Our Research and Evaluation Officer explores the benefits and pitfalls of getting articles published in academic journals as a non-profit organisation
Why try to get published?
Have you ever completed a report or evaluation and thought ‘what will happen to all this work when my project ends’? It can often be the case that great learning is lost over time and not referred to in future work. But what if there was a way to make your work available for years to come, forming a permanent part of the conversation?
Academic publication is one way to make this happen. A well-placed article can benefit non-profits by increasing the legitimacy and profile of their work, and can benefit the journal allowing them reach audiences they might not otherwise have access to. Publication can strengthen existing evidence on what works, and shape work of the future by being readable and citable for others who are interested in the topic of the paper.
At Fulfilling Lives South East we have submitted three articles across the course of our funding. We have been published in ‘The Voluntary Sector Review’ for research discussing the value of clinical supervision for frontline workers, we have been published in ‘Counselling and Psychotherapy Research’ evaluating the effectiveness of pre-treatment therapy for people experiencing multiple and complex needs, and a case study on improving unsupported temporary accommodation Approaching systems change at Fulfilling Lives South East in efforts to improve unsupported temporary accommodation: a qualitative case study | Emerald Insight (the full article is available at ref: DOI 10.1108/HCS-12-2021-0043).
Writing an article for an academic journal is more accessible than it ever has been. Increasingly journals welcome practice-based examples, in formats that don’t require a university degree or a university ethics form to create.
Key challenges for non-profits to overcome
Whilst the opportunities to write for journals for non-profits are increasing, the submission systems still largely cater for academics. This can mean anything from asking for a university email address to verify you as an author, or not recognising references you may have made to non-academic articles. If your article is peer-reviewed, the reviewers might assume you have access to papers they think you should add in – when in reality there is a paywall between you and that reference!
Timeframes for writing can be another challenge. For academics, a large part of their job description is often writing articles. For non-profits, it is more likely to be an add-on at best. Writing for publication can take a lot of time, both in terms of planning, drafting and re-drafting with editor’s comments – it’s a time commitment not to be underestimated.
Top tips for getting your work into journals
Pick your journal and your paper type well. Have a search on google scholar for the sort of journals which might be interested in the work you’re doing. Anything with the word ‘practice’ in the title might indicate that the journal is open to a range of article formats. Look at their information on submitting an article, do they have a type of submission that suits your work, like case studies, professional reflections or practice papers? These formats tend to be lower word-count and more accessible to non-academics.
Talk to editors before you get started. Never start writing before you’ve spoken to an editor! You might want to book a video call and share an essay plan for the work before putting pen to paper. The last thing you want is to invest time and effort into an article that is not what the journal is looking for.
Give yourself enough time. Journal articles are not something to write in the last months of a project. They require time to research and write, time to submit and time to edit. Almost every journal will come back with amends (often quite a lot of them) and might ask for contracts to be signed and final proofs reviewed before publication. Make sure it’s an investment your organisation has the capacity to make.
Find ways to beat the paywall. Journal articles are becoming increasingly publicly available. Websites like Research Gate host many free-to-view articles, making it easier to research literature reviews, and also to host your own finished article. Most journals would ask that only unedited manuscripts are included on these types of website though – so make sure you check with your editor.
Be a systems changer! Don’t pretend to be a professor. Being a non-academic author is valid and so is asking for help from the journal to get published. Most articles will be for a practice audience so there is no need to use complicated language, just be clear and easy to understand. Whilst the publishing process is becoming more open to non-profits there are still barriers in the systems journals use. These are opportunities to positively challenge the status quo!
Kerry Dowding, Research and Evaluation Officer
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