Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016
Planning Strategy for Practical Articles
From Professional Experience to Expert Advice
Conference Proposals and Article Types
The academic integrity policy of our university specifically prohibits the use of the same paper to fulfill the requirements of different courses. However, in recent years, I made an exception: I allowed my doctoral students to revisit their candidacy paper or paper written for another course in the Writing for Professional Publication course. The reason for this is that the papers written previously needed to be completely reorganized into journal article format and revised significantly several times before they were nearly publishable. Shortly after making that announcement, I found a large interdepartmental envelope with copies of four papers a student had written for various classes and a very gracious note asking if I could help him to decide which one to pursue as a publication. My response was that I could not—and not just because I didn’t have the time. The reason was that he had to choose a topic that, based on his knowledge of his field (teaching English), was the most innovative and the topic that interested him the most. Using the information in Activity 6.2, revisit a manuscript that you have written and analyze the changes that will need to be made in order to transform it into a publishable piece.
Activity 6.2: Converting a Manuscript into a Practical Article
Revisit a paper you have written for a graduate class or a rejected manuscript. Now identify a published manuscript that is an excellent example of the type of practical article you want to publish. Articles that you thought were worth the time to copy and save are a good place to start.
Using the table below, summarize the differences you see between your own writing and the published paper. List the changes that you’ll need to make in your writing for it to become more publishable (Table 6.2).
Analyzing a manuscript’s potential as a practical article
Published manuscript VS. your manuscript
Implications for enhancing publication potential
Analyzing and synthesizing the research
Conducting an interdisciplinary search that includes the related literature from other fields
Presenting a logical and persuasive argument
Writing in an authoritative and professional voice
Taking a stand on the issue(s)
Overall organization and structure of the work
Using headings as “signposts” to guide the reader and signal important changes
Using concise, specific examples relevant to the intended audience and illustrate key points
What follows are a series of recommendations that authors of practical articles can use to arrive at the framework for a practical article.
Recommendation 1: Identify your specific audience
A common error of inexperienced authors is to assume that “everyone” will want to read a practical article when the audience is far more specific than that. Determine your primary audience, those who would be most likely to stop and read, for example, speech-language pathologists working in public schools or registered nurses working as administrators in rural hospitals. One of the challenges in writing for fellow professionals is to decide how much background is necessary. If you make your audience more specific, such questions are easier to answer. For instance, just about everyone involved with a learning support program at a college or university would be familiar with Pascarella and Terenzini’s (2005) research on student retention and the freshman experience, so it would not be necessary to go into detail. When in doubt, just refer readers to a more “basic” source of information at the end of a sentence; that way, the uninformed can build the requisite understandings. Another aspect of audience awareness is using professional jargon judiciously. Many publications aimed at practitioners have a mixed audience of preservice and inservice practitioners, so avoiding excessive jargon will make the article more accessible to novices in the field as well as to readers from other disciplinary backgrounds.
Read Bordeaux et al.’s (2007) advice, “Guidelines for Writing about Community-Based Participatory Research for Peer-Reviewed Journals” at http://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/progress_in_community_health_partnerships/1.3bordeaux.pdf
Recommendation 2: Work with real, live audience members
Talk with some practitioners who represent the audience for their article. Ask them what issues they have encountered and the questions that they would expect to have answered in a practical article with the title you have drafted. Consider presenting the material to a college class, making a conference presentation or conducting a workshop for practitioners on the topic of your article and be certain to ask for input from the participants. Ask a trusted and well-read professional to review the manuscript. Too often, writers ask people to review for them and the response is more like your fifth grade teacher’s—correcting minor mistakes. When you invite peer review, it is very important to provide direction on what sort of feedback you are seeking. The Wiley Publication Guide on Nursing (Holland & Watson, 2012) suggests questions such as these when asking fellow professionals to review a practical article:
· What do you think of the work, overall? Please be frank and do not worry about hurting my feelings; it is a work in progress.
· Is there anything you do not understand? Can you identify places where it is confusing?
· Does the work hold your interest? Can you identify places where it bogs down?
· Is the work relevant to your practice? Why or why not?
· Are there good ideas and material that you could implement immediately?
· Are there materials or ideas that you would put to use later?
· Is there anything that needed further elaboration?
· Are there unanswered questions that you still have?
If it is not too much of an imposition, ask the reader to take another look at the article after it has been revised in accordance with this feedback.
Recommendation 3: Identify objectives for readers
When you teach a class or conduct a training or workshop, you need to identify objectives for the participants. The same principle applies to the practical article (Callender-Price, 2014). What will readers now know and be able to do after spending time with your manuscript? Authors need to deliver on the promise suggested by the titles of their articles so that readers derive some solid benefit. A practical article contributes to professional development when the author:
· Knows a topic well, delves deeply and extends beyond what is already widely available in the literature
· Has truly “lived” with these ideas and is therefore aware of the potential as well as the pitfalls of implementing these recommendations
· Chooses an important topic of interest to the audience that is suitable for the outlet
· Advances the professional dialogue about the topic under discussion
· Bases suggestions on a best evidence synthesis of the research as well as practical experience and professional wisdom
· Develops learning outcomes for readers of the article and delivers on the promise of the title and abstract
Recommendation 4: Recognize that this is a persuasive piece of writing
Authors of practical articles are, in effect, endorsing a method, approach, practice, strategy or attitudinal change that represents an improvement. A practical article makes a claim, endorses a change in practice/policy, and then substantiates that claim with evidence. For example, one of my former students had the thesis that, in order to innovate and respond nimbly to produce educational programs that attract students and increase enrollment, the curriculum approval process at the university needs to be streamlined—that is where the literature review came in. She then went on to use her institution as an instance of these principles and described the measures that had been taken at her campus to revise and improve the curriculum approval process. In scholarly circles, a practical article is much more than a list of tips or hints; rather, it is an evidence-based argument for changes that will advance the field.
Activity 6.3: Substantiating the Claims in Practical Articles
When you write a practical article, you are arguing for a better way. For example, your claim might be “this is a more effective use of journal writing in a college classroom” or “here are ways to develop ethical behaviors in professionals in this field.” In order to argue cogently, apply the STAR criteria to the evidence base for your practical advice:
· S—Sufficiency of grounds: Is there enough evidence, overall, to substantiate the claim?
· T—Typicality: Do the professional behaviors endorsed reflect expert opinion, theory and research?
· A—Accuracy: Is the information used as evidence true? Has it been interpreted correctly and accurately cited?
· R—Relevance: Are the professional practices and policies endorsed relevant, both to the claim and to the evidence? (Adapted from Fulkerson, 1996)
Recommendation 5: Strive to be helpful
Writers sometimes will mention the concern that others (presumably the reviewers) will “steal” their ideas. If this is a worry, there is no sense in pursuing publication because its purpose is to disseminate ideas. Remember that you are a contributor to a journal and that you are providing a service to fellow professionals. Your goal is to spare them the time and trouble it took to arrive at the level of understanding you now have and fast track them to success. Another part of being helpful is resisting the urge to hold back and “save” ideas for a subsequent article. You should be generous with useful information. Many times, aspiring authors persist in talking about their “idea” for a practical article when they actually need many good ideas packed into the manuscript in order for it be publishable. As one editor used to say, in reference to the number of helpful ideas in a successful practical article, “A single tulip does not make a spring day.”
Recommendation 6: Be concise
It is sometimes difficult to be thorough yet concise. Consideration of the reader’s time and patience can be your guide here. When best-selling author Elmore Leonard was asked how he managed to become so successful, he said “I leave out the parts that people skip when reading.” Readers can contact you directly if they need a much more in-depth details. Do not waste words. Often, a section of the article that bogs down can be remedied with visual material—for example, instead of explaining a cycle, illustrating it. Photographs, tables, charts, graphic organizers, checklists, bulleted lists, and so forth help to break up long blocks of text and make your message clearer to the reader. They also pique curiosity as a reader is flipping through the pages of the publication and invite reader to pause, look, and possibly decide to read the entire piece. If you make your ideas abundantly clear with the use of visual material, chances are that more people will instantly grasp your message and be more inclined to take your evidence-based advice. Study the intended outlet to determine the kind and amount of visual material that is acceptable.
Activity 6.4: Matching the Title, Purpose and Focus of an Article
Too often, authors begin generating page after page of text without first making a cohesive plan. Look at the following example from Lu and Montague (2015). How might working on these bits of writing before you begin writing the practical article save you time in the long run?
· Article Title:
Move to Learn, Learn to Move: Prioritizing Physical Activity in Early Childhood Education Programming
· Purpose and Focus (from the abstract):
The purpose of this paper is to review current physical activity issues, to re-evaluate the specific benefits from regular physical activity and to offer guiding recommendations to improve physical activity in early childhood education. Future research directions are also provided.
· Main Headings:
Issues in Current Physical Activity in Early Childhood Education
Importance of Physical Activity in Early Childhood Education in the Present Day
Recommendations and Considerations for Improving Physical Activity
Now try drafting a specific title, a succinct focus/purpose statement, and no more than about five main headings for a practical article that you want to write.
Recommendation 6: Maintain your focus
Many writers drift from their thesis and go off on a tangent during the manuscript. For example, an author was invited to contribute a book chapter of approximately 25 pages of 12-point print, with everything double spaced. Instead, she submitted over 30 pages of single-spaced, 9-point print in a mixture of single and double spacing. At the beginning there were nine pages of material about chaos theory that the editor cut. The author objected strenuously, saying, “I’ll have you know that I took that material you deleted and published an article on the topic in a very prestigious journal” to which the editor replied, “Congratulations on your success with the article. Actually, that outcome seems to reinforce the contention that it did not belong in the chapter. A separate article appears to have been a better outlet for it.” One way to keep from drifting is to continually reflect on the audience and revisit the thesis with a question such as, “Is this information about ____ important for _____?” (e.g., “Is this information about managing caseloads important for social workers employed in hospital settings?”). If you read through the manuscript with that mission uppermost in mind, it can help to sharpen the focus. A good example of this is when authors of practical articles decide to refer to someone else’s theory as support for the changes they are suggesting. The most typical way of doing this is to list the theory as is; however, if you are staying on focus, you would need to do more by applying the theory to this specific situation. Usually, that necessitates at least one more level of information; Fig. 6.1 is an example; the items 1—4 are from Zull (2006) but we applied it to writing the practical article. Many times, when writing practical articles, a table that has three columns is useful. For example, column 1 might be a theoretical construct, column 2 an authoritative definition, and column 3 an example. When reviewing research, column 1 might be a strand in the research, column 2 a list of citations, and column 3 the implications for practice. Tables such as these present the evidence base in a focused way and make it more useful to readers in their work.
Recommendation 7: Alternate between general and specific
As long-time editor for Kappa Delta Pi, Jack Frymeir, used to say at his workshops, “all good writing moves back and forth between the general and the specific”. So, in an article about mentoring international students, there would be characteristics of effective programs from the research (general) as well as examples of events and comments from participants (specific). Some textbooks are boring because they are an unrelenting parade of general information that is devoid of examples. Some unsuccessful practical articles are so mired in the specifics that they fail to connect with their readers. This advice about alternating between the general and specific pertains to the structure of a manuscript as well. Too often, authors choose the most obvious structure for an article; for example: a section on theory, a section on research, and a section on practice. Yet this is not the best strategy for engaging a diverse group of readers and sustaining their interest throughout. More readers will continue to read if instead you began each of the four main sections with a brief case (specific), following with research summary related to the issues represented in the case (general), and concluding each section with implications for practitioners (both general and specific). Allow the manuscript show you the right structure and organize it for optimum effectiveness.