return address of the journal editor. You remove the cover letter with anticipation, your eyes gradually making out the magic words, "I am pleased to inform you that..."
Congratulations, you’ve made it through the "difficult" part. But there is probably some work remaining–in most situations, the acceptance will be contingent on your making some revisions. The reviewers’ comments will be enclosed. Carefully read them, along with the editor’s recommendations. If you are uncertain about how to make the changes, call or email the editor. Your manuscript is being planned for a particular issue, so be sure to return the revised version on time. A good strategy when you resubmit the manuscript is to summarize the revisions made (and provide a rationale if you chose not to follow a particular recommendation) on a separate sheet. This summary helps the editor to review the changes and creates a favorable impression about your responsiveness.
A month or so prior to the actual publication, you may receive page proofs from the publisher to proofread. Take this task seriously, since typos or other errors that you miss will forever remain in the published article that bears your name. Any changes that you make at this time should be limited to spelling. Rewriting your manuscript could result in a sizable bill for the additional typesetting work.
Unfortunately, a fact of publishing life is having a manuscript rejected. While it is typical to be disappointed, it is clearly counter-productive to feel angry. Sure, you might have had "bad" reviewers or an unfeeling editor (don’t we all?), but chances are that there are legitimate weaknesses of the paper in its present form. But, remember, the paper does not have to remain in that form, and there are other journals. So, chalk the rejection up to experience and use it constructively for the "free" advice that it provides on how to improve the paper. Carefully read the reviewers’ criticisms (not all are necessarily good ones), decide which changes are appropriate and reasonable, make those changes, and resubmit the manuscript to another journal. There is no guarantee of success, but assuming your research is of "publishable" quality, your diligence in revising and resubmitting the manuscript should pay off with this try or another.
In this section, we will suggest some format guidelines that you can use in writing a research paper for publication. We emphasize the term, guidelines, since we do not want to offer a "formula" method that readers will follow mechanically. Good writers, like good artists, express themselves creatively according to the nature of their message, subject, and personal style. But, with professional journal publications, there are certain style conventions that readers (and reviewers) expect. Thus, use the following outline adaptively, making sure any major style or content changes are appropriate for the journal that you've selected.
1. Participants. Clearly describe the subjects or participants (how old, what grade, volunteers or paid, minority, gifted, etc.) and how they were selected, assigned to treatments (if done), etc. Typically in school-based research, you will want to describe the characteristics of the student population and school, but not identify the specific school.
Example: The high school is located in an urban area in Memphis, Tennessee. It serves a mixture of lower-class and middle-class students.
2. Design. A description/identification of the research design is usually needed, especially for experimental-type research, to identify the research approach, treatments, and independent and dependent variables. The design can be incorporated with Subjects or treated as a separate section. Examples of design statements:
An 3(treatment) by 2(gender) factorial design was employed.
A quasi-experimental design was used in which three classes took tests under different schedules. Dependent variables were student study time, attitudes toward testing, and achievement test scores.
A descriptive design was employed, which involved observing and recording different types of student interactions while working on the computer in pairs.
3. Materials or instrumentation. In instances where materials are unusual, complex, or of central importance to the treatments being examined, it is desirable to describe them in a separate section that precedes Procedures (see below). This section should include descriptions of tests, learning materials, questionnaires, handouts, etc. In the case of instrumentation, it should address how you obtained the instrument, how many items it includes, how it is scored, how it was validated, what the nature of the items are, and how its scores are interpreted (what does a high score mean?). Be sure to note treatment-by-treatment differences, if any, in materials.
4. Procedure. This section provides a reasonably detailed description of the steps employed in carrying out the study (e.g., implementing different treatments, distributing materials, observing behaviors, testing, etc.). A good rule of thumb to keep in mind in writing this section is that, by reading it, another researcher should be able to replicate the study.
5. Analyses. Unless your analyses are fairly simple or obvious, it is usually appropriate to include a brief description of each major statistical analysis. This section may be incorporated in the Design section, appended to the Procedure section, or treated separately.
We hope that the above perspectives and advice will both encourage and help you to write articles for publication. Publications are personally rewarding by providing recognition of your research. An additional reward is hearing from readers in the form of questions, requests for further information, or comments. In this vein, we invite you to let us know if you found this monograph helpful.
Remember, the key elements of writing for publication are using the right presentation and writing styles, carefully proofing the manuscript, using feedback from reviews constructively, and persisting when a manuscript is not accepted the first or second time. Good luck with your writing, and we hope to "see you" in the journals!