The Pub is not Enough: Disseminating Our Science Beyond Peer-Reviewed Journals

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By Brad Brown, chair of SRA’s Publications Committee

Remember the days when a letter from the journal editor accepting your manuscript for publication marked the end of work on a study? Welcome to a new day in which that letter is just the beginning of a more extensive dissemination process. Scholars are now urged to communicate study findings broadly to a variety of audiences. It’s not uncommon for journal editors to require authors to provide an overview of their article, written to encourage a wide range of scholars, practitioners, or even lay people. Advances in technology allow authors to take this a step further by creating a videofile explaining the results and implications of their work.

In part, these are efforts to expand readership for the journal’s articles with an eye toward improving the journal’s reputation, raising its impact factor, thereby encouraging more contributions from distinguished senior scholars. But the motivations also can be nobler: to give junior scholars more visibility, enhance awareness of a discipline among scholars in neighboring fields, or communicate science more broadly and increase public awareness of the value of science for daily living.

In any case, the trends place new demands on scholars to engage in new modes of communication, to master a skill set that probably extends well beyond what they were taught in graduate school. It’s almost like writing up a study in two or three distinct languages. How does one become proficient at these different modes of communication?

The editorial team of the Journal of Research on Adolescence and SRA’s Publications Committee are grappling with these issues. We applaud the effort to inform a broader audience about the meaning and impact of our research. In today’s political climate, communicating the value of social science seems to be a vital task for scholars. We sense the need to help scholars become more proficient in these new “languages” and more appealing to the new audiences for their work.

To these ends, the Publications Committee is exploring several options:

  • Finding ways to offer training to Society members in how to communicate with various audiences.
  • Having authors whose manuscripts are accepted for publication in JRA submit summaries aimed at professional and/or lay audiences.
  • Expanding use of SRA News (online) as a venue for this communication, perhaps including brief videos of JRA authors explaining the theoretical and practical significance of their article.
  • Redesigning the Society’s website to expand our reach to scholars, practitioners, journalists, and lay people who would be interested in the scholarship presented in JRA.

Meanwhile, there are several things that Society members can do to facilitate this new age of wider communication of our science:

  • Make effective communication with lay people, practitioners, and professionals in other disciplines a routine part of graduate education.
  • Lobby their institutions to provide facilities and resources to allow faculty and students to engage in these more extended forms of communication.
  • Include resources for broad communication in grant proposals.
  • Create links on their research lab web pages to sites such as SRA’s Online News that feature articles or videos on recent research.

Rest assured that the effort here is not to “dummy down” the complex scientific study of adolescents in which all of us are invested and engaged. The objective is to broaden and deepen the impact of our work on parents, educators, professionals and policy-makers addressing youth issues, and most importantly, adolescents. The Publications Committee welcomes ideas on how to foster these efforts.