By: Vicki L. Wise and Lisa J. Hatfield
Perhaps you are interested in publishing but have never written an article. It can be intimidating to know where to begin. We suggest that you start with a recent conference presentation! In our book A Guide to Becoming a Scholarly Practitioner in Student Affairs (2015), we suggested a few strategies to get you started in turning your presentation into a publication, which we summarize here.
Before deciding where you want to publish, check in with yourself first by answering these questions:
- What ideas do you want to share with others?
- What audience would resonate with your ideas?
- How much time do you have to dedicate to the writing and submission processes?
- What is your comfort level with writing?
Knowing the ideas you want to communicate and the audience you want to reach will help to reshape your presentation. Awareness of the amount of time you have to write and your comfort level in doing so will help direct you to the best outlet for your writing and will also help you decide if you want to write alone or find a collaborator. If you are new to writing for publication, it might be wise to start with a piece that has a greater likelihood of being published. It is our hope that this article will help you do just that by giving you strategies for repackaging your conference presentation for an online piece or for a research or practitioner article.
Your presentation could be developed into an article for a blog. If you know someone who blogs regularly and would be open to posting your piece, then find out the word length, style and fit of your topic. Or, you can elect to create your own blog using online tools like WordPress and Weebly. Both Meredith Gould (2013) in her online blog and Chris Barr (2010) in The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing, and Creating Content for the Digital World recommend following a few strategies for writing more effectively online:
- Keep blog posts short, typically 300-500 words.
- Keep sentences short, no more than 14 words and don’t express more than two ideas per paragraph.
- Keep readability at about a 6th to 8th grade level by using words with fewer syllables.
- Be inclusive in your writing. Avoid using jargon, slang, and specialized terms. Do write for accessibility and gender inclusivity.
If you wish to pursue more formal writing, then craft your presentation into a journal article. How do you decide on a journal to publish in though? These questions can help you decide.
- What journals do you enjoy reading and find useful for your practice?
- What authors in these journals speak to you?
- What do you notice about the journals you read? Pay attention to the format of the journal and the articles within, the audience intended, and the authors’ voices present in the writings.
Ultimately you will select a journal that fits the focus of your paper and your style of writing. After selecting a journal, read the submission process guidelines thoroughly to learn about requirements regarding length of your paper, style guidelines, and submission instructions. Most often this information is available online.
Research article. The good news is that if you’ve distilled research into a conference presentation, you’ll have the framework for your article already in place. Also, think about the heart of your conference presentation and what story you were trying to convey. How much more of this story could you tell in an article? How much more detail do the audience, reviewers, and editor need to find your story compelling and useful?
It is no secret that most well-written journal articles follow a formula. We suggest that you start with the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) style guide (2010) to read about the manuscript elements essential to research articles. The standard elements of a manuscript include the title, author information, abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, and references. You may also include footnotes, appendices, and tables, if needed.
The Checklist for Manuscript Submission (APA, 2010, pp. 241-243) is a great tool to make sure your paper is really ready to go to the editor. Every journal varies in its review process; read about this before you submit or contact the editor for more detailed information. The general practice for the journal editor will be to assign your paper to reviewers using a blind review process. Blind review requires elimination of any identifying information on your paper, including name and university affiliation, but include your contact information in the letter to the editor. Be aware that this review process could take several months and sometimes more than a year.
Practitioner article. Writing a practitioner-based article for publication is a great way to share what you’re doing in your programs and services and very much contributes to the field of student affairs. Topics of interest that you have first-hand experience or issues you care about can have relevance for others too. Include program development efforts, musings and observations from the field, assessment practices, a review of the literature, or even a "how-to" article. Look to student affairs organizations for practitioner contributions to their publications. A review of A Research and Scholarship Agenda for the Student Affairs Profession created by the NASPA Task Force on Research and Scholarship (2011) can reveal useful topics too.
What we love about practitioner articles is the structure and form they typically take. While good writing always prevails regardless of publication type, the structure of a practitioner article is typically dictated more by the topic than the APA format. And most often the peer review process is less stringent than for a scholarly journal and may not include a blind review. Again as with other types of submissions, make sure to check publication guidelines.
As noted in this article, you have a number of options to publish. The key is to finding your comfort level in writing and getting clear on what and with whom you want to share. Ultimately, sharing your good work with a wider audience will only improve the profession, so go for it!
American Psychological Association (APA) (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Barr, C., & Yahoo! Inc. (2010). The Yahoo! style guide: The ultimate sourcebook for writing, editing, and creating content for the digital world. New York: Yahoo!/St. Martin's Griffin.
Gould, M. (2013, October 2). Writing online content (excerpt from the social media gospel). [Blog]. Retrieved from http://meredithgould.blogspot.com/2013/10/writing-online-content-excerpt-from.html
Hatfield, L. J., & Wise, V. L. (2015). A guide to becoming a scholarly practitioner in student affairs. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
NASPA Task Force on Research and Scholarship (October, 2011). A research and scholarship agenda for the student affairs profession. Retrieved from http://nasparegion5.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/naspa-research-agenda.pdf