Category Archives: Writing & Publishing

A journal to avoid

A few days ago, I was sent an unsolicited Facebook message inviting me to contribute to an India-based journal called LangLit. As I assume that similar messages are being sent far and wide, I would like to caution readers against sending manuscripts to them.

First things first; here’s the message:

Call for Research Papers, Interviews, Book Reviews, Poems n Short Stories for LANGLIT: An International Peer Reviewed Open Access Journal ISSN 2349 – 5189.. (Vol.2 Issue 1) Deadline for Paper Submission: 10th Aug 2015  Date of Publication : 30th Aug 2015 [redacted]@gmail.com Sincerely hope that you will contribute.. http://www.langlit.org

Author beware

In my opinion, the journal is an example of what might be called bad faith academic publishing. A clear sign is that the journal attempts to deceive prospective authors and readers by claiming to be a peer-reviewed journal. However, as far as one can tell from the message above, the time-frame from submission to publication is merely 20 days, which is too short for meaningful peer review and corrections.

Secondly, the journal misrepresents its content, when stating that they publish “high-quality written works presenting original research with profound ideas and insightful thoughts”. A cursory glance through their latest issue (vol. 1, issue 4) shows that it contains approximately 150 (!) main submissions, plus a few dozens of interviews, short stories (e.g., A Cyborg Shipwrecked on our Shore) and poems (including Bliss of Love, Eternal Love, Love’s Sake and Proud Sacred Love). Of the papers in the issue, only one was empirical, in the sense that I understand the word, and -at the risk of sounding snobbish- it failed to impress me.

To their credit, the publishers are reasonably upfront about their Article Processing Charges. The privilege of placing your work in their journal will only set you back 500 Indian Rupees, which is about 7€ (£5, $8, or a few thousand Greek Drachmas should things go south). This sets them apart from the worst of predatory journals, but does little to improve their academic standing. From the looks of it, the charges do not include a proofreading service.

Picture1
Sample author bio

I have discussed this journal with Jeffrey Beall, who curates an authoritative index of predatory publishers, and he concurs with my assessment. You can now find LangLit in his list of standalone potential, possible or probable predatory journals.

Not convinced?

You may think that there’s little harm done by submitting a unambitious paper you may have written to a journal that has a credible-sounding title and only charges a modest fee. If that is the case, I would encourage you to think twice.

First, such a publication would harm your reputation, and the merits of the paper would be lost because of its association with bad research and mediocre poetry. Moreover, once published in a bogus journal, a paper is unpublishable elsewhere, and that includes future revisions. Not to put too fine a point to it, research published in a bogus journal is wasted. Finally, there are better ways to gainfully spend even a small amount of money. Willy Renandya suggests buying reference materials, or donating to charity that supports teacher development in under-resourced settings.

As for your article, you might consider sending it out to one of many excellent open-access journals that do not charge publication fees. Alternatively, if your work doesn’t fit their publication needs, you can always share it in a blog post!


Featured image: “Danger” by Shawn Carpenter @ Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Publishing a chapter

I am pleased to announce that Resistance to the Known: Counter-Conduct in Language Education, edited by Damian Rivers, and containing a chapter by myself, should by now be available for purchase (Palgrave Macmillan, Amazon, Blackwell). I have already written about the book and my contribution, so rather than reiterate, what I want to do in this post is recount the experience of getting a chapter published, which may be of some interest to any reader who is interested in academic writing. What follows then is a step-by-step account of how this chapter came to be, interspersed with some advice and lessons learnt.

Finding a publication

I first became aware of the upcoming publication when someone forwarded me the Call for Chapters, an invitation by the book editor for prospective authors to contribute to the planned publication. There were multiple references in the Call to themes that resonated with me, such as the need to question established practice, and I felt that there were aspects of my research that could illustrate the argument put forward by the book.

My next step was to contact the editor and find out more about the collection he was putting together. I was particularly keen to know how definite the publication plans were, because I didn’t want to commit a paper to a book that might take years to appear in print. Here’s what my email looked like:

Dear Dr Rivers,
I was very interested to read your call for papers on Resisting the Known in FLE. I would be keen to have my work included in this volume, since my research involves understanding how English Language Teaching transitions between established pedagogical traditions, a global communicative orthodoxy and a post-modern, critical paradigm. I was wondering if you might be able to give me some more specific information regarding the forthcoming publication: Have you negotiated a contract with a publisher, and is there a tentative date of publication at this stage?

Damian Rivers, the editor, replied swiftly, letting me know that he planned to negotiate a contract with an established publisher once he had a collection of promising abstracts at hand. This was not as encouraging as I had wanted to hear, but I did look up his CV and confirmed that he had considerable experience in putting together such projects, which I found reassuring.

Submitting an abstract

The first step towards getting published is submitting an abstract, i.e., a summary of the paper one intends to write, which will help the editor and other reviewers decide whether the proposed paper is a good fit for their publication (here’s a guide to writing abstracts, btw). After my email exchange with Damian, I was quite keen on submitting to this particular volume, but I had two concerns. First, my research was not quite complete, and I had only a tentative idea of what my findings might eventually look like. Therefore, I felt rather apprehensive about committing. Secondly, I was conscious that much of my conceptual work on complex systems theory (CST) could alienate readers, especially if I could only present it in a summarised form.

On account of these two risks, I decided to submit a fairly conservative abstract that stayed clear of CST. In a nutshell, I promised to describe a case study of a language school in Greece, where there were tensions between local and communicative teaching practices; then I would argue that critical pedagogy is better than both empirically identified alternatives, but since there was a danger for critical pedagogy to be ossified, eclectic practice was better still. This structure was reflected in my tentative title: Local, Global, Critical, Eclectic: Overlapping paradigms of English Language Teaching. I was aware that this was a fairly bland suggestion, but I thought that if I got the chapter accepted, it would be possible to carefully introduce complexity constructs as necessary to support my argument.

A couple of months after I submitted the abstract, I was sent a copy of the comments made by the reviewers who had read the book proposal for our publishers, Palgrave Macmillan. It was not a very encouraging review:

The proposal here is to present three positions on the teaching of English using Greece as a case: traditional, communicative and lingua franca. There is nothing new in the characterisations which are likely to appear from this. The novelty appears ‘in the concluding remarks’ – but that is surely too late – where it will be argued that a model combining all three, made relevant to local needs, is required. This too is not particularly surprising and will not be put to any empirical test. So this article has little to offer the general reader although there may well be a use/need for a proposal for Greece.

In retrospect, this was a fair comment, although I will admit that I found it hurtful to read that my proposal had nothing new to offer. For a while, my feelings of hurt pride prevented me from realising that it was my own abstract that had undersold the research, and that the reviewer was doing little more than confirming the fact that I was being too conservative.

When I eventually put some space between myself and the comments, I produced a revised abstract that addressed the criticism. Here’s how I described my second attempt in my email to Damian:

I’ve attached a revised abstract which takes into account the reviewer’s feedback. The revised version has a stronger emphasis on what is distinctive about the setting where my research was situated – this should address the recommendation that “there may well be a use/need for a proposal for Greece”. I have also highlighted tried to make more explicit the contribution that this chapter seeks to make: I will grudgingly admit that there may have been some truth to the reviewer’s observation that this was not very evident in the previous version. The ‘known’ vs. ‘resistance’ construct is explicitly invoked throughout, which I hope will help with cohesion across the volume. Overall, I think that it’s in line both with the vision of the book and the set of expectations that the reviewer created, but if you have any concerns or if you feel that changes are necessary, do let me know.

Damian seemed to like the revised proposal, and the project was back on track!

Writing the paper

Once the revised abstract had been accepted, I was given 12 months to put the paper together. People who know me will not be surprised to read that I only started writing it four weeks before the deadline. In this regard, I am not entirely atypical, I think. It was fortunate that my PhD had yielded lots of fascinating data by then, and I was able to draw on them to support my arguments. Still, it was a writing journey with lots of ups and downs, some of which I documented in my writing journal.

July 2nd
I was in the library today for a long writing session. By the end of the day I had written a very decent literature review on Complexity for the “Resistance to the Known” chapter. The chapter, which is due by the end of July, is supposed to be a maximum of 9,000 words, and I’ve already written 1,200, so I suppose I’m making good progress. The quality of the text is surprisingly good too, for a first draft! Very happy today.

July 3rd
Spent another evening at the library, and all I have to account for it is another 500 words and a very tangible sense of stress. I know I shouldn’t, because I have 3 1/2 weeks to get the chapter written, and I am making good progress. I guess I’ll feel better once I have put a first draft onto paper, but until then I just can’t help feeling stressed.

July 5th
Tomorrow’s going to be a critical day: I’ll get up at 7.00 and go to the library the moment it opens. My target is to get at least 1,500 words done. I know exactly what I want to write (and it’s going to be a good chapter!), but putting thoughts to paper is still going to be hard task.

July 10th
Just finished writing the Resistance chapter. Well, not quite finished, in the sense that I still need to add a couple of citations, work on the transitions, finish the concluding remarks, edit and proofread the thing. But the substantive content is all there, and that feels just great.

Finishing a chapter in fewer than ten days is not usual, or recommended! However, I was able to make good progress because I had lots of groundwork covered, including lots of data at hand, and a clear idea of what I wanted to produce.

Reviews and edits

The chapter, along with the other submissions, was sent for review after a few edits which we collaboratively worked on with Damian. The most important of those changes was Damian’s suggestion that the chapter be renamed to A Greek Tragedy: Understanding and Challenging ‘The Known’ From A Complexity Perspective. My initial reaction was that this title was rather too colourful and too critical for my tastes, but I was ultimately convinced by Damian’s argument. (Incidentally, there is some good advice out there against choosing too clever titles. I was happy to ignore it in this instance.)

When the reviewer’s report came back, I was obviously very happy to read that “Chapter  2 is  an  excellent  chapter  – academically rigorous and yet accessible and stimulating to the novice and the expert alike”. I was also happy to make two small changes at the reviewer’s request, which were consistent with feedback I had got from my PhD supervisor. However, I was slightly disconcerted to read that the reviewer had not been uniformly kind, and some of their harsher comments hinted at the possibility of bias. This led to a significant delay, in order for the book to be read by yet another independent reviewer and for necessary changes to be made.

The delay in the project would have been an great opportunity for me to look for language problems and improve my prose. However, in view of the positive feedback, I didn’t quite grasp the importance of this task, and focussed on what were at the time more important priorities. It was also my understanding that proofreading was best left to the professionals employed by the press, so I didn’t worry to much about a task that matched neither my skills or interests

This was a decision which I came to regret when I was sent the galley proofs of the paper. Galley proofs are the finalised version of the paper, after it has been proofread and typeset, and authors are sent these documents in order to correct the odd typo that might have eluded the professional proofreaders’ hawk eyes. In my case, I was rather horrified to see that the proofreaders had missed several mistakes, missing and redundant words, and to make matters worse, they had taken some ill-advised liberties with my punctuation. In all, I had to send a request for no fewer than 37 last-minute changes to be made, which I am sure challenged everyone’s good will.

Finally…

As the book is now being sent to retail, the question one asks oneself is: Was it worth it? For me this project was a great opportunity to showcase some of the work from my PhD, and test out some concepts that eventually made it into my dissertation. It was also a wonderful change to work with dedicated academics who helped me to develop. I certainly hope that, if you do happen to read the chapter, it will also be worth your time.

Update (19/12/2014)

If you are interested in getting a copy of the book, please consider following this link to Amazon.com to make your purchase. I reclaim a small portion (I think it’s around 4%) of the cover price for every purchase that is made from my referrals. Any proceeds from such purchases will go towards funding this blog.


Featured image: eye/see @ flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Open Access Week 2014

To mark Open Access Week 2014, here are some links to relevant content:

In this blog

  1. An overview of open access publishing;
  2. A list of myths about Open Access, according to Peter Suber, the director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication;

Elsewhere on the web:

  1. A video explaining the Open Access publishing model, by PhD Comics;
  2. A discussion of how Open Access enhances academic freedom, by Curt Rice, the head of the Board for Current Research Information System in Norway;
  3. Some refreshingly candid remarks on the cost of knowledge, by Leszek Borysiewicz, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge;
  4. Remarks on how Open Access can enhance public engagement with science, by Richard Price, the founder of academia.edu;
  5. A report on the economics of Open Access publishing, by Ernesto Priego, Lecturer in Library Science at City University London;
  6. A report on how the Directory of Open Access Journals attempted to purge questionable journals from its index.

Some concluding thoughts

In lieu of a conclusion, I would like to share some questions which I still have about open access and academic publishing in general:

  • To what extent can the cost of access to knowledge be justified in terms of the services that academic publisher’s provide?
  • To what extent can the Article Processing Charges (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4) be justified in terms of the services that Open Access / hybrid publishers provide?
  • Is enough being done to protect Open Access from its reputational association with predatory publishering?
  • What can be done to ensure that authors from low-resource research contexts are not disadvantaged by the requirement to procure funds in order to get published?
  • What can be done to safeguard against the conflict of interest that may arise when a publisher, who stands to gain directly by publishing an article is also entrusted with the peer-review process?

Featured Image: “Open Access promomateriaal”, by biblioteekje @ Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Some

Presenting multilingual data: some options

In the previous post of the Researching Multilingually series, I discussed some considerations that impacted the representation of multilingual data. In this post, I follow up on those considerations, by presenting four options that can be used to present multilingual data in a research report. These options, which can be thought of as a ‘cline of representational positions’, are presented in Figure 1.

Slide14Figure 1. A cline of representational positions

Presenting verbatim data

Presenting verbatim data along with their translation, as I have done in Figure 2, is the most transparent of the four options (although it one should always remember that the transcribed data are already a reduced form of what was actually communicated). In addition to the fairly obvious fact that such a representational option promotes the visibility of languages other than English in scholarly communication, one of its main advantages is that it allows bilingual readers to independently engage with the data in their original form. This creates a more visible ‘audit trail’, which helps to generate confidence in the findings; plus, it allows readers to re-interpret the data and generate new insights.

Slide16Figure 2. Verbatim bilingual presentation

Secondly, a bilingual presentation can highlight theoretically significant aspects of form that a translation would mask. In the extract presented in Figure 2, for instance, the presentation of Greek extract draws attention to the fact that the interviewee was making extensive use of English technical vocabulary (highlighted in red). This might be significant, because it offers insights into how she constructed her professional identity and because it shows how English was encroaching into the discourse domain of professional communication in my research setting.

In spite of the, a verbatim bilingual presentation may not always be desirable. First and foremost, the dissemination outlet may not be able to typographically support it, or (more commonly) they may not be willing to offer this option, because of the higher printing costs. Secondly, one needs to consider whether the word-space used for bilingual representation is at the expense of the argument one is trying to make. In a large scale project such as a thesis, this might not seem like an important consideration (and in my case, I was able to negotiate a 10% increase to the word limit in order to cater for multilingual data). However, in academic journals, where space is at a premium, balancing rich qualitative data and interpretation is often a challenge, even if you don’t have to consider bilingual data.

Presenting standardised data

The second option in the cline is presenting standardised data. This is fairly similar to what was described above, except that the spelling irregularities and non-standard forms are subtly changed to conform to the standard variety, as shown in Figure 3. One reason for doing this might be to avoid stigmatising the research participants: in an article evocatively titled ‘Ritin folklower daun ‘rong, Dennis Preston convincingly argues that a transcription that is too faithful constitutes a misrepresentation of what was said*. In an earlier post in this series, I also argued that in my own thesis, presenting raw data, warts and all, risked harming my research participants, and had to be avoided on ethical grounds.

Slide18Figure 3. Standardised bilingual data

In cases where a standardisation is necessary, there are two important caveats. First, standardisation needs to be done after data analysis, in order to avoid compromising the integrity of the dataset. Secondly, researchers should explicitly account for (a) why standardisation was desirable; (b) which ‘standard’ was used, and why; and (c) how the dataset changed as a result of this intervention.

Presenting unabridged data

The third option takes us to into the monolingual representation: if a dataset contains similar information in several languages, researchers may pick out a typical piece of data as representative of the whole (Figure 4). Selecting data in English to symbolically represent the entire dataset is a fairly pragmatic solution, which completely eschews the challenges of translation and the dilemmas associated with bilingual representation.

Slide20Figure 4. Unabridged monolingual daa

While the simplicity of this option makes it fairly attractive, its overuse can lead to ‘silencing’ the non-English data. This is politically problematic, as it makes an ideological statement (however unintended) about the primacy of the English language (Roberts 1997: 170). It may also be epistemologically problematic, if there are subtle differences between the English and non-English data. In my research, for example, Greek tended to be used by students who were less successful in learning English and/or had more negative attitudes towards the language. In other words, language choice was associated with subtle differences in content as well. While I think I was sufficiently alert to such differentiations, it is conceivable that a systematic bias for English data might mask such differentiation.

To mitigate against such risks, it is helpful for researchers to reflect on how the typical extracts are selected. One strategy that I found helpful involved using multiple more-or-less similar data extracts in my text, and comparing their rhetorical effect. I recorded these thoughts in reflexive memos, and though I will admit that, more often than not, my choice of examples was arbitrary, this process helped me to refine my understanding of whatever I was trying to describe.

Presenting summarised data

The final option in the cline involves summarising data in English (Figure 5). Condensing data can be appropriate when emphasis is on content rather than form, as it helps researchers to present information economically, and enhances the readability of the data. In addition, it helps to preserve some measured opacity when a detailed presentation is undesirable.

Slide22Figure 5. Summarised data

There are, however, several disadvantages to such a representation strategy. Most importantly, it interjects the researcher between the data and the reader. While such a risk is -arguably- present in all representation strategies, in this case the researcher’s interpretation of the data becomes very prominent, and it is not moderated by access to the original data. In doing so, this strategy risks violating what has been termed the validity through transparency and access principle” (Nikander 2008: 227). Secondly, the re-voicing of the data risks de-voicing the research participants, which can be epistemologically problematic, and ethically dubious.

The risks mentioned above can be mitigated somewhat by using appropriate research methods. For instance, this might involve having the research participants validate the condensed texts. In addition, a heightened degree of reflexivity might be helpful, as it would allow the researcher to have greater awareness of their own presence in the re-voiced text. Similarly, reflexive statements in the research report might counterbalance the opacity of the data.

A flexible representation strategy

It should be obvious, from the discussion above, that all the representation options offer particular affordances, but are also associated with different risks. What I think that this suggests is that each option in the cline is better suited for different instances of data, or (conversely) that it may be possible to flexibly eclectically combine more than one options in the same writing project. This should not be taken as a warrant for opportunistic ad hocery; rather, what I wish to suggest is that researchers reflect on the range of possible options for each instantiation of data, and make an informed decision on what representation option is best suited to it.


Notes

1) This post, and the one that preceded it, are based on a presentation I gave at the Researching Multilingually Seminar in Manchester on 22-23 May 2012 (of which more in the following note). The presentation slides can be viewed below:

2) This post concludes the Researching Multilingually series (for the time being, at least). The name of this series of posts is derived from a seminal research project undertaken by Jane Andrews (University of West England), Mariam Attia (Durham University), Richard Fay (University of Manchester) and Prue Holmes (Durham  University). The project website contains lots of information about doing multilingual research, as well as a very useful collection of references on multilingual research methodology.

3) The full reference for Preston’s article is: Preston, D. (1982). ‘Ritin folklower daun ‘rong. Journal of American Folklore(95), 304-326.

4) The Featured Image is from The Leaf Project @ Flickr, and it is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution & Share Alike (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence.

Where is a good place to find calls for papers?

Another answer salvaged from the academia.edu soon-to-be-discontinued Q&A section:

Where is a good place to find calls for papers? I’ve never been published before…

That would depend on your discipline. A good starting point, judging by your listed interests [Anthropology and Middle East studyes], might be h-net. The major journals in each field often publish calls for papers as well, and academic societies usually have mailing lists that you can join.

Update: For people whose interests are closer to linguistics, the Linguist List directory of upcoming conferences and publications is an invaluable resource. I also post information about any conferences that is forwarded to me (usually Applied Linguistics and ELT/TESOL related) in this blog. The Doctoral Community at the University of Manchester Language Teacher Education group also post interesting calls for papers, and are well worth adding to your bookmarks or RSS feed.

If anyone can think of any other useful resource, I’d appreciate if if you could add it as a comment below.


Image Credit: Hindrik Sijens @ Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0