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By Michael J Bradshaw, University of Warwick


In the age of impact and research excellence it is essential to think strategically about how and where to publish. Not only are academics now expected to demonstrate the significance, originality and rigour of their research through the publication of outputs, in the UK and elsewhere they also have to demonstrate that they can have an impact beyond the academy. The need to devise a publication strategy starts early in your career: PhD students seeking to follow a career in academia are now expected to start publishing before they complete their theses; indeed, in some institutions a series of linked published articles replace the lengthy PhD thesis. So, where to begin?

First, start when you have something original to say! Second, think about who you want to say it to and target your writing and publishing accordingly. You might start by writing your own blog or contributing to an existing blog, such as Geography Directions ( Your department (or RGS-IBG Research Group) might already use Facebook and Twitter to promote its activities; perhaps you can contribute by letting others know about your research? Write a short (2-3 page) briefing document on your PhD project and post it as a PDF on your departmental web page and use this link to publicise your research (but check you are compliant with your University’s Code of Practice). As your own project evolves and you start to generate original insights into your particular area of interest, then it is time to start thinking about more formal forms of publication and other forms of dissemination. Conference papers and presentations are often a good way to start a line of thought that may eventually become an article. Equally, consider publishing a working paper, but be aware that some publishers are not happy with this practice (see Research and publication ethics) and other, less scrupulous, researchers may steal your insights.

When starting to publish, avoid the dangers of premature publication by discussing your plans with your supervisor(s) and sharing your draft articles with them and your peers. Think hard before you submit!

Should you publish a book or journal article? Should you go for a more specialist journal that will attract the attention of others working in your field, or should you go for a more general journal to reach a broader readership? Each journal has its own niche, mission and place. There are journals that publish review articles (see Review Essays) but most do not. Some journals – Area is the obvious choice – have a particular mission to publish the work of new researchers. However, while the editor may be more supportive of your efforts, the peer-review process is just as rigorous as other journals, so seek advice before you submit that first article.

To get a PhD you must make ‘an original contribution to knowledge’ and there is no reason why you should not be submitting your findings to a flagship journal such as Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. It may take longer, but the rewards for success may be greater. Your choice of journal determines the kind of article that you should write. Again, seek advice. Perhaps there are colleagues in your department who have recently published in your target journal or are editors or members of editorial boards. Equally, contact the editor of your target journal to see if the topic of your proposed article is of interest.

Having chosen your journal, follow the instructions to authors carefully (see Preparing an article for publication). This will make it less likely that your article will simply be returned to you as unsuited to review.

The review process can be lengthy and making revisions is time consuming. You need to approach this constructively and engage with the comments you receive (see Research articles). If your article is ultimately accepted, well done! If it is rejected learn from the process, look at the reviewers’ comments and decide whether or not you want to submit it elsewhere. We all have articles that ended up going nowhere. Whatever you do, do not simply resubmit your rejected and unrevised article to another journal. It is a very small world and the editor of the new journal may send it to the same reviewers. If you have taken their previous comments on board and produced a substantially improved article, then all should be well, but if you have not, expect the same outcome!

In the reality of the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF), you are probably best advised to listen to your mentor who will likely tell you to focus your initial publishing efforts on journal articles. Depending on when you are appointed to an academic post following your PhD, you will be required to produce a certain number of ‘REFable’ outputs over the 5-6 year assessment cycle. Other countries have different assessment procedures that you need to account for in developing your academic publication strategy. There may also be conditions attached to your funding that you need to consider (see, for example, Open access and repositories on open access publishing).

Journal themed issues may appear an attractive proposition, but they often take longer to get published as you may be held hostage to the last article (see Special Sections). Thus, they may be best avoided until you have passed various deadlines, particularly probation. Turning your PhD into a book is a challenging task and few publishers are willing to take the risk, but there are opportunities, such as the RGS-IBG Book Series, that are worth considering (see Publishing books). Equally, book chapters are rewarding, attract a specialist audience, and many have a rigorous internal review process; but many peer-reviewed internal probationary and promotion processes are looking for a healthy number of peer reviewed articles.

To end on a positive note, if you land a job as a lecturer, your department is likely to be only too well aware of the pressures of the current ‘publish or perish’ culture and as a new researcher you will benefit from assistance to help you develop your ‘REF profile’ or equivalent. However, often critical to getting that first job is a clearly articulated academic publishing strategy.


About this guide

Publishing is a crucial, but sometimes daunting and unexplained, part of academic life. All academic geographers are supposed to do it, but there are few formal guidelines about how best it should be done. Many of us discover how to publish by trial and error or through the mentoring and support of colleagues. Publishing and academic landscapes also change, presenting new challenges to established academics. The publishing and getting read guides have four main aims: to provide clear, practical and constructive advice about how to publish research in a wide range of forms; to encourage you to think strategically about your publication profile and plans; to set out some of the opportunities and responsibilities you have as an author; and to support you in getting your published research read.


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