Monday, 11 January 2010

Multiple journal submissions

It is interesting how much there is to learn about publishing that appears not to be passed on by PhD supervisors to their students. Today I dealt with a problem author whose paper to Construction Management and Economics was not only 70% longer that the maximum we allow, but was also, as it turned out, very similar to another paper by the same author that I had dealt with only the day before. The similarities were obvious when I looked at them so close together, but it turned out that he had submitted three papers over a month or so, all drawing from his PhD, all far too long, and only differing in terms of the focus of the cases being presented in each paper. Each repeated the same mistakes as the other (not taking a critical stance in reviewing the literature and lacking in a certain punchiness to the conclusions).

When I challenged the author about cranking out so many papers from the same PhD, he pointed out that he had a further six papers in various states of progress, all reaching the same conclusion, but based on different case studies. I pointed out that this was not good academic practice and that we only wanted one paper that fell within our word limits. The author was very attentive to what I was saying, and it was clear that this was all new to him, having only recently completed his PhD. He suggested, respectfully, that maybe the published Instructions for Authors should make this point clear.

The problem with that suggestion is that the Instructions for Authors (IfA) are not meant to form general advisory page about the protocols of academic publishing, a topic about which much has been written in the past. Rather, the IfA are intended to highlight journal-specific matters. Moreover, we tend to see advice about general academic conduct as a primary responsibility of PhD supervisors, who usually make sure that they enlighten their PhD students about a much wider range of issues than multiple submissions. I have tried to make the general principles of authorship clear in publications of my own, in the past, for example:

Advanced Research Methods in the Built EnvironmentHughes, W.P. (2008) Getting your research published in refereed journals. In: Knight, A. and Ruddock, L. (eds). Advanced Research Methods in the Built Environment. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 193-206. ISBN: 9781405161107.

But of course, I am not the only person who writes such papers, and it is quite important for new academics to learn about a whole range of issues relating to developing a career as a professional academic. And finely slicing a piece of research into a disproportionately large number of papers is only one of many pitfalls for the budding academic.

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