May 22, 2017

Your 12-Month Plan for Research, Presentation, and Publication | From the Bell Tower

Steven BellFor academic librarians, the summer months present a brief window of time for special projects. Start now to plan a research project that could lead to multiple presentation and publication opportunities.

Our profession offers a myriad of programs and projects to both stimulate and support academic librarians who either need to or want to increase their research, publication, and presentation output. Choose from mentoring programs, workshops, books, and more. Connecting with a like-minded colleague, the “buddy” approach, can provide motivation and support. Academic librarians also form “publishing clubs” to provide a support group for professional activity. If distraction or other issues keep librarians from research or writing, they might benefit from a “procrastination nanny.” If any or all of these may help you, then seek them out. I offer something simpler. Step one: formulate your research idea. Step two: develop a 12-month plan for research, presentation, and publication. Step three: execute. Here’s how it works.

Scoping out a conference

First, have an idea, whether it’s a research project or innovative service. Ideally, it’s something other librarians will want to know. Originality certainly helps. Whatever it is, a topic worth caring about sustains the passion needed to commit to a 12-month plan. If it fails to excite you, why would other librarians care? May is the time to start thinking ahead to the fall conference season. Be looking for calls for proposals or ask colleagues for recommendations. Why a conference before publication? A conference presentation acceptance is a firm commitment. Once accepted, it’s official. The research and presentation must be done. Publication, excepting invited works and acceptances to special issues, lacks completion deadlines. That opens the door to procrastination for too many of us. Completing an article is no guarantee of acceptance. Better to wait until the manuscript is at its strongest. Presentation first sharpens the focus and contributes to a better manuscript. The work that goes into the presentation provides a foundation and structure for successful article writing. Presentation before publication is a strategy that has always worked well for me and other academics.

It’s a commitment

Great news. That proposal for a late October or early November conference was accepted. June is the month the countdown clock starts. During the less hectic summer months, establish a set research time. Committing to a regular time and place is a proven productivity strategy.  The goal is to be presentation ready two weeks prior to the conference. Schedule the work that needs to happen, whether that’s developing a survey questionnaire, data analysis, or layout of a rough outline of how the presentation will go. If it helps, set some deadlines for July and August. During these months, find good stories or anecdotes to use in the presentation. Planning to begin the presentation by telling the audience about your college or library?  Stop there. Just don’t. No one cares. Start and end with a story that connects to the topic and connects the audience to you. Aim for wrapping up the research, data collection, analysis, or whatever needs to happen by the end of August. Hectic times return with the fall semester so complete the grunt work before then. Dedicate September to translating survey results, findings, conclusions, and next steps into a manageable presentation. Remember that all the work happening now is also the set up for the next phase–the article manuscript.

You’ll be fine

I get why most librarians want to write an article first–and stop there: Fear of presenting at a library conference. Presentations can be nerve wracking for the less experienced. However, doing them is the only way to improve and put those fears to rest. Try approaching each presentation as something for which to be grateful. Opportunities to engage and connect with an audience are rare. Focus on those attendees and make it about giving them an experience. Shifting your mindset from a presentation being about you to about them is an attitude changer. It becomes more than simply something to get done and survive. It instead becomes an all-too-brief time you embrace. Fear morphs into appreciation for the gift of sharing ideas with colleagues. October is the month to design the presentation, leverage sources of advice, and leave at least one week before the conference for multiple practice sessions. Remind yourself that all the effort put into the presentation, the outlines, the notes, the organization, the attendee response, and feedback, will all contribute to the preparation of the article manuscript.

When the writing begins

November arrives and the presentation comes and goes. Whatever happened, the 12-month plan leaves no time for post-presentation letdown. This is month five and there’s more work ahead. That conference is in the past and there’s only looking forward. When should the writing commence? How about the trip home from the conference? Laptop, tablet, mobile phone, or paper, it doesn’t matter. Just start writing while the presentation is fresh in your mind. Tell the story the way you presented it. Why the topic got you thinking. What was the question needing an answer? Why it matters and what readers will learn from the article. Let the presentation be your guide. First efforts will be rough and that’s fine. Just get the words down. An article provides more opportunity to share details for which there was too little time in the presentation. Impose deadlines on completing a first draft and a final manuscript. Academic librarians typically get an extended winter vacation. Commit to writing three hours a day or night between December 20 and January 15. That should leave plenty of time for family, friends, and Netflix. The goal is having a submission-ready manuscript by February 1.

Journal selection matters

As the writing begins, target journals for which the manuscript is a good fit, both topically and in research intensiveness. Be realistic. Every librarian wants to publish in the top journals, but consider the many excellent journals that may be a better fit, especially the growing number of open access library journals. If you think your article has a good shot, go for it. Whatever the choice, pay attention to the author guidelines and writing style. Is it formal, colloquial, something in between? Submit only after the most thorough proofreading possible. Invite a colleague to give it a read. As a journal editor, I find passive language, wordiness, heavy reliance on negative phrasing, lack of organization, and excessively long paragraphs all too common and easy to correct with proofing. Count on the possibility of a rejection or a request to correct and re-submit. Have a Plan B so you can respond quickly in the event that submission elsewhere is the best option. January/February is also the time to explore spring library conferences. As the article takes shape, it’s likely new perspectives on the research will emerge. We often want that second shot at our presentation because we know it will be better. Poster sessions and lightning talks are other formats to get the most out of your research project. Be looking for opportunities to turn your research into a new medium to spread your ideas.

A good year

There’s no telling how it will go. Here’s what I do know. Knocking out two presentations and an accepted, and possibly published, article in one year–maybe even more–only happens with discipline and hard work. There are no magic formulas for research productivity. It takes going beyond the 9 to 5 routine, spending some late nights, early mornings, and some weekends getting the work done. Your 12-month plan need not be a solo journey. Co-workers and colleagues can provide support. Consider a research coach for a bigger push. The plan won’t work for every librarian, but in my experience, it works well for librarians who try it when the desired results are elusive. Librarians who complete the 12-month plan gain new found confidence in their ability to research, publish, and present. It all starts with an idea, a willingness to try something new, and the desire to succeed. A year has passed and summer is approaching. Time for your next project.

Steven Bell About Steven Bell

Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, is the current vice president/president-elect of ACRL. For more from Steven visit his blogs, Kept-Up Academic Librarian, ACRLog and Designing Better Libraries or visit his website.

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Comments

  1. StevenB says:

    As an addendum:

    Here’s a good example of a conference just announced that is taking place in late October 2017 in New York state.

    https://wnylrc.wufoo.com/forms/zgcx1410uz8mw9/

    Proposals are due August 4. The conference is focusing on OER.

    If you are doing any work in this area, this would be a great opportunity to present with the intent to turn the presentation into an article.

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