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Kevin Ketchner

Taking the Fear Out of Publishing:
Simplifying the Publishing Process

Being a graduate student is a tough but rewarding experience. There are high expectations, and as you strive to become a well-informed member of your discipline you bring new ideas, perspectives, and research to share with the academic community. Often one of the results of your studies is a small stack of great papers from your graduate work just sitting in a file cabinet ready to be shared with the professional world. How many of you have thought about publishing your work, but just don’t seem to have the time? Are struggling to update and focus your research? Have a great idea but just aren’t sure how to proceed? Or are not sure even where to publish it?

The Cline Library, in partnership with the Graduate College, has begun to offer a series of workshops targeted to the graduate student population to help answer the questions that surround publishing. Our workshop series, A Guide to Getting Published, was launched in February to address the first question: how hard is it to publish?

Our answer was that it is kind of hard, but that the biggest hurdle is getting started and puzzling through the process. It turns out that you can jump that hurdle. It just takes a good idea, a process to get you started and to adhere to, a good literature review (our bit) to provide structure, some development of your ideas and critical analysis, then matching what you have to the right publications. Add some small technical considerations and the potential publication is as good as submitted! Below I have outlined a brief sketch of a process that will help you get closer to your publishing goals.

Exploratory Search/Topic:

A good first step is to do an initial review or survey of the professional literature in your field to see if there is a need or an interest in your idea. You can work with a librarian to choose the databases you will search and pick the keywords/subject descriptors you may wish to search with. You will need to be able to articulate the purpose of your topic and the audience for your perspective. Essentially, you are identifying and framing your research question or hypothesis to see if it is appropriate and needed.

This is an exploratory search, a low-key process, and hopefully one that is challenging and interesting! As you search, try to identify research trends within your discipline, look for the hot topics, and read the article's concluding ideas. This section often states what the author feels is the value of his/her research. It may also include suggestions for future research. Make a note of which journals are publishing on your niche/topic and note their structure and methodologies—you will be writing for their publications! Look at professional organizations, especially a call for papers, programs and abstracts, etc. for their annual meeting (or annual conference). Also look at Proquest Dissertations and Theses (NAU Library database) and Google Scholar.

As you are previewing the literature, ask yourself: Is this topic timely? Is the question important to the discipline? Does the study contribute significantly to the existing body of knowledge? Does the question follow from existing data? Contextualize your perspective or interest relative to what you find, and decide whether to continue or try another idea!

This initial research will help you to establish whether or not you have a viable topic. With a minimum amount of time and effort you now know that that your publication focus hasn't been previously or extensively explored and that there are knowledge gaps in your field that merit a closer investigation, thus ensuring that your intellectual contribution is indeed original and will improve your field in some way.

Literature Review:

The literature review will be an extension of the research process and can provide the backbone and method for the rest of the publication process. There are three steps to this review: preview the literature, select potential works, and then organize them by point or topic in support of the final submission.

Keep in mind that a literature search is a strategic collection of knowledge and data collection. Don’t let yourself get overloaded: distractions are the time suck and potential death of your publication. Develop a strategy and have a clear purpose and plan when conducting your research. Don’t succumb to the temptation of browsing the literature because it’s all interesting. Consult a librarian to help fine-tune the specific research goal.

Recognize that researching at the library often presents many temptations: all that technology, comfortable chairs, peace and quiet, Facebook, and a coffee shop! Therefore develop a work schedule with specific outcomes relevant to your publishing effort. Set your next goal before you leave the library by asking yourself what work still needs to be done, what new resources you need, and where you are in the timeline. If you are unsure, consult your librarian.

An excellent source on literature reviews is Lawrence Anthony Machi and Brenda McEvoy’s The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. In essence it discusses the three stages of previewing or scanning the literature, selecting and weeding what you find, and then organizing or mapping your results to specific ideas or concepts for inclusion in the literature review. The following include examples of some of their suggestions:

  • Preview/Scan the Literature: Scanning is an organized search of the library and online periodical indexes, catalogs, and databases. This may include regularly updated core reference works, periodical indexes, and abstracts. The scan’s purpose is to identify works for possible inclusion in your publication. Begin the scan by doing a query of the key databases that match the focus, time frame, and content of the literature you are studying. If you are unsure of which databases to search, consult a librarian.
  • Skim: Skimming is a rapid perusal of possible works to identify important ideas and their specific contributions to the research study, and to determine whether or not to use the work. Skimming aids in weeding out data that is not directly related to your possible publication. Skimming includes examining the table of contents and a quick read/skim of sections specific to the topic. Skim the abstract of journal references, and ask yourself if the material addresses the specific topic or is just interesting. If interesting, how? Decide on whether to access as full text or pass. Examine the major subject headings associated with the record if it is a periodical reference.
  • Document: Document each entry as you proceed and include specific ideas, page numbers, etc. Use citation managers such as RefWorks to manage and format your research and reorganize the items that you have decided to keep by mapping them to core ideas.
  • Set Search Alerts: Finally, create electronic citation alerts as you go to be updated on any new research that might come out after your review of the literature. Notification of these new articles that match your criteria can be sent to you via email or RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed automatically. Citation alerts can also notify you when new articles are published citing a chosen article.

Write, Write, Write:

At this point you should be able to identify the specific thesis, problem, or research question that your literature review helps to define as well as the scope of your publication, including the types of publications you will be using and the types of literature, such as theory, quantative or qualitative research, and methodology. You are now ready to write the content.

By following the publishing process, you are prepared enough to do this and have through your graduate studies and work the requisite training and skills to truly add your perspective to the body of literature within your discipline. At the end, the reader should find your insights from the literature relevant, appropriate, and useful.

Where to Publish: What to Consider and Review

It is important to be thinking about where you might want to submit your potential publication from the beginning. When you are conducting your initial literature survey, make note of which journals are publishing in your topic area. Ask your instructors which journals they follow and pay attention to and note the journal titles frequently cited in your course readings. Additionally, there are many online discipline-specific sites that recommend specific titles. The library database, Ulrich's Periodical Directory, allows you to find out more about journals you’re considering or to find a more complete list of journals in your subject area.

Consider looking at publications outside of your discipline that may have a related connection and in which your approach or perspective may be unique. Work with your librarian to identify specific journals by considering the merits of both print and electronic journals. Review the table of contents, article structures, methodologies, and author requirements. Make sure that you evaluate the journal before your submission, consider the publication’s audience, reputation, subject range, peer review process, and acceptance policies. You can find a journal's Eigenfactor score and article influence score by searching on Finally, pay careful attention to the publication’s writer’s guidelines for submissions. These are most often available on the Instructions to Authors page.

Parts of the workshop presentations, and this article, were taken from or informed by the materials below.

"Finding the Best Place to Publish." University of Wisconsin, Web. March 10, 2011.

"Identifying Current Trends in the Literature." Capella University, Web. March 10, 2011.

"Researching and Writing Literature Reviews." University Libraries at the University of Arizona, Web. March 10, 2011.

"What You Can Do: Publish to Maximize Impact." University of California Berkeley, Web. March 10, 2011.

Kevin Ketchner

"Writing a Literature Review." Wesleyan University, Web. March 10, 2011.

Machi, Lawrence Anthony and Brenda McEvoy, The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Corwin Press, 2008 Print.

Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. Health Sciences Writing Centre at the University of Toronto, Web. March 10, 2011.

—Kevin Ketchner, Librarian, Cline Library


(Image above courtesy of Michell Plested, Get Published Podcast. Thank you!
Photo below courtesy of the author. )