How Busy Professors Manage to Publish More

Tim Slater, University of Wyoming,

Almost all of us benefit professionally from successful writing projects.  Unquestionably, if you want to up your credibility and visibility in the academic community, writing is the fastest way to do this.  Whether right or wrong, professors who have more words in print are afforded more credibility than those professors who write less.  Prolific authors are more often those who are solicited to serve on the most productive committees, highest profile national task forces, field-shaping federal agency grant proposal review boards, and for influential professional society leadership positions.  And, what is perhaps more surprising, is that the number of words you get in print is largely a personal decision: Those who intentionally decide to publish more end up publishing more than those who decide not to publish, but go to endless committee meetings instead.

One might mistakenly think that the only writing goals professors should have are to be first-authors on articles in top tier, peer-reviewed, highly-cited journals.  Such is a good goal, for sure, but there are so many other venues where professors’ writings can have abundant influence, perhaps even greater readership numbers than that of a top journal.

I am not at all suggesting that you don’t need top-tier journal articles to advance professionally; however, we sometimes we forget how rarely those articles get read compared to other types of writing.  Moreover, getting an article in a top tier journal means fighting through an editorial wall where less than 10% of everything submitted is published and, even if successful, waiting 18-months or more to see your work in print.  To be abundantly clear, professor need some long, hard won top-tier traditional publications in the CV, but that’s really just not enough to achieve national visibility that comes from frequently having your name in print as a by-line.

Places Prolific Professors Publish

  • Top-tier, peer reviewed journals
  • 2nd-tier, peer reviewed journals
  • Books and book chapters
  • Professional conference proceedings
  • Newsletter contributions for professional societies and organizations
  • Newspaper columns
  • University alumni magazines
  • Magazine articles not intended for your professional peers, but for the public
  • Textbooks potentially read by thousands of college students, and their professors
  • And, of course, Internet web-blogs

maximise-publications-impact1Increasing your publication footprint is embarrassingly simple. The number one stumbling block that prevents professors from publishing more is simply this:  Most publishing efforts have no predetermined deadlines and, as a result, most professors do not find time to publish.  If you want to publish more, then you must (1) decide that your want to publish and (2) allocate time to do it.   Publishing more is, of course, simple in the same way that losing weight is simple—one loses weight when one eats fewer calories.  In both cases, you have to decide it is important and make a commitment to a plan to do it.

Most professors are surprised how little time it actually takes to be a widely published author.  An hour a day totaling about four hours a week is a great place to start.  What does not work is binge writing. Nope, never, neh-eh.  No prolific author waits until they feel like it (no one ever feels like getting on a treadmill either) to write.  No prolific authors wait until they have a three- or four-day weekend to write, or even a three- or four-hour block of undisturbed time.  Those time blocks never really materialize.  So forget about that excuse of needing an undisturbed time block right now because it just isn’t going to happen.

sleeplateMost people think they are “not a morning person” but it turns out that the most productive writers do in the morning.  Mornings seem to work best because one’s mind is clearer after sleeping and waiting until later in the day seems to fill one’s brain with the whirlwind debris left over from daily life.  I try to write 500 words each day before I check my email – because as soon as I check my email, I’ve got some unexpected urgent to do item that will always derail my daily writing goal.

Some professors worry that they really have nothing to write about.  As it turns out, when people start writing, their brains start generating new ideas to write about.  In other words, the more you sit down to write (even if you have to repeatedly type I have nothing to write about, I have nothing to write about), the more writing ideas will pop into your head spontaneously.  (In the time it has taken me to write this paragraph, I’ve had to stop twice just to write down new writing project ideas.)  Look at the table of ideas above and see if there is an easy place to start.

The most obvious place to find something to write about is your most recent conference presentations.  Every conference presentation is a great outline for writing a paper about.  Moreover, if you didn’t give any presentations in the past few years, think about other presentations you’ve heard, and write a well-cited “me too, I (dis)agree” piece.

If you are really stuck, walk down to a more senior professor’s office and say, “I’m stuck on the project I’m working on and need to let it soak for six months; do you have a languishing paper you are too busy for that I could adopt and co-write with you to get it out the door?”  Most of us have things sitting around that need a fresh pair of eyes to get unstuck, and this presents a great opportunity for you to get something new published.

downloadFor me, the best piece of advice I can offer to you this instant is to allocate an unbreakable appointment with yourself to start writing.  Professors often say that they cannot find time to write; but, professors find time to teach class every week, and do not break that appointment.  In the same way, you need an unbreakable appointment to write several times a week.  Now, go find your calendar and make that happen!


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