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Five ways to build publishing success

Academics should be publishing and publishing often! That’s the conventional wisdom especially for those hoping to achieve tenure. And while everyone agrees a substantial writing portfolio is essential to a successful academic career, there are surprisingly few resources that provide guidance on how you go about doing it. Ryan Blocker is the Program Manager for Campus Workshops at The National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD). Through his regular work with faculty, he has compiled some concise recommendations for how to publish often and to ensure follow through on your writing projects.

  1. Think of your writing as flowing through a publishing pipeline. Reflect on all of the stages up to and even after publication. There is the moment of finding your inspiration, drafting your proposal, collecting and analyzing data, revising your work, and on and on. Visualizing all of your projects in this pipeline may help you to better identify obstacles and allow you to prioritize certain writings above others. Do you have five half-finished drafts? Perhaps it is time to devote energy to one of those pieces to move it along to the next phase. It is most helpful to have a number of projects in different stages of completion evenly distributed throughout your pipeline rather than clustered in one or two areas.
  2. Map where you are going. Often the publishing goals required for tenure are ambiguous. It could be helpful to find someone in your department who can help you to identify some specific expectations beyond “publish as much as possible.” For example, it would be beneficial to know exactly how many articles per year you are expected to publish. If possible, review the CVs of faculty in your department who have recently been considered for tenure promotion. This can more clearly illuminate performance expectations for your writing and allow you to create a plan with clear, tangible outcomes.
  3. Identify where you are. Meet with a trusted senior colleague in your department who has already achieved tenure and has even voted on tenure for others to review your CV. Ask the person to walk you through how they might appraise your experience if they were considering you for tenure. This can require an almost uncomfortable degree of vulnerability but can provide invaluable feedback. Perhaps this person can help to illuminate the kinds of publications you should pursue to be a stronger contender for tenure.
  4. Make the difficult choices about what to prioritize. Many writing projects have deadlines that are set in stone to some degree. These time constraints provide less room for flexibility, however, there are always writing projects you wish to move forward that don’t have the same degree of accountability. Which of those projects do you want to take on? Which of them will help you take the next steps on your career path? To help make these decisions, consider prioritizing projects based on how long they will they require to complete. Maybe you can focus on the “low-hanging fruit” or mostly finished manuscripts that can be submitted for review with a week or two of focused writing.
  5. Understand that working on multiple projects at once is an advantage to your writing. For one, this approach allows you to vary your cognitive load. That is to say, when you are working on a single draft at a time, it can become mentally taxing and frustrating to engage in the same and repetitive kind of labor. And it can be difficult to feel as though you are making progress on manuscripts especially when you are early in the writing process. However, by engaging in multiple projects, you can shift from the work of data analysis or a completing a literature review to finalizing edits for another manuscript. This limits the feelings of burnout and fatigue.

Navigating life as an academic presents hosts of unique challenges that often our institutions and mentors cannot sufficiently guide us through despite their best intentions. Key to attaining success with your writing practice and your academic career is accessing the additional resources and support needed to maintain both your writing momentum and work-life balance.

Ryan Blocker is the Program Administrator for Campus Workshops with the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD), a leader in providing faculty, postdocs and graduate students with the resources needed to become more productive writers, increase publishing success, and more effectively manage their time in order to reclaim their personal lives. For more information, please visit the NCFDD at