Since 2005, BAICE has supported a writing-for-publication programme to enhance the reach and quality of its journal Compare. Set up by Prof Anna Robinson Pant as former co-editor of Compare (2005 – 2010), Prof. Theresa Lillis (Open University) and Dr. Anna Magyar (University of East Anglia), the programme has expanded and evolved over the years, to include online and face-to-face workshops, e-mentoring and six international workshops in Nepal, Egypt, the Philippines, Ethiopia, India and Brazil.
In the clip below, Prof Anna Robinson-Pant explains the rationale for the programme. This is followed by a conversation between Anna RP and Dr Anna Magyar who has facilitated and developed both the workshops and the writing programme since its inception.
Anna M: What difference do you think the programme has made to Compare as a journal and to BAICE?
Anna RP: When we first set up the programme, I was hoping that we could help demystify the publishing process for researchers who had never written for a UK-based journal before – so that it was less of a ‘closed shop’. Certainly, in the workshops, many people have said how useful it was to be taken inside the peer review process and see how an article had changed in response to a reviewer’s comments. Just on a simple practical level, we as editors learned how authors could be really put off by a ‘major revisions’ letter and think it was not worth trying again. This helped us to look critically at our own communication with writers, to think about how we could make the process more transparent, especially for researchers in the Global South. This links very closely to BAICE’s ethos too, in terms of trying to make a more inclusive research community.
Anna M: Relatively few scholars who engage with the process end up publishing in Compare. Do you see that as a problem?
Anna RP: At the beginning, we naively thought that most of those who enrolled in our workshops and the mentoring process would be successful publishing in Compare. However, given the low acceptance rates of articles – and the ever-increasing number of submissions to the journal – we now need to be more realistic about the odds of getting published! As the organising team, you and I have seen that it’s about more than seeing one article through to publication. If that works, great! But it shouldn’t be seen as a failure for the individual author if they don’t make it into print in an issue of Compare. Lots of people have said it was more important to participate in the programme for their growth as a writer, as a researcher and academic – and we have heard how their articles were sometimes published in national or local journals instead.
Anna M: Yes, this is what led to our idea of running a ‘writer champion’ initiative. We didn’t want the tools and approach that we use in the workshop to be dependent on us to reach people. We were also aware that in many of the institutions we visited, there were academics on the same wavelength who really wanted to support research writing in their departments. Also, we know that many universities in the Global South have in-house journals. So, we wanted to contribute to institutional research capacity, as an alternative to feeling pressured to submit to ‘high status’ journals. What if journals in the Global South are not seen as the poor cousins of journals published in the North – or in the so-called ‘international’ journals that are dominated by the English language and the academic culture of the North? (I’d better not go off on my favourite hobby horse but if this resonates for anyone, I strongly suggest reading Canagarajah’s work, which actually inspired us both!). On the other hand, editors of institutional journals at these capacity-building events welcomed the opportunity to compare and contrast the criteria (implicit and explicit) used by a variety of academic journals for evaluating papers and explore how peer reviewers approach the peer review process.
Back to you, Anna RP! Our current approach is based specifically on Compare journal. Why not offer a generic workshop about publishing academic articles?
Anna RP: One of the main messages of our workshop is the importance of engaging with specific journals and specific audiences. That metaphor you use about it being like walking into a room where a conversation is already taking place sums it up well. You wouldn’t just jump in and start talking – you need to listen and work out first what is going on. It’s just the same with writing for a specific journal. The micro-level analysis that participants get to do in the workshops, using Compare published articles, of the reviews and of how the writer then edits the paper in response, is invaluable for new writers who want to learn about this ‘community of practice’. An important aspect is also that a current Compare editor attends the workshop – so they can explain more about the process. We HAVE offered a more generic workshop for PhD students, looking at how they can adapt their PhD thesis to fit with very different journal profiles. But this workshop also builds on our academic literacies approach, to consider how writers can learn about and engage with specific literacy practices, different identities, values and networks.
Anna M: Is it money well spent?
Anna RP: Yes, the idea of the programme partly came about because we wanted to use some of the royalties from the publication of Compare to improve the journal, particularly through addressing the barriers encountered by writers from the Global South. I think this has worked – not only in terms of the authors’ professional development, but also the insights that we’ve gained as an editorial team too. It’s not often that you get to meet and interact with readers and potential authors in this kind of intensive way through a workshop. It’s very different from an editor’s Q and A panel at a conference.
So far, 48 writers have engaged in the mentoring programme, from 20 different countries, mainly in the Global South. If you want to find out more about how the programme works, next time we will be talking about the roles of academic mentors and the different stages of the mentoring process. Join us next month!