Research for Publication: Promise and Pitfalls for Partnerships
In the final stages of a research cycle, the publication of results can be useful to partnerships. Increasingly, partnerships are paying attention to what they want (and don’t want from publication). Partnerships are also increasingly looking at what innovations in dissemination are needed.
Research that is carried out under most kinds of US federal funding requires publication in “standard,” peer-reviewed journals. The partnerships that obtained the grant will generally be asked to describe where they have published the findings and this information will be taken into account when the funder decides whether the research partnership should be refunded in the future.
Partnerships have begun to look more closely at this emphasis on publication in scholarly journals and what they might gain and what they might lose through this emphasis. And partnerships are finding that this emphasis serves several purposes.
Most journals have built in quality controls. Articles are not accepted for publication unless they have undergone rigorous review by other scholars and these scholars find that the studies are indeed original and meritorious. In other words, the conclusions that are drawn from the study are taken to be reasonable given the way in which the study was done. So, a study is assumed to have a stamp of approval once that study is published in a scholarly journal.
There is another reason for funders to emphasize publication and that is related to the importance given to dissemination. The funders want the scholarship to be disseminated; they want others to learn about the research. Researchers read journals and so the best way for dissemination to occur among researchers is often to publish the results in journals.
Reminders of the Side Effects of an Emphasis on Scholarly Publications
This focus on publication also has various kinds of side effects. As many of us have found out, the extent to which a researcher is awarded tenure is often partly or largely decided by the number of publications he or she has produced. Publications serve as a short-hand way of ensuring that the work of this tenure candidate is of high quality and is productive. There are so few academic slots around the country and universities have so little funding, that universities have come to count on the journals to do some of the quality control analysis for them. If a journal publishes the tenure candidate’s research, then it is assumed that studies must be good.
Yet another side effect of the focus on journal publication is that while in graduate school, researchers learn to set their eyes on the prize of publishing and they tend to forget to look beyond publication to questions of what will be done once the results are in. I know it might sound strange, but questions of how the knowledge will be used just don’t come up very often (or certainly as often as they should).
Ok, so these are benefits that journal publications bring in terms dissemination and quality control. But, are there things that scholarly publications don’t do well?
Do not reach nonacademic, nonresearch audiences
Do not use language with which all readers are comfortable
Do not focus on questions of dissemination
Only report “significant” results so studies that don’t reach this criterion are not published but may have taken up lots of a community’s time to be carried out
Often have a very long lag time between the completion of the research to its publication.
We need to think about other ways to get the word out about results. What might such strategies be?