What is publication about?

Spending time poring over proofs, correcting punctuation, reading and reshaping what you write for publication – all these are par for the course. There was a time when I really believed I would never publish anything, especially when my thesis came back covered with corrections to be made (and I had thought I was good at grammar). It took a long time before I had anything in print, even online – blogging seemed more sensible – at least I was solely responsible for my own errors.

But an encouraging Head of School and the belief of colleagues helped me get into conferences, then ebooks, then journals and book chapters and edited books. I’m never going to change the world through my writing, I have a mildly better chance at that in the classroom and the pulpit, but it has always seemed worthwhile, trying to get published.

So they began to pile up, these little publications, until I began editing a journal and now am supposed to know what I am writing about. One thing I do know more securely now than ever before is just how important are the style and the purpose of writing.

Let’s take style. Every teacher will be familiar with the need for balance between correcting errors which change meaning and trying to hold back from fully sub-editing a learner’s work. Grammatical and stylistic horrors in student work don’t even make me cry out now. I have had to discipline that part of me in order to better help the student. However, they do make me wince when submitted to the journal. Many authors are writing in a second language for publication and perhaps they pride themselves on their grammatical powers, just as I once did. Perhaps they ask their friends and colleagues to do the proof-reading. The result is that perhaps a third of the articles we see submitted must be returned to authors for professional proof-reading – and those are just the ones which are worth sending for peer review.

And the purpose of writing? It feels as if the race to publish in today’s HE environment is leading to more and more verbiage which means less and less. If the purpose of publication is to gain promotion, to stay in your academic job or to extol your every new idea, then the Web is fattening with too much unwanted stuff which pretends to offer original contributions to knowledge. If we wish to publish because we have original things to say and want them to be discussed and challenged by others, then publication is a good goal, but first we have to determine for whom we write and why we write.Then we need to present the evidence. Then we need to do the proof-reading!


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