Rookies' Reflections on Publishing Articles by Turo Välikangas
Updated: Mar 20, 2018
1 Motivation for this post
As a third year PhD student at the Doctoral School of Industry Innovations in Tampere University of Technology, I have had my first experiences on writing scientific articles that will make me eligible to graduate as PhD at the end of the doctoral project.
There are two different thesis types available in Finland. The other one consists of a set of peer-reviewed articles that are published in JUFO-certified journals (http://www.julkaisufoorumi.fi/en) and the other one is a monograph type of a thesis.
There are two main reasons I have chosen to do the collection thesis; the first one being the possibility to divide the long thesis project into smaller pieces and progressing in the project with measurable steps. The other one is getting feedback early in the project for the work you have done.
In the end, a major part of your research work is writing articles. The motivation to write about the process of publishing articles has emerged as a self-learning experiment to see if my ideas align with reality or will they be changed as the thesis progresses. I will write another blog at the end of the project to see if my ideas have changed after everything is finished.
This blog post has no intention of telling the absolute truth and the author is aware that these opinions are based on a really small amount of experience regarding the topic.
2 New knowledge
The question of what is new knowledge of course depends on the field you are working, but in this post I will look at it from the natural science point of view. First of all the article needs to have new academic information that has not been published anywhere else. This is the most important aspect of getting your paper published and should be quite obvious.
How do you know what is new information? And how do you define what is new academic information? In my opinion the new information you have provided becomes academic when somebody else is able to repeat your work based on your article. This means that you have provided all the tools and methods that you have used in your work in a clear and understandable format.
Then how do you know if your information is new? Of course the article needs to have a thorough literature review that summarizes the most important previously published articles and other information that relate to your current topic.The reader should learn what has been done on this topic before, why is it important and how your study improves the knowledge on the topic.
3 Choosing the right word processing tool
Only 5-10 years ago Microsoft Word was by far the most popular word processing tool that was used in most work places as well as in universities and taught in schools. I think it is quite obvious that when there was no competition, Microsoft had no incentives to improve their product and therefore the development of the program stagnated for years.
Nowadays many multinational companies have changed from Microsoft products to other alternatives for example Googles products. I believe that this will be the course of the development and I hope to see more competitors with better word processing tools in the future.
I feel I should also mention the open source word-alternatives such as Libre office (https://www.libreoffice.org/) which separated from Oracles Open office and created a foundation based development organization such as Finnish MariaDB (https://mariadb.org/) for database management and OpenFOAM (https://openfoam.org/) for computational fluid dynamics solvers. There are some usability differences but in the end they already have all the features that a "normal" user needs.
After creating my own bachelor's thesis with Word I decided that it is time to learn something better. We can argue on the pros and cons of every software but I will mention few key problems that made me change away from Word.
Biggest problem in my opinion is that all the information of your work is compressed inside one file. This is a major vulnerability in the context of making sure that you can work on your file for a long time without worrying that the file will be corrupted one day and all your work will be gone. To go around this problem people usually save multiple copies of their work and name them with the editing date (or something else), which is not very elegant of course.
Another major downside with Word is that it gets slower and slower when the work and therefore the file gets larger. This happens when you have included a lot of figures and graphs to your file and after a while you start to experience crashing and other annoying problems.
How is all this related to publishing articles then? Well when you have finished the work on what ever word processing tool you have used, you are required to submit it to the journals website. When the editor and typesetter then start the process of reviewing your work, one of their criteria of accepting your work is how well your work is laid out and how easy it is to implement in the existing article structure.
The journal is most likely to use Latex or other professional page layout tools to create the journal appearance. Therefore if you have used Latex yourself, your chances of getting the paper published are increased dramatically. I also think that if the journal does not provide professional templates for all different kind of formats, to base your work on, the journal is not worthy of your paper. This is also true for conferences and other seminars.
4 Citing and references
When you start working on your literature review at the start of your article project, you should think of the field you want your work to be published at. When citing other peoples' work related to your topic, you should focus on the articles that are published in the journals of the same field of your choice.
The journals are ranked based on citation related indicators such as the impact factor which is the number of citations received by all their articles from the past two years divided by the amount of published articles from the same period of time. This of course favors submitted articles that already have a lot of citations to the same journals related to the specific field. On the other hand it also means that you have studied a lot of articles published in that field of journals and you know how the article should be made so that it fits the criteria of the journals.
Another aspect about your reference list is that, when you think about who might be the reviewers of the journal, you should look at the most active authors of that specific field you want to publish in. When you include citations from the most popular and active authors of your field and your specific topic, you show that you know who are currently making the state-of-the-art research. These authors are also most likely to be reviewers for the same journals, and even if unintentionally, they tend to favor papers that include subjects they know best.
5 New media formats
In my first published articles I was asked many times to provide the raw data of my research to improve the chances of getting published. This of course makes a lot of sense if in your article you are providing some information in a form of graphs.
When someday, in future somebody, as well as the reviewer, is reading your article and wants to use your data in their own research it is of course much easier if the data points are provided in some soft of data table format and the reader does not have to use the classic ruler sort to comprehend what is the absolute value of the data point you have provided.
On top of the most obvious media formats such as videos of your simulations or other aspects that improve the experience of reading your article, I have seen that the journals are recommending to do a podcast about your article where you go through the article and explain it in your own words.
This has raised a lot of ideas and questions about the future media format of published articles. As a 50-50 representative of a x- and y- generations, the most popular media format that I consume nowadays is video and audio, in recorded and live formats.
What if some day the "paper" version of your article will be just a smaller side note of your published work and the podcast or even a video regarding your work will be the more important aspect of the published data. We have to remember that the goal of the journals in addition to facilitate scientific content creation is to get as much views, reads and citations as possible.
When you can provide quality content for many senses at the same time it is easier to communicate your message and the reader/viewer is most likely to remember your work better. In the end the work is just bits on the hard drive and nobody even knows where you can actually get the published paper version of the journals these days.
As a conclusion I want to stress the fact that the quality of universities, researchers and PhD students are measured by the amount and rating of the published research and therefore the articles. This is why the ones who are aware of the aspects that affect the publishing probability will get an advantage over the others despite the actual quality of the work they are doing.
I hope after the next two years my ideas of how to publish articles have not changed dramatically or I might end up spending a lot more time at the university than has been scheduled for me.
Greetings from snowy Finland,