How to ensure your paper achieves the impact it deserves?

Discusses the workflow I use to communicate about a new paper

I have written before about the four C’s of getting cited and the role of communication in this process. This doesn’t mean I am advocating an instrumental approach to getting cited. What I am advocating is ensuring that your academic publications – which have taken you a lot of “blood, sweat and tears” to complete – get the impact they deserve.

The term impact can represent a wide range of meanings. This blog post solely deals with academic impact as measured by citations, although – as I have argued earlier – many of the recommendations below might also assist in achieving greater societal impact (see also Return to Meaning. A Social Science with Something to Say).

In the four C’s of getting cited and the accompanying white paper I talked about communication in general terms, discussing conference networking, personal websites, repositories, twitter, blogging and emailing other academics. I have also posted about Building your academic brand through engagement with social media. But what does this mean in terms of the actual workflow? What do I personally do whenever I have a new paper accepted?

  • Step 1: As soon as I receive the acceptance decision, I create a pre-publication version of my paper and add it to the online papers section of my website. I also update my publications by year, publications by type, research overview, and the relevant research program page, see for instance Quality and Impact of Academic Research. Estimated time: 1 hour.
  • Step 2: I add my paper to the Middlesex University repository. Putting your paper in your university’s repository is compulsory in the UK anyway if you want your publications to count for the Research Excellence Framework. Estimated time: 5 minutes.
  • Step 3: If you do not have a personal website, this could also be the time to put your paper on other paper repositories such as ResearchGate, SSRN, Arxiv, RepEc. I find it too much hassle to do this for each new paper as most people find my papers on my own website, so I leave this to step #7. Estimated time: 5-30 minutes (as long as you don’t let yourself be distracted by looking at alerts or other papers on these services. If this is part of your keeping up-to-date strategy then of course go ahead and let yourself be distracted without feeling guilty!).
  • Step 4: I write a very short blog post including just a few lines introducing the paper, an abstract and the full reference (see for example Language in International Business: A review and agenda for future research). I send out a tweet about this blogpost and post it as a LinkedIn notification. Estimated time: 0.5-1 hour.
  • Step 5: Within two weeks after adding the paper to your university repository it should be picked up by Google Scholar. If you have created a Google Scholar Citation Profile and haven't set updates to manual it will be added to your record automatically. If you have set additions to manual to avoid mistakes (as I have) you will receive an alert from Google Scholar asking whether you want to add it. At that time I log in, add the publication, correct any mistakes and provide additional details where needed. I also use that time to quickly check whether I need to add details for other recent publications, such as for instance a DOI that has become available. Estimated time: 5-10 minutes.
  • Step 6: As soon as the official publisher’s version of the article is available I download it and file it with a descriptive name in a named folder on my computer. I might then send the paper to a few people that might be interested in the topic. Mostly though, I just keep it available to be able to quickly send it to anyone asking me for a reprint. Estimated time: 5-60 minutes, depending on whether you send out emails about the paper.
  • Step 7: A couple of times a year I log in to my ResearchGate and ORCID profile and add any new publications. Usually ResearchGate will already have found the paper online on my website. The easiest way to get your paper on ORCID is to use their connection to Scopus (this presumes the paper has appeared in Scopus as “in press”, which will only happen once it is listed with an official DOI in online first). Estimated time: 15-20 minutes.
  • Step 8: After a year or two or whenever I have accumulated two or three articles on a particular theme, I might write a longer blogpost such as What if fully agree doesn't mean the same thing across cultures? or Challenges in International survey research: illustrations and solutions or Trailblazers of diversity: editors and editorial board diversity. I then tweet about this post and share it on LinkedIn. This is a good way to “revitalise” interest in a paper and also allows you to reflect on the broader contributions of your own research. If you intend to do further research in the field it can also be a really good lay introduction to companies when looking for data collection sites. Helene Tenzer has used her How to manage multi-lingual teams? in this way. Estimated time: first time you do this: 8-12 hours, subsequent postings: 3-6 hours.

Total time spent: 6-16 hours. Does this sound like a lot to you? Maybe… But given how much work you have put into doing the research and writing the paper, why wouldn’t you devote two more days ensuring it gets the audience it deserves?

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Does it really matter?

Well I guess you won’t know until you do a controlled experiment with two almost identical papers. But anecdotally I can tell you it does. In 2014 I published a paper on trust in multi-lingual teams in a special issue on language in the Journal of International Business Studies. One of my co-authors on that paper published another paper in the same special issue. I don’t think that paper was less interesting or of lower quality, but it received only a quarter of the citations our paper did, both within the year after publication and to the current day.

The difference? I ensured systematic communication about our paper through a range of channels; the other paper was pretty much left to its own devices. Citations to a paper are a function of many different factors including the quality of the research, the level of interest in the research topic, the timing of the publication, the level of name recognition of the authors, pure luck, and communication. Given that communication is pretty much the only thing you can influence after publication, why not give it a go? Remember that getting your paper under the nose of the right audience doesn’t just facilitate citations, it also helps disseminating your research ideas, and gets you in contact with potential co-authors, prospective PhD students, end users of your research, and funding agencies.

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