On getting published

This post traces the meandering path of an article I am working on, from its original inception to a stage very close to submission. I don’t know how typical this pathway is, but I thought that it might be worth a read in that it present’s an insiders’ perspective of how an article might come into existence. I think it is useful, because most of the time we tend to see the end product of this process, and -for me at least- this produces an image of a deliberate, predestined progression that starts with a decision to submit to a specific journal, and then researching, writing and submitting, followed by revising and getting published. This account is rather different:

The article I am working on is an outgrowth of my pilot study, which I completed in April 2009. I first presented some findings based on that study in a local conference in May 2010: that presentation was an overview of the entire pilot study, and reported on linguistic considerations, teaching methodology and political implications of ELT. Although the presentation was well received, I suppose that it did stretch the limits of what can be reasonably accommodated in a 15-minute talk. I therefore decided that my next presentation would discuss only one of the main research foci: language, pedagogy or politics.

Soon enough, I was sent a call for papers for a regional conference on English as a Lingua Franca (well, it was actually marketed as an international conference, but many of these conferences are given aspirational titles). The conference theme seemed to fit in well with my data, so I thought it would be nice to submit a paper there. The argument I wanted to make was that, in the context of the language school I was researching, the issue of the target language was in a constant flux. I would argue that this situation was defined by the interaction between a top-down imposition of an Anglocentric linguistic model and the bottom-up emergence of a model that valorises local resources and is closer to English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). As I was re-analysing my data, I became increasingly conscious of the fact that the conference dates and keynote speakers were being revised with alarming frequency, so I finally decided not to bother any further with them.

This left me with a piece of research that was well into the stage of writing-up and looked quite promising, but no opportunity to present it. I was aware of a conference being organised by the English Language Department of a nearby university, but my paper seemed to be only tangentially related to the conference topic, which was about the interaction of Said and Unsaid considerations in Language, Literature and Culture. Eventually, the urge to share these findings proved too hard to resist. So I made some changes to my narrative as a nod to the conference theme, highlighting some themes and removing those that didn’t seem relevant, and -to my surprise-the revised presentation seemed to work much better! The end result was a presentation titled Said Attitudes and Unsaid Practices in ELT, which explores the tension between an espoused adherence to the Standard Language Ideology and practices that are akin to ELF.

I submitted an abstract and it was eventually accepted, but I was now faced with the task of reducing what was originally a meant to be 30-minute presentation to fit in a 20-minute slot. This meant doing away with the entire methods section, and culling much of the evidentiary support of my argument. I tried to rationalise this by telling myself that a sympathetic audience would be convinced by what little evidence I did present, a critical audience would ask for clarifications in the Q&A session anyway, and an unsympathetic audience wouldn’t even be convinced by a monograph so I needn’t worry too much about them. Still, every time I had to delete another interview extract from the text, it felt not only as if I was inviting criticism, but also like replacing the voices of the teachers and learners in the school with my own. This was not what I had set out to do…

It was then brought to my attention that the organisers of the conference are also trying to launch a new journal, and that the inaugural issue is to be titled English(es). What if I could turn the presentation in a short article and submit it there? In the space of 6,000 words, I could certainly make sure that my argument was properly supported by compelling evidence, and I could make all the qualifying comments I wanted, explain the rationale of my methodological choices and spell out the limitations of the research. Then the presentation and the article could complement each other! It seemed like a perfect solution …

Except of a couple nagging details. It’s always such details that spoil my best laid schemes. Mostly I was concerned that by producing two presentations and an article out of the same study I was dangerously close to squeezing more out of my dataset than could legitimately be produced. Segmenting a piece of research into Minimal Publishable Units and producing a barrage of overlapping publications is a practice that I find grossly distasteful, and I was not too thrilled about starting my academic career by doing exactly that. However, I think that the differences in audience and in focus between the two presentations are such that they do warrant two different presentations, and that the journal article truly enhances the latest conference presentation, so it’s not really redundant either.

The other detail I was worried about was that this is not exactly an established journal – at least not yet. This means that while getting published might entail relatively little competition, the impact of the publication is bound to be small. A number of friends from the Greek academic world were also quick to point out that it would be better to get a publication in a journal affiliated to a Greek university rather than a foreign one, for reasons of face validity. This is hugely unfair to the editors of this particular journal, and scandalously overrates the gravitas of many Greek publications but it accurately reflects a regrettable prevailing attitude. I think that what weighed decisively towards publishing in this journal rather than a Greek equivalent was that I am primarily interested in expanding my academic network: I can easily network with Greeks in local conferences, through serendipitous meetings or with the mediation of common acquaintances, so perhaps I don’t absolutely need a publication here to get my ideas across. On the other hand, I don’t think I have any other means for reaching out to colleagues in different countries, so I don’t think I can ignore a publication opportunity of such topical relevance.

Anyway, the article is almost ready now: just some proofreading left to do, and I expect to submit it towards the end of the week. And then of course it would have to be accepted – another minor detail …