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Navigating the Publishing Process

July 17, 2012

by Tom Reinsfelder, Christina Steffy, and Amy Deuink

Publishing. It’s something many of us in academia are expected to do, or are at least highly encouraged to do. But the thought of publishing is often intimidating. What do I write about? Where do I publish? When should I start? All of these questions and more go through someone’s mind when she or he thinks about publishing.

What to write about/When to write

The first two steps in publishing are deciding when to write and what to write about. These two steps may or may not happen at the same time – you may realize you want to write when you find something you’re passionate about, or you may first decide you want to write and then start looking for something to write about. If you want to write, you might get your feet wet with writing and working with a publisher by volunteering as a book reviewer with venues such as  American Reference  Books Annual (ARBA) or one of the LIS publications you read. Or, perhaps a graduation capstone project or term paper, or career promotion and tenure will dictate when you start to think about writing. Regardless of the order, it’s never too early to start writing. You can start writing and publishing as a student, as soon as you enter the field, or years after you’ve been in the field. It’s important to keep in mind what Crawford (2003) tells us about writing – you write, “because you have something to say. More to the point, you have something to share – something to say that other people will want to read or hear.” Crawford also cautions us against writing solely for the purpose of promotion and tenure, saying that, “when you write or speak because it’s required and only for that reason, your articles and speeches are likely to reflect that mandate” (1).

What you write doesn’t have to be a new discovery in the field; it can be a new perspective on an established idea, a case study, a literature review, or an analysis. Perhaps you want to learn more about a topic but find nothing published – that’s a great opportunity to do original research. Also, keep abreast of information in your field by joining professional associations, groups, discussion forums, and listservs. No matter how you choose a topic, choose something that interests you and write passionately about it.

Val Lynn provided some tips for choosing a topic as well as tips for working with data in an earlier CRD post. To view those tips, click here.

Finding the right “fit”

So now that you have your topic, where should you publish?

In addition to scholarly journals – which can exist in print or even completely online – other options exist as well. You might consider writing for professional websites, blogs, and wikis or even in professional newsletters, bulletins, or volunteer as a conference reporter. Professional organizations may offer some or all of these opportunities; many have their own publications, and some have their own journals. You may also consider writing book chapters and presenting your research at conferences.

When deciding where to publish, you have to find the right “fit.” For example, a perfect article on library instruction won’t get published in a journal that focuses on interlibrary loan.

To identify journals that may be suitable for what you have to say, try

Ulrich’s Periodical Directory (Ulrich’sWeb)
Cabell’s Directories
Directory of Open Access Journals
or look at journal lists in indexes like ERIC or Library Literature & Information Science

Writing and Article Submission

Once you have identified a few titles that may be suitable for your article, explore the “information for authors” section to learn more about the scope of the journal and the formatting requirements for article submissions. This information can typically be found on the journal’s website. Here are examples from Communications in Information Literacy and College and Research Libraries,both open access journals. We’re primarily writing about submitting to academic journals, but the same general advice can be applied to the other venues suggested above.

It is always good practice to closely follow the instructions for authors before submitting your article for consideration. But, you may first wish to submit a letter of inquiry to the editor which includes a summary of your proposed article. This can help provide some preliminary feedback about how well your proposed article fits the particular journal.

Working with Reviewers & Editors

Successful authors seek input from others and do not take criticism personally.

Before submitting your work ask colleagues or friends for their thoughts. This will make your writing stronger and help you clarify your ideas. After submitting your work be prepared to receive further feedback and criticism from reviewers and editors. In some rare cases an editor may accept a work without requiring revisions but an author will usually have to revise his/her work before it is accepted. When you get to this point make sure to address each of the items noted. Some items may be fixed easily. Others may take more time. And some you may not agree with. If this is the case, and you feel strongly that the original version is better than the proposed change, don’t be afraid to communicate that to the editor. Remember it is your work. Just be sure to include a well presented justification for keeping the original text or ideas.

It is also likely that at some point some of your work submitted for publication will be rejected by an editor. This could be for a variety of reasons and doesn’t necessarily mean that your work is bad. Don’t get discouraged if at first you don’t succeed as it just may not be the right “fit”. There are many other outlets that may be more suitable for your writing. But you may well benefit from taking any criticisms offered by the first reviewers and making changes before resubmitting to another journal.

A Few Suggested Resources


First Have Something to Say: Writing for the Library Profession (2003), Walt Crawford

The Librarian’s Guide to Writing for Publication (2004), Rachel Singer Gordon

Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook (2010), Carol Smallwood, ed.


Dolores’ List of CFPs
PaLA member and prolific author Dolores Fidishun regularly shares calls for proposals on her blog.

Writing a Research Article” (2012), Val Lynn

Professional Networks

Look for online learning opportunities to hone your skills, such as ACRL’s recent webinar series, “From Idea to Publication.”

Find a mentor where you work, through your professional network, or through an organization to which you belong. And take advantage of research writer’s consultations at conferences, such as the one organized at ALA Annual Conferences by the ACRL Research Program Committee.

Join a writing group, such as Academic Ladder, or go it alone and journal about your progress to set and accomplish writing goals as you progress. Or at least leave yourself good notes for resuming writing where you left off to help avoid procrastination.

Readers, do you have other research, writing, or publishing tips? Other suggested resources to share? We’d love to hear from you!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Linda Neyer permalink
    July 17, 2012 7:35 pm

    Great post! Thanks for writing this.

    I think it’s also important to realize that even if you don’t think your research is ‘earth-shaking’ it may still benefit others in ways you can’t imagine. For instance, a couple of years ago I worked with a school librarian to survey academic librarians about incoming college freshmen’s research skills, and we published our results in the Pennsylvania School Librarian Assoc. newsletter ( I was surprised to learn later that someone had cited our article in a conversation with her principal to justify some changes in their school’s curriculum. My immediate reaction was, “oh really?” It hadn’t occurred to me someone might use it for that purpose. This actually taught me to have a greater respect for my own work. Just because your study is not a ‘randomized controlled study’ does not mean it won’t be of interest or use to others. An on-the-fly study or survey might be just the answer someone is looking for.

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