8 strategies to optimise your research output while creating impact

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This blog post will provide you with strategies to enhance your productivity and focus and help you get what needs to be published published. Our research needs to be published in order for it to become known to our fellow researchers, who will create new studies based on our research findings. Also, publishing your results allows others to use those findings to change policy and practice and, in that way, create an impact. This means that we have a responsibility to get our work published.

But with academic life and life in general being so busy, how do we ensure that we publish the results of the projects we are involved in so that they can inform future studies and have an impact on the world?

This blog post offers a few ideas. But before we proceed, we need to clarify a few things. Publishing your article in a peer-reviewed academic journal should not be the primary purpose or the only output of a research project. When we embark on a research journey, we need to do research that can contribute to future research or society, preferably both, as and when possible. Our research projects need to be conceptualised with impact in mind.

Therefore, the journal editor's acceptance letter should not signify a chapter's end. Translate your research into practice and make your research findings usable in the world, such as disseminating an evidence-based warm-up programme for cricketers or a screening tool for therapists working with newborns.

Disseminating your research findings means getting the results to those who can benefit from them. This includes distribution to both the academic community and the end-user. For example, research findings can be summarised in a blog post or video and distributed via social media. The possibilities are endless. How you translate and disseminate your research findings depends on the area of study and topic.

In an earlier blog post, I gave 14 top tips for getting your precious paper published with a focus on the paper itself. In this blog post, we’ll zoom into a few broader tactics to have a more strategic approach to how you work, in order to ultimately ensure that you get to publishing what needs to get published.

Optimise your current assets

Before starting a new project, check what’s in your cupboard. The best place to start is to do an inventory check of projects that are halfway there, those that have progressed well but stalled for some reason. Can you revive them and push them past the completion mark? Do you have any existing data that you can analyse and turn into a paper? You may have completed your PhD or MSc but have not analysed or written up all the data. Or, maybe you still have some data from a project done for non-degree purposes. Always be aware of “salami-slicing” when it comes to choosing which data you are going to use for what paper.

You may even also have a half-written publication somewhere. This draft is precious and can be turned into a publishable gem within a few days of dedicated time. Don’t give up on it yet.

While doing your inventory check, go through the list of postgraduate projects you supervised. Are any potential papers lingering, with the student already having moved on to the next chapter of their lives? Disseminating the findings to the world out there is an ethical thing to do. Contact the student and other contributors and encourage them to help get the paper published. Always consider authorship based on the generally accepted guidance by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors

Manage your projects effectively

There are many moving parts to “getting it published”, and effective project management is key. The whole project gets delayed if you don’t act timeously on each step. If you delay sending the data to a biostatistician or you get feedback from the journal and revisions are due but don’t take action, every day that you postpone means a delay in your paper getting accepted. Setting your deadlines and sticking to them is crucial. Life gets busy and can derail our best intentions, so put some power into the planning. You can’t control how others are going to respond to meeting a project’s deadlines, but if you stick to them and ensure that the deadline delay does not lie with you, you have a battle half won.

The Getting Organised and the Productivity Top Tips playlists on the Research Masterminds Youtube channel will be very helpful here.

Tread carefully when a new project knocks on your door

Start a new project only once you have a solid plan for moving your existing publications into production. The journey to publication requires resources that include your time and expertise, as well as those from others, such as a librarian or biostatistician. Redirecting your resources into new projects without accounting for existing projects will reduce your research output as you may spread yourself too thin.

As you get better at managing multiple projects simultaneously and have surrounded yourself with a trustworthy and knowledgeable team, you can start more projects without having completed existing ones. You’ll know how many balls you can successfully keep in the air at the same time. Still, don’t let the current projects stall because of the excitement of the new projects.

Fly with the principle of “meaningful collaboration for mutual benefit”

Being part of a trustworthy and knowledgeable team is a great way to get more research done. My best advice when working with collaborators is to clarify expectations, roles and responsibilities early on. The biggest mess-ups come from mismatched expectations. Working with others is also a great way to increase accountability. It is difficult to miss a deadline if you know five others are waiting for your task to be completed. Where you are in charge, choose your collaborators according to the contribution that they can make towards the project (meaningful collaboration) and ensure that both the project and collaborator benefit from their contribution (mutual benefit).

In addition to building your own winning team, you can also join an existing research group. This will aid your development while you contribute to knowledge creation. Be aware that you need some first-author papers for career advancement or promotion. So don’t find yourself in the backseat of too many projects; jump into the driving seat where you can.

Encourage postgraduate students to publish

It is important not only to disseminate our own projects but also to encourage others to disseminate their work. Make the postgraduate students under your supervision aware of the expectation to publish their work early on in their postgraduate journeys. Doctoral students can publish as they complete the various phases (depending on the nature of the project). Masters students may not have the time to publish during the course of their studies but can have a draft of a paper ready by the time they submit their research project for examination, which they can then refine while they await the examination outcome. The above, of course, also depends on your institution's policies when it comes to publishing postgraduate projects.

Many postgraduate students are new to the publication process. This “Publishing your Research”  Playlist on the Research Masterminds Youtube channel will guide them step by step through putting together the first draft of a publication.

Keep writing tasks top-of-mind

Create time in your calendar for publication writing; weekly, if daily, is not possible. Here, an accountability partner will come in handy. Arrange writing retreats or join existing writing retreats arranged by your institution. If you scheduled two hours for research and something unforeseen eats away an hour and a half, use the left-over 30 minutes, even if you are just doing an outline of your abstract in that time. In 2020, when lockdown regulations restructured our entire work setup, I created this quote to help me move forward one small step at a time: “Marginal gains persistently lead to high impact consistently”. That half an hour, even though it feels like it is not enough, is half an hour closer to getting your paper to the hands of the editor.

Free yourself up where reasonable and possible

Many of us are appointed in academic positions with teaching, research and service components that form part of our job descriptions. If this is your reality, you need to balance your contribution to the research, teaching and service domains. Use the resources provided to you to relieve yourself from some of the activities that pull you away from your research writing desk, such as funding available for teaching relief or other resources within your institution. You can still excel in the research journey while enjoying the variation that teaching and service pillars bring.

Make your life easier

Some things we do over and over without putting simple systems in place to avoid future repetition. Here are a few examples:

  • Have a list of reputable and appropriate journals at hand. When you search for a journal or “home” for your research, note down important information, such as whether it is open access or if they ask for article processing charges. Add to this list each time you come across a new journal. This will help you avoid going through this process whenever you want to submit a new paper to a journal in your field.

  • How often have you searched for a website URL that you recently used? You can see the home page in your mind’s eye but can’t remember what it's called. Bookmarking that website in your browser will help you access it within a few seconds when you need it again. I have put together a bookmarks folder with all kinds of useful academic bookmarks for a Chrome browser, should you want to check them out. On the ResearchMasterminds.com homepage, scroll down to the section “A Gift from One Academic to Another” – you’ll find the bookmarks folder as well as a few other gifts. While you are at it, there are also a whole bunch of other tools to make your life easier so that you can use your time on more tactical tasks.

  • Also, use AI where you can. There are many ways in which AI can make your life easier in a legal, ethical and moral way. This AI for Researchers Playlist on the Research Masterminds YouTube channel will tell you more. 

Publishing will ensure that precious research findings can potentially reach those who can use them. In order to publish, we need to work strategically with our resources, plan well, and get more done with less.

Most importantly, create impact, keep the balance, and stay happy!

 Cover photo by Pixabay


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