Reflections on the future

The inaugural Festival of Doctoral Research reached its successful conclusion following a reception and award ceremony.  Now the dust has begun to settle and we can start to review. Reflecting on our new series ‘Getting Published in…’, offered as part of the Festival, I found myself thinking about how publishing might or has already changed in response to recent developments. It may seem that the journal article, conference paper or book have not changed, but is that the case?  In our first session we took a look at these traditional forms with speakers Tim Pitts and Suzanne Abbot, from Elsevier.  We were presented with a quote from Oldenburg (1664) outlining that the journal is a tool for:

  • Registration – the means to flag new material, ideas and the researcher
  • Certification – the review process
  • Dissemination
  • Preservation

The book, journal or conference proceedings publisher will continue to fulfill at least some of these roles, but the ‘how’ is already changing. Oldenburg would recognise the print but technology has begun to transform the online version.

No longer does the information need to be ‘flat’, papers can now include 3-D models, moving or sound images, data, webcasts, as well as the diagram and picture, and can offer immediate interaction through comments and social media.  There will continue to be a need for the content to include sections on methods, results, conclusions, for a robust peer review process, and for editorial input as discussed by the speaker, but constraining it on the written page may be less certain.


One of the important tips given was not to submit the same article to more than one journal at the same time.  Editors do talk to each other so it is more than likely to be noticed and could result in rejections from both journals.

Dissemination and demonstrating impact are important parts of research.  This is no longer restricted to the paper alone but now involves wide use of social media, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Scholarly networks, Kudos, to promote the research.  Various metrics tools such as bibliometrics and altmetrics can help in the success of the published item, as well as perhaps playing a role in selecting where to publish. How can these be used to maximise impact and where should the responsibility lie to ensure that information is widely disseminated? Who should control the timing on these – the researcher, the funder or the publisher?  There has been a move to allow the release of details earlier, linked to green open access, the deposit of accepted manuscripts and funder policies such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Research Excellence Framework (REF) Open Access Policy. This has enabled earlier discovery, but some publishers continue to want to restrict marketing until the final version is available. This suggests there is a need for on-going dialogue between the author and the publisher to ensure best value is extracted through both early promotion, and that done by the publisher. New forms of promotion will emerge and advantage will be taken of these too, some will remain with the publisher, but many others have already returned to the writer to take forward through self-promotion.

While Oldenburg places responsibility of preservation on the journal and its publisher he did so in the context of a Learned Society and a far less commercial world than we now find ourselves in. Where should the responsibility lie to ensure that not just the ideas but the underlying data be preserved for the future?  Should we rely whole-heartedly on the commercial profit-making, share-holder driven publisher or look for other solutions to ensure that our intellectual endeavour is available to future researchers?  It would appear that the charities and government agencies that fund research see that responsibility lies more widely. This is demonstrated in their policies on Open Access and Data Sharing that places requirements and expectations on the academic and research community. Institutions have taken up these responsibilities and have developed support for curation and preservation not just of the papers but also of the underpinning data. Institutional policies and roadmaps have formed the basis for the on-going development of research repositories, such as ePrints Soton, active research storage allocations and archival storage through specialist services, for example Arkivum.   These have begun to influences the publishing arena and the models available to publish research.

Data Journals and Data Papers

Data papers are a relatively new type of publication that has begun to emerge to support and encourage the reuse of the wealth of data gathered. This was the topic covered in the second session by Varsha Khodiyar, Scientific Data, who began with a clear overview of why making data available was so crucial to good academic practice and quoting Ioannidis (2009) saying “the main reason for failure to reproduce was data unavailability”.  While this was in the context of microarray gene expression analyses it was emphasised that this was just one example and there were many other. Data papers will tend to focus on:

  • How the data was generated
  • How the data was processed
  • Where the data can be found
  • Who did what and when

rather than the synthesis, analysis and conclusions that might be found in the traditional article.  It is also more than might be found in supplementary data that has increasingly been attached to articles as it should provide the detail necessary to make safe use of the data.  Ivan Haigh clearly demonstrated this in his talk about “SurgeWatch: an interactive and multi-purpose database on Coastal Flooding in the UK” and the data paper (Haigh, 2015) that he wrote about it.


Publishing models – Open Access

The models of publishing are also seeing changes with growing in-roads into the dominance of the traditional subscription journal.  The publisher response to the Open Access (OA) movement was through dedicated Open Access or hybrid journals where article process charges are paid by the author. In the third session we heard about the Open Library of Humanities, where financial support is sought through the Library Partnership Subsidy and so there are no author-facing charges.  Originally intended to be a single internationally-leading, rigorous peer-reviewed mega-journal for the humanities, it has since also become a platform to host journals from other like-minded OA publishers and the numbers continue to grow.


Having heard from the publisher, we also heard from two authors on their experiences of getting published. Kate Borthwick talked about turning case studies shared as examples of good practice at the annual Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS) e-learning Symposium into an open access online e-book. This had offered an alternative route to demonstrating the impact of teaching and research as well as making the content more widely available enabling its use in online learning platforms such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).  Paulina Sikorska provided and excellent end to the session with a delightful talk comparing the process of getting published to climbing Everest


  • Camp 1 – Submission of a written piece (i.e. an article, note, review)
  • Camp 2 – Peer review of your piece
  • Camp 3 – Corrections to be made after the peer-review process
  • Camp 4 – Publication
  • Summit – Make people aware of your written piece (citation index, social media)

Briefly covering her experience of re-writing material for different publication formats, such as blogs, newsletters through to academic papers, she reminded us that while we may be excited about what we write, reviewers may provide helpful feedback and editors might reject but we should never give up, just improve and resubmit.

Open access is not just about the model of publishing; it is also about the peer review process. Peer review is an important and crucial step to meet the certification requirement mentioned earlier, with the aim of providing independent, qualified advice to the editor.  However over the last decade or so this process has been under close scrutiny, alongside the role of the editor, as the result of high profile failures to identify false and inaccurate claims. As a result there is growing pressure that this should become more transparent and a more open process with access to the reviews and names of reviewers.

Final Reflection

So in reflecting on these sessions it is clear that there have been changes to publishing and that those new (and not so new) researchers will need to embrace these to ensure that their work reaches the widest audience. There will be a need for us to develop support for these through further training options and raise awareness of the tools available to help.  We intend to continue with the ‘Getting Published’ series and are keen to hear from anyone willing to share their experiences of publishing or can recommend a speaker.  Having had Publisher editors come to speak to us, we would be interested in offering a session with editors who work at the University to talk about their role. Please contact us via


Haigh, Ivan D., Wadey, Matthew P., Gallop, Shari L., Loehr, Heiko, Nicholls, Robert J., Horsburgh, Kevin, Brown, Jennifer M. and Bradshaw, Elizabeth (2015) A user-friendly database of coastal flooding in the United Kingdom from 1915–2014. Scientific Data, 2, 150021. (doi:10.1038/sdata.2015.21).

Ioannidis John P.A. et al.(2009) Repeatability of published microarray gene expression analyses. Nature Genetics 41, 149–55 doi:10.1038/ng.295.

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