It’s not enough to be a great teacher, an expert in your subject, and a pro at managing university bureaucracy. Publications have always been how academics prove their expertise, and for a long time now that process has been codified through internal and external judging processes.
For UK higher education professionals, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the process by which our outputs are judged. This can affect your career prospects individually, but your institutional REF score can also have an impact on your department and university rankings.
Further education professionals may not face the same level of pressure, but publishing can improve your prospects for retention and promotion.
Furthermore, publications are the main thing academics can do to raise their profile outside of the academy. So if you are thinking of moving into industry or consultancy someday, a strong suite of publications under your belt is crucial.
Journals to target.
It does matter which journal your work is published in. There are many ways to discern journal quality. One of the most obvious is that the journal must be peer-reviewed, and that review must be rigorous.
In every field there is a journal or two with a reputation for publishing absolutely anything. Articles published in such journals worthless if you want to look good: their poor standards will be attached to your ideas, no matter how stellar the work may actually have been.
Journal citation indices like Scopus, which is being used in the REF, can help you see who the leaders are in your field.
You’ll already know which journals you trust and rely on in your work. If you are a member of a discipline-specific discussion group, ask other members.
Collaboration is key.
If you have published nothing or very little, try to hitch your career to a star. Ask a colleague with a strong publication record about collaborating. This could mean working together on a research project, but often busy academics need help to write up the results of past work. Either way, your co-credit counts towards your REF score and on your CV.
Collaboration with known co-authors also ups your chances of getting published.
If pressed for time to complete and write up your own research, ambitious postgrads can also be useful collaborators.
Writing and submission tips.
Rejection is painful, but happens to absolutely everyone. How can you avoid it?
Remember, one piece of research can be the basis of multiple articles for multiple journals. You can publish not just results, but articles on the research process, fundamental ideas, and commentary.
Read journal submission guidelines carefully. You would be surprised at how many articles are rejected because of deadline, length, tone, topic, language usage or other subjects that they should have known about.
Next, make sure your abstract and lead paragraphs are clearly written and strong. If you have concerns about your academic English, ask a colleague to critique it. Ensure that your findings are clearly represented. Use graphs and charts wisely, and only if they illuminate an area that text alone cannot.
Finally, be ready to make changes. Most published journal submissions have been subject to major or minor revisions first.