Publications strategy

Publications are likely to be one of the key ways in which the outcomes of your research team's work are disseminated and through which team members can gain formal recognition of their contribution to the project.

Given the importance of publications and authorship to measures of research quality and academic career progression, a properly thought through strategy should be a feature of your research project.

As the leader of a research team, it is advisable that you discuss and agree the publication strategy and ground rules for authorship with your team, and other collaborators, at an early stage of the project. Clarifying expectations at the outset will help avoid problems at a later stage, such as individuals feeling that their contribution has not been fairly recognised or rewarded.   

Some of the things you may wish to consider and discuss might include:

  • which publication to target
  • who will have authorship?
  • roles and responsibilities for manuscript production and submission.

Which publication to target

There are a range of factors to consider in terms of selecting which publication to target.  Your institution or funding body might have requirements for securing open access to your research outputs. Other main considerations include the significance of your research and whether it fits the scope of the publication (for example, does it have cross-disciplinary or narrow appeal?)  The relative prestige of a publication as evidenced by impact factors is also likely to be a key consideration, although you may need to weight this up against rejection rates, turn-around and backlog times, particularly if there is a need to publish quickly, for example for fear of a scoop.

Other factors might include word limits, page charges, circulation rates, and whether there are planned special issues addressing your research area. Discussing with your researchers and sharing the process through which you agree which publication to target help them develop their understanding of the publication process.  It will also help them to recognise how a particular publication sits within their own publication record and broader CV.

Who will have authorship?

Authorship is usually credited to the individuals who have made a substantial contribution to the design, implementation, or interpretation of the research described in the publication.  Because of the importance of authorship in academia, many disciplines, publishers and institutions have their own guidance or codes of practice addressing this issue and it is recommended that you and your research team become familiar with these.  The Committee on Publication Ethics (2003) How to handle authorship disputes; a guide for new researchers contains very helpful guidance suitable for both principal investigators and their research staff providing:

  • suggestions for good authorship practice
  • advice on what to do when authorship problems do arise
  • a glossary of key concepts in authorship, with some reading lists and websites for those who wish to take this further.

Roles and responsibilities for manuscript production and submission

Getting an article from conception to final publication involves many stages such as planning, drafting, editing, preparing tables, figures and illustrations, submission, responding to reviewers comments, re-submission and checking proofs. When publications have multiple and relatively inexperienced contributors, there is increased potential for confusion about who has responsibility for particular aspects of the publication process and what will happen in the event of disagreement amongst authors over aspects of content. Once again agreeing expectations at the outset and ensuring each author has a clear understanding of what their contribution will be to the final publication can help minimise such problems.

It is however possible that you will need to revisit assigned roles and responsibilities during the publication life-cycle in order to ensure that this reflects individual's ability and availability. For example, a researcher may be able to contribute significantly to early drafts of the manuscript but be unable to participate fully in later stages due to taking up a new position at the end of a fixed-term contract.  In such cases their responsibilities will need to be re-assigned.