SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

I often caution friends facing major surgery to save energy for the rehabilitation phase. Surviving surgery is not the only objective; the ultimate goal is to reclaim or surpass preoperative health. The metaphor is apropos for doctoral candidates beginning a dissertation. Delivering the completed dissertation to the graduate school is not the only objective; the ultimate goal is to disseminate the results through published articles. When young scholars fail to save energy for the dissemination phase, timely publication is jeopardized and failure to publish is an all-too-real possibility.

Planning for publication begins in concert with plans for the dissertation (Webb, 2007). Faculty advisors are adept at visualizing the entire research and dissemination process. Discuss whether the literature review would make a meaningful publication on its own, ways to strengthen the study design to enhance the publication of results, and whether the anticipated volume and complexity of results make more than one article feasible. Initiate a candid discussion about writing skills and explore writing aides available through the college or university. I've never met a doctoral candidate (or researcher) who wasn't passionate about his or her research topic, but passion won't carry the day. To sell research to editors and reviewers and to attract readers, the story must be clear and concise.

Publishing the Review of Literature

  1. Top of page
  2. Publishing the Review of Literature
  3. Consider Publication When Designing the Study
  4. Condensing the Dissertation to Meet Journal Page Limits
  5. Defining the Number of “Slices”
  6. Use Your Resources
  7. References

Literature reviews are marketable to professional journals because they are likely to be read and cited. Notably, however, the hierarchy of review methods means that systematic reviews and integrative reviews are more likely to be published than their less rigorous counterparts (e.g., narrative or traditional reviews). This is why it is so important to intentionally design the literature review in concert with the design of the study. If the review of literature can contribute meaningfully to existing science, it may be worth the additional effort to design and publish a rigorous review as a stand-alone article.

Systematic and integrative reviews of the literature use explicit, predetermined methods to design and conduct the review. “By systematically identifying, appraising, synthesizing, and, if appropriate, statistically combining studies on a specific topic, systematic reviews have the potential to provide high-quality research evidence to guide clinical practice” (Engberg, 2008, p. 258). The steps of systematic or integrative reviews are reported in detail to enhance transparency and reproducibility (Engberg; Webb & Roe, 2007). In contrast, narrative reviews are less likely to include all available literature, do not always specify how decisions were made about the studies included, and may be more prone to researcher bias (Cronin, Ryan, & Coughlan, 2008; Engberg). (See Webb and Roe for an in-depth discussion of systematic and integrative reviews.)

Consider Publication When Designing the Study

  1. Top of page
  2. Publishing the Review of Literature
  3. Consider Publication When Designing the Study
  4. Condensing the Dissertation to Meet Journal Page Limits
  5. Defining the Number of “Slices”
  6. Use Your Resources
  7. References

Planning publication in concert with the research will greatly enhance the success of future manuscripts. Ensure that the study is approved by the appropriate human subjects review panels. Consider the sample size necessary to provide power for quantitative designs and to achieve rich description for qualitative research. Will the sample be adequate to support conclusions? Small samples make it extremely difficult to convince peer reviewers that the results are meaningful.

Measurement methods with questionable reliability and validity (such as untested investigator-developed instruments) can be another pitfall. Peer reviewers will scrutinize the data collection instruments and methods as well as the analytic strategies. Experienced researchers often use anticipated reviewer challenges as a test of their research designs.

Plan how to display the results. If quantitative or qualitative results will be displayed in tables, compile a file of sample tables from the literature. Note which tables seem to best convey the findings. Plan to include similar tables in the dissertation, using a style compatible with the types of journals in which you might publish. If using or modifying any previously published figures or tables, begin the permissions process as early as possible to avoid potential publication delays.

Condensing the Dissertation to Meet Journal Page Limits

  1. Top of page
  2. Publishing the Review of Literature
  3. Consider Publication When Designing the Study
  4. Condensing the Dissertation to Meet Journal Page Limits
  5. Defining the Number of “Slices”
  6. Use Your Resources
  7. References

Having successfully written and defended the traditional, voluminous, process-oriented dissertation, is it any wonder that the task of abstracting meaningful, journal-length manuscripts seems quite impossible? I'm reminded of the old adage about creating a beautiful sculpture by chipping away everything that does not belong. Robinson and Dracup (2008) commented that a dissertation often contains the “personal intellectual journey of the researcher and, like memoirs, it has a great deal of content that is ultimately peripheral to the project undertaken” (p. 174).

Exchange the long literature review for a concise summary of current knowledge and a statement of how the research will advance the science. Chip away at excessive citation lists in text, retaining only the most current and/or most relevant supporting literature. Pollard's (2005) criteria may help authors identify and eliminate other peripheral information. He asked: Does the reader really need to know this to understand the manuscript? If so, the information remains. Does the average reader already know this? If so, it can clearly be eliminated. It has been my experience that reducing words almost always increases clarity; as we chip away at the peripherals, the main points come into focus. As we reduce page length, more people read the article.

Defining the Number of “Slices”

  1. Top of page
  2. Publishing the Review of Literature
  3. Consider Publication When Designing the Study
  4. Condensing the Dissertation to Meet Journal Page Limits
  5. Defining the Number of “Slices”
  6. Use Your Resources
  7. References

Baggs (2008) and others have described the pitfalls of thin-slicing the salami, trying to publish too many articles from one data set. The issue is serious, as evidenced by this excerpt from guidelines by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (2008):

The author must alert the editor if the manuscript includes subjects about which the authors have published a previous report or have submitted a related report to another publication. Any such report must be referred to and referenced in the new paper. Copies of such material should be included with the submitted manuscript to help the editor decide how to handle the matter. If redundant or duplicate publication is attempted or occurs without such notification, authors should expect editorial action to be taken. (Section III.D.2)

This does not mean that one cannot legitimately divide a dissertation or other large research project into meaningful segments for publication. It does mean that doing so requires thoughtful planning and careful communication with the editor. Multiple publications also make it difficult to avoid self-plagiarism (Broome, 2004). For example, if the dissertation literature review is published as a review article, it is challenging to write new background sections for related articles. One approach is to target literature for data-based articles that specifically supports that narrower topic, making it easier to synthesize the literature in such a way that it does not duplicate the earlier publication.

Use Your Resources

  1. Top of page
  2. Publishing the Review of Literature
  3. Consider Publication When Designing the Study
  4. Condensing the Dissertation to Meet Journal Page Limits
  5. Defining the Number of “Slices”
  6. Use Your Resources
  7. References

Finally, I urge students to identify and use their resources. Ask a well-published faculty advisor to co-author the first paper(s). Experienced authors know exactly how a viable manuscript differs from a dissertation chapter and the precise standards the manuscript must meet before it's ready for submission. Because publication is such a creative process, it's often easier for faculty to mentor young scholars by writing/creating with them than by simply providing reviews of successive drafts. The experienced faculty's recognition in the field can also heighten attention to the new scholar's work.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Publishing the Review of Literature
  3. Consider Publication When Designing the Study
  4. Condensing the Dissertation to Meet Journal Page Limits
  5. Defining the Number of “Slices”
  6. Use Your Resources
  7. References