Coming to the end of the journey: Findings from my PhD research

With my 2nd version of my full PhD thesis manuscript with my supervisors and with a tentative viva date set, I’m starting to realize that I’m likely coming to the end of my time as a PhD student. As such, I’ve entered myself into three contests that the Open University has for postgraduate students, thinking this is probably my last chance to enter as a student. Entering the competitions also helps to serve a dual purpose, as I can use my entries in those competitions, which are intended for a general audience, to communicate what I’ve found through my research more widely.

One of the competitions is to write a 150 word research summary. Here’s what I came up with:

Exploring the Experiences of Japan-Based English Language Teachers Writing for Academic Publication

An important aspect of academics’ careers is writing for publication. Publishing increases access to resources and opportunities. However, with the globalization of higher education, there is considerable movement of people within and between countries and institutions. How such mobility influences writing for publication remains underexplored. This research investigates the writing for publication practices of Japan-based English language teachers working in higher education, exploring the pressures to publish they experience, how they respond to those pressures, and how they navigate expectations to publish. There were three key findings: that the paths manuscripts take toward publication are quite complex; a lot of work goes into writing, reviewing, and revising manuscripts; and the authors tended to want to write about their teaching while reviewers wanted them to write about research. This research can inform both writing for academic publication research generally and authors seeking to publish their academic work more specifically.

Another competition is to produce a poster for a general audience outlining my research and findings. That’s embedded below.

I should thank my colleague, Jerry Talandis, Jr., for his help with the research summary and the poster. For the poster in particular I leaned pretty heavily on his expertise with professional layout software.

The final competition I enrolled in was a ‘multimedia’ competition. I decided to create a video presentation explaining  the basics of my research:

I was hoping for about a 5-minute video presentation, but it ended up being closer to 10 minutes in the end.

In this post I wanted to expand a bit on the findings I’ve outlined above and hopefully respond to some feedback and (constructive) criticisms I’ve received from the people I’ve discussed my findings with (besides my supervisors). In this respect, I should acknowledge Colin Skeates’ constructive feedback on my video summary of my research above.

Finding 1: The paths manuscripts take to publication are quite complex

An easy response to this conclusion is that it’s not news. However, by complex I mean that there are multiple rounds of evaluation and revision both within the official evaluation systems of journals and also outside those systems involving ‘unofficial brokers’. The news value of this finding is that much of the research to date has tended to concentrate on ‘official brokering’; that done by editors and reviewers, but in fact unofficial brokering was also important to publishing many of the texts I analysed. Some manuscripts were also submitted to multiple journals before they were published, suggesting that the correspondence editors tend to analyze; manuscripts submitted to their journals, may be incomplete in terms of representing how manuscripts change during the process of submission, review, and revision. It was also the case that the manuscripts changed considerably throughout their trajectories. Stages labeled as ‘copyediting’ tended to include revisions to aspects of the manuscripts that dealt with issues of what knowledge claims were being made in the texts, not just ‘simple’ corrections of errors.

Finding 2: A lot of work goes into writing, reviewing, and revising manuscripts

This is perhaps another ‘so what’ finding, but the contribution my thesis makes is to empirically evidence this work across a variety of manuscript types. The conclusion that publishing takes a lot of work on the authoring side and on the journal side holds true across international indexed journals and also Japan-based conference proceedings. Quantifying the amount of work can help to advance arguments for ‘counting’ such labor. For example, some of the authors I spoke with mentioned certain publication types ‘not counting’ in institutional measures of publication ‘output’. However, I charted considerable work going into papers published in Japan-based proceedings and Japan-based journals, as much or more than ‘counted’ publications. Another issue is that while review and editing labor is often unpaid, it is essential to the process of academic publication. Quantifying the importance of editing and reviewing to writing for publication can help to advance arguments for institutions to ‘count’ that labor in official evaluations. For example, my university cares very much about annual publication numbers for its faculty, but not at all (as far as I can tell) about the extent to which their facility contribute to the processes required to publish, including reviewing for journals. Showing the amount of work required to publish a manuscript can help to make a case for offering some kind of ‘credit’ for doing that work. The issue of multi-year publication trajectories balanced against yearly publication quotas and expectations is another issue I raise in my thesis.

Finding 3: Teachers want to write about teaching but journals want ‘research’

This to me is personally one of the most important findings from my study. So why is it listed number 3? Well, it’s not one that fits into the research literature on writing for publication particularly well. The teachers I spoke with tended to want to write and publish about their teaching practice, but journal editors and reviewers tended to push them to emphasize the research aspects of their work. There is discussion of the divide between teaching and research in the literature, and I feel this tendency identified in my thesis to emphasize ‘research’ over ‘teaching’ is one manifestation of that divide. Charting the changes in authors’ manuscripts can help to address this divide by pointing out the influence it has on what is and can be published.

In conclusion

There’s a lot more in my 400+ page thesis than I can write about here, so if you’re interested in following up on something I’ve shared, please get in touch.