Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Writing for Impact

I have a student this semester, who wants to write an article, not because he's on a journal staff, or because he is getting credit for a directed study with me. He wrote a research guide last semester on a topic that was near to his heart, and he wants to follow it up. He's doing it on his own time. I don't know if a law student has any hope of getting a journal article published in this situation.... It seems like a pretty long shot to put something like that in any law review, even our own school law journals, but especially going outside. Student-edited journals have big gates that do look at who you are, and where you are from. This has long been a frustration to law professors at 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier law schools who run into these same barriers trying to publish their scholarship. The students don't have a lot of experience judging scholarship, so they often use who and where as proxies for quality when they choose articles to publish.

Well. That's one big reason I have long shied away from publishing in law reviews. I have always chosen to send my stuff to professionally edited or peer-reviewed journals. I think I get a much better review, and I also have a much better chance of getting published, no matter where I have chosen to work.

So, I am trying to persuade this student that perhaps there is publishing beyond law reviews. That perhaps he will have a better chance of getting a well-written article published in a journal beyond the law journal universe. Law students (and I was this way, I think, when I was in law school), believe that there is no intelligent life outside of law school. This makes it extra ironic that other university faculty and PhD students often look down their noses at the law school publication system that sets up our ground-level students as the gatekeepers of our scholarship!

In service of my argument, I am trying to introduce this fellow to the concept of "journal impact factor" which is a measure based on average citation rates of the articles in the journal. So, for instance, a frequently cited journal like Nature would have a higher journal impact factor than a less frequently cited journal. It does not mean that individual articles in each issue have been cited particularly, but that, on average, articles in this journal, are cited more often. Journals advertise their impact factors to potential authors, interestingly. "Publish with us! Our impact factor is higher." As if it were going to guarantee more citations for the article you publish with them. And perhaps it does deliver more eyeballs, and potentially more citations... but nobody knows. Journal impact factor is a sort of blunt instrument measure, especially to those of us in law, who have luxuriated in the fine detail of Shepards and KeyCite citators, which not only tell us how many citations something has, but how they are being treated, and often what is being discussed. Still, journal impact factor is more information on the publication level than is available about law reviews at the publication level.

Now, there is an interesting new addition to impact measurements. Altmetrics is not designed to take the place of e of journal impact factor. It is designed to complement it, to add nuance to it and reach beyond it to publication in social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter. I think it will be a very interesting new feature. The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article about Altmetrics. There is a varied group of academics working on the idea, but among them is the group at which has published a manifesto. This includes academics in library science, computer science, somebody from the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council, and somebody from Wikimedia Foundation, which is related to Wikipedia.

This is obviously going to have more immediate impact in the sciences, where open source publishing already has a toehold (PLOS, for instance is really moving forward with Altmetrics already, apparently). But we in law librarianship are working on open source publishing in our own backyards. And now I have my own personal project. I hope I can persuade this student to try publishing somewhere other than his round peg law review default. Because his square peg article is not going to be a very good fit, I fear!

No comments: