In my first two blog posts on publishing, I discussed both the basic principles of academic publishing, and how to prepare, submit, and revise a manuscript. I can’t guarantee following this advice will get your paper published, but I certainly hope that it helps make the process easier and that one day you can celebrate that first publication. Yet whilst having a paper accepted for publication is a huge achievement, it is not the end of the work that you can – and should – do for your paper.
Academic publishing is a crowded market. Across the spectrum we might see millions of papers published in a year. A conservative estimate for geography suggests there are at least a thousand papers published each month. Getting your paper in front of the right audience and getting them to read it is crucial. In this final blog post I offer some advice on how to effectively do this.
Catching the attention of algorithms: Search Engine Optimisation
I already discussed the best way to ensure your paper gets read in the first blog of this series, which is about making sure that your paper is in the most appropriate journal. Historical geographers, for instance, will often look to the Journal of Historical Geography; geomorphologists will often look at Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. You will know the journals in your sub-field so getting your paper into these makes it more likely to be seen and read.
Increasingly, though, readers find papers through online searches, so you need to make sure your paper is found by search engines. I briefly touched upon Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) in the second blog and pointed towards this guide by Wiley. The basic principle of SEO is making sure that your title, key words, and abstract have phrases that will put them as highest results in an online/library search. SEO is a field of its own, and too big to explain fully here; however there are two simple things that can help your articles be more visible:
- Ensure consistency of language throughout your title, abstract and key words, rather than using synonyms. Although expressing yourself in several ways might be more attractive to the eye, search engines are less likely to pick it up the phrases as related and therefore relevant. Instead, make sure you use your key words at least twice in the abstract in exactly the form they are in the key words.
- Align your language with the language used in related articles and with the actual words that people search from (Google holds data on the latter). Doing this will mean that your paper is more likely to appear in the same searches as related material and will therefore be gathered up, read, and discussed by people searching for this literature.
Finally, I should say that although SEO is important, it should not compromise the integrity of your article. There is no point in making your article easily found, if the words used do not align with its main themes. SEO should always enhance, rather than inform, the way you set out your article.
Search Engine Optimisation goes a long way to getting your article in front of people, but it does little to encourage people to read it. This is where the abstract is important. Good papers are all too often hidden behind complex abstracts, full of technical terms and jargon (a trap I have fallen into myself).
The best thing you can do to encourage people to read the article is to ensure your abstract is clear and easy to read by a broad audience. Think whether an academic not from your specific field would know what the article was about if they just read the abstract.
Journals are increasingly offering further abstract options to help improve the paper’s appeal, such as a ‘shortened abstract’ or set of ‘highlights.’ These are usually 3-5 sentences or bullet points that capture the essence of the paper (see above). These need to do the work of a full abstract as often this short abstract is the only thing that a reader will see of the article as they choose whether, or not, to click on it to read.
As shown above, alongside the short abstract, some journals also offer a graphical abstract option. These are images, photos, maps, or diagrams that aim to capture a paper’s essence. They do not have to feature in the actual paper. Including a Graphical Abstract makes it more likely that a reader will look at your paper, read the short abstract next to it, and click through and read the whole paper. As such, even if the paper/research does not have a strong visual element to it I would urge you to always take up the option and to think carefully around the image you select.
Many journals, including the RGS-IBG journals, have also started carrying video abstracts, which are short summaries of papers in audio-visual form. In geography they are still relatively uncommon; however, their use is growing in the physical and health sciences.
Some authors choose to talk through their papers in detail, such as here, whilst others offer a more selective representation, such as this animation. One of the more unusual ones that the RGS-IBG journals have published, is this ‘teaser’ abstract from Josh Lepawsky, here.
As with all abstracts, the video abstract’s main purpose is to give readers a summary of the paper and to encourage them to read it. Video abstracts also make better social media content than the average abstract and can therefore be used to promote the paper. My sense is that they are also more likely to be engaged with than a written abstract, particularly by a public audience.
Producing a video abstract may therefore give your paper additional reach and impact and it might be worth making one for social media, even if the journal you are writing for doesn’t technically offer them.
Promoting and sharing your paper
Whilst working on the abstract and look of the paper is important for making sure that people find the paper and read it when they do, there are several other ways in which you can more actively promote your paper. In the RGS-IBG’s guide to Publishing, Prof. Mark Graham suggests seven things that you can do.
1. Create a short summary of your work, include your key findings and write it in a way that will be accessible for a wider audience. This summary can then be shared directly with people and institutions who you want to engage with your work, such as stakeholders and participants in the research.
2. Tweet about your paper through your own account or through a Society or department account if possible. This is best achieved if done repeatedly and if you piggyback off current events or something that is happening in the news, showing the relevance of your paper. Share the video abstract.
3. Publish a post about your article to your/departmental/research group blog. If you have published in a RGS-IBG journal, submit a post to Geography Directions. Blogging, like tweeting, allows you to repackage your paper for a different audience and to show how its findings are relevant to the world. It also allows you to show yourself as an expert, which again improves the paper’s and your visibility in the field.
4. Contact your department’s press office to see if your article is relevant for any publicity opportunities – do this when the paper has been accepted for publication. The press office might release a statement on the research or they might be able to put you in touch with a newspaper who will write an article on it.
5. Talk about your paper at a conference, with colleagues and personally raise awareness, include a link in your email signature. There are increasing opportunities to publish Open Access, but if your paper is not available Open Access, many journals provide a link to share your paper with people and a certain number of free copies. Use them to get the paper out there.
6. Create an account on an academic network (e.g. ResearchGate, Academia.edu, Mendeley), to highlight your work to thousands of fellow academics. This is the other main way that academics find papers and often provides tailored suggestions based on what they have already been reading.
7. Use services such as Kudos to highlight the relevance of your work, share through email and social media, and measure downloads, citations and altmetrics. Tweet about the paper again when you reach important milestones: e.g. “Its nice to see that my paper has now been downloaded 500 times” with a link to the article.
Finally, you can also bring further attention onto yourself by writing more papers. The more papers you write, and the more that you promote them online like this, the more likely you are to be read.
Back to the beginning
I have talked specifically about what to do once the paper has been accepted here, but you should really consider all these things from the moment you have a paper to submit, and maybe even before that. Consider taking some photos or video shots for future graphical and video abstracts. (If you are reading this as a slightly more established scholar, why not include video abstract production costs within your next grant application?) Keep an eye on the news for events that you might be able to write for your departmental blog/Geography Directions about; think about how it might be made into a news story of its own, and look out for calls for papers and conference submissions and submit to them.
Overall, I hope that these three blogs have helped make some aspects of publishing clearer and to make the process a little easier. My main advice would be that when you are ready, to give it a go. Publishing can be hard, but it can also be fun. You will no doubt learn from the process and it will help you to improve your thinking and writing. Good luck!
About the Author: Dr Phil Emmerson is the Managing Editor for Academic Publications at the RGS-IBG. He completed a PhD at the University of Birmingham in 2018, where he also worked as a Teaching Fellow in Human Geography until 2019. Phil has published academic papers in Cultural Geographies, Environment and Planning A, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, and Area.
For more information on publishing, please see the RGS-IBG’s “Publishing and getting read: A guide for researchers in geography” (2017), available for digital download here.