Saturday, November 26, 2016

Contributions to Scholarship, Visibility, Salience, Citations. . .

You want your work to be seen by others, to be used in furthering their work, and take up space in the scholarly realm. You don't want just "another publication." You want your work to be seen and published in a journal of some repute. [I get all these emails from journals promising citations and publication, but they are unlikely to be strong or worthy of my or your effort.] You want others to note your name in the Table of Contents and turn to that page, especially if the title is also informative. You don't need to produce work that is insignificant or weak--it takes just as long to do a good paper as a weak one.

If you find that you are not one of the strongest scholars in your field, and by definition most of us will so find ourselves, you want to do the best work you can, find a niche where your contribution is useful and valued, and go to work. Ours is a collective enterprise, and fields move forward through a wide range of contributions.

Your work must be substantial, and you must present it so that its strengths are evident, and you take responsibility for its weaknesses or limits. In general, most papers should represent about a person-year of work, and if there are five authors it's unlikely that you can do the paper in 1/5th the time. If you have a large project, you may want to publish several papers out of it, but each should be substantial. And having papers appear in different, but strong, venues will make it likely someone interested will find out about the work. Of course, present the work ahead of time at meetings, and if you are more established you have the chance to talk about the work at various departments and so get useful criticism before you do a final draft. But early on in your career this is less likely. 

Make sure the title gives away the whole story. Cute is nice, but substantive is better. "The Market for Lemons," by Akerlof, was cute and substantive, but few of us are so inventive. Better "boring" and informative, than cute and obscure. A typical mistaken title might be, Whose Ox is Gored: A Study in Academic Committee Meetings, when the right title is, Passive Aggressive Behavior in University Committee Meetings.

You want to think in terms of contributions  to scholarship, rather than numbers of articles or pages. The latter matter, surely, but in the end, it is the contributions that make a difference. Cumulative contributions are usually needed, since no one is likely to follow up on your work at first. 

Get your advisor or mentor to help you aim high and appropriately. Good advisors or mentors want their students to do better than they have done, for to have successful students is perhaps the greatest testimony to a professor.

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