Spreading the Word – the Role of Repositories

After the game is before the game
(„Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel“)
Sepp Herberger

So it’s finally done? Your paper is not only submitted but also accepted and soon to be published? Congratulations, well done! But before you carry on and write the next one (or even while you are doing so), you might want to give it a second thought: while writing the paper and getting it published is one side of the coin, the other side of getting recognized and thus cited is at least as important. True, it is one more title on your list of references, but wouldn’t it be nice to see some impact as well?

So instead of just sitting there and waiting for your paper to be found (and cited), you might want to ask yourself the two crucial questions: when will the paper be available for the public? And for whom will it actually be available? Don’t get me wrong: publishing in an established journal and with a professional publisher is an important thing to do, but as long as you’re not considering open Access (yet another topic we have to talk about in more detail soon!), it is up to them when your work is accessible and for whom…

I remember quite well how pleased I was when a recent article of mine was finally accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. To be frank, it was not the highest-ranked journal but that was not the point. It is widely read by a broad academic audience, especially in the U.S., and as I was writing about how to integrate sustainability in higher education and came up with a couple of practical implications, the most important thing for me was to reach this audience. So I was curious to see the paper in the next issue. Unfortunately, the journal has no “online first” version of articles as many publishers have nowadays. After three months of waiting, and without even seeing the final proofs yet, I got somewhat impatient and wrote to the editor and enquired about the publication date. The answer was short and devastating: “There are many papers submitted before yours, and sometimes the publishing of a paper takes a while.” So in short, no one can tell me right now whether the paper that was accepted about a year ago in November 2011 will be published in 2012 at all; it might well be 2013 before it gets out there.

So, this is what this post is about: spreading the word quickly and widely. There is, of course, more than one way and strategy to do so and I will come back to other approaches in another post. What I want to stress today is the idea of open-access repositories as one way to make your paper available for a wider audience. Repositories may be institutionally based, enhancing the visibility and impact of an institution – and this is where you have probably already come in contact with (and if not, get in touch with the responsible contact person at your university!). Institutional repositories are digital collections of the outputs created within a university or research institution to provide open access to the institution’s research output. But there are also centralized, often subject-based collections. Such collections allow researchers to share early versions of their papers as well as working papers and also give free access to current knowledge in your field of research. It is estimated that there are currently just over 1,400 repositories around the world. The Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR) and the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR) both give an excellent overview of existing repositories and enable specific topics to be searched.

The main benefits of having your paper in a repository include quicker access, thus a better chance of being cited and better visibility on the Web as Google seems to love these databases. There is, of course, also a drawback: you have to be aware of your rights as an author and copyright issues. When publishing an article in a journal you usually sign some sort of author agreement, granting exclusive rights and licence for your work to the publisher. Unfortunately, these agreements differ significantly among publishing houses, so there is no golden rule on what rights you still have. Luckily, there is a website that collects all this information and helps you to keep track: http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/

Generally, you will only be allowed to use a so-called postprint version of your article, sometimes only after a retention period of 6 or 12 months. Postprint is the version of an item that has undergone the peer review process but is not yet layouted by the publisher. So while the final version of the text as it was accepted is still yours, the layouted version as it will appear in the journal may only be used if the publisher agrees.

In the case of the paper I was telling you about, I was somewhat lucky as the journal belongs to Emerald, which has a rather generous perception of postprints: “Authors are not required to seek Emerald’s permission to re-use their own work. As an author with Emerald you can use your paper in part or in full, including figures and tables if you want to do so in a book, in another article written for us or another publisher, on your website, or any other use, without asking us first.” So using the latest version of my accepted article allowed me to disseminate my own work even if it has not (yet) been published by the journal.

So, what options exist for your paper? When I was looking around, pretty quickly I came across SSRN. SSRN stands for “Social Science Research Network” and is an open-access repository for academic research papers. Currently ranked first among 1222 open-access repositories in the world by the “The Ranking Web of World repositories” this makes it the repository in the social sciences. The SSRN eLibrary consists of two parts: an abstract database containing abstracts on over over (at the time of writing) 392,000 scholarly working papers and forthcoming papers and an electronic paper collection currently containing over 322,000 downloadable full-text documents in pdf format. The eLibrary also includes the research papers of a number of fee-based partner publications. Users can search, browse and download papers from the eLibrary for free, but authors must be registered (for free) to submit their own research papers to the repository. What makes SSRN a valuable resource is that all submitted papers undergo a review process before being added to the database.

Sustainability is not yet a big issue in SSRN. With sustainability as a keyword, 3.500 hits came up, and it is not (yet) represented explicitly in one of the numerous networks. But this may and probably will change in the near future. In any case it is concened with all aspects of social science and is a fast-growing data base.

I gave it a try for my recent paper and it worked fairly easily: I set up an account, uploaded my postprint version, added keywords and some additional information and that’s it. Two days later it was reviewed and accepted. So far, my paper, although not yet published, has been visited by 100+ researchers and downloaded by 40 in the first month – even if not published it will be acknowledged, hopefully cited, and once it is published I can add the link and the correct reference for citing.

So try it yourself and see how this can help get your work recognized – I am keen to learn about your experiences ,so if you have tried it, or tried another, even better way, tell me!

3 thoughts on “Spreading the Word – the Role of Repositories

  1. – thanks, this is really helpful stuff! Any thoughts about these social network sites that allow to upload as well? Cheers, Ira

    • Hi Ira,
      I think these sites will play an increasingly important role in getting recognised and I am already thinking about a seperate blog on them. My strategy and advice right at the moment would be to support both repositories and social network sites to be as easy to find as possible. This of course means a bit of extra work, but in my opinion, this might be worth the effort. I am using Academia.edu and Researchgate.ent beside SSRN and am still waiting to see which one will play the major role in the future.

      All the best, Matthias

  2. Pingback: Build your own publishing strategy | Research News

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