June 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 3 // Tools of the Trade // 3TOT2
Publishing Research in Extension
Strategies for publishing as an Extension professional include using your grass roots knowledge base and identifying appropriate co-authors. Tips for handling the writing, submission, and editorial process are discussed.
Most Extension professionals would like better publication records, but lack of research output may be due to geographic isolation from campus and lack of research support. This is in contract to campus-based faculty with significant research appointments who often have considerable formal infrastructure and informal mentoring to help them achieve success in developing publications. This article first addresses the mentoring gap by providing the Extension professional with some basic tips on how to successfully publish while managing a full Extension calendar.
The next section addresses developing a research agenda. Then some ideas on methods compatible with Extension are presented. The pros and cons of collaborative research are discussed along with how to recruit good collaborators and raise research funds. Tips for writing and responding to feedback are presented, while the final section looks at ways to reduce the amount of time it takes to publish.
Choosing a Topic and Developing a Research Agenda
"What can I publish about?" is a common Extension professional's question. You probably know more than you think. You are working in the field almost every day and you can draw on that grass roots experience in your writing. Another tack is to develop a research project on something about which you need to know. Doing the project can help you develop the expertise needed in your educational programs. You can also develop a publication around evaluating programs, practices, or policy. You can develop a submission that presents a case study about something that happened in your area. Finally, you can wax philosophical about why things are the way they are--this is called a "think piece" and is usually fun to write.
Collaborate or Sole Author?
Should you collaborate or publish as a sole author? Ideally, an Extension professional's publication record should include both collaborative and sole authored works. A good place to start, however, is with a co-author. Your sense of obligation to your co-author will help spur you to complete the project even as you are inspiring your co-author. While professional credit for co-authorship is slightly less than credit for sole authorship, a second author gains more professional credit than a sole author loses by having a co-author. Credit for authorship is truly a case where you can make something bigger by sharing it--for up to three authors. In addition to helping you make the research better, your co-author may be of assistance in getting more people to read the work once it is published. Looking for contributions students can make is a great way to get classroom teaching faculty interested in your project.
The person listed as first author may have the best knowledge base or do most of the background work in the project, but may not be the best person to actually do the writing. The best person do write the article is the person who writes best. Always negotiate order of authorship at the beginning, not as you prepare the final draft! Whoever does the writing should consult the journal's guidelines before sitting down at the keyboard. Write clearly by avoiding long titles and complex sentence structure. See O'Neill (1990) for more writing tips.
There is a publication outlet for almost everything you might write. It is simply a matter of persistence. Start with the most prestigious publication that might be interested. If you are rejected, take any advice you get from reviewers and re-submit to another journal. If that fails, look for edited volumes, stand- alone Extension publications, or departmental working paper series as outlets (listed in order of preference).
Soliciting and Responding to Feedback
Conferences can be good way to force creation of the first draft of your work (this piece was born because the author was asked to make a presentation at an Extension conference). Presenting at a conference may help you improve the piece too, but don't wait for a conference to submit your work once it is ready to go. Ask colleagues for feedback prior to submitting, but don't wear out your colleagues by asking for comments about multiple versions.
Your submission letter should be brief, but it is appropriate to say why you think the article would be of interest to the journal. Once you have been told to "revise and resubmit," letters to the editor should summarize the changes made in response to reviewers' comments. No matter how stupid you think the comments may be, never attack them in your comments back to the editor! It is acceptable to ignore selected reviewer comments as long as you address most of the reviewers' issues in a positive manner.
Be patient! It often takes two-to-three years to go from an idea about research to seeing your publication in print. You can shorten this timeline in several ways. First, avoid data collection. If you own an existing data set (say, farm records), this can be a springboard for publications. Having a good data set can make you a valuable collaborator, so keep this in mind as you look for research partners. Second, do a think piece that draws mostly on what you have in your own head based on your experience and observations.
A good publication record is helpful to your Extension career in several ways. First, it helps you develop your own self -confidence about your ability to contribute. Second, it makes you more credible in your interactions with colleagues who teach in classroom settings. Finally, it helps you develop a better knowledge base and improve your writing skills.
O'Neill, B. (1990) "How to get published in a professional journal," Journal of Extension, Vol. 28, No. 3, Fall.