An invitation to participate in academic publication (by Theron Muller)

I fell into the world of academic publishing a bit accidentally. After finishing my MA in TEFL/TESL I was interested in maintaining familiarity with what I had learned and was worried that if I didn’t actively maintain my participation in the discourse of the profession, then the MA would become little more than another piece of paper and set of letters on my resume. With that in mind, I joined the staff of JALT‘s The Language Teacher (TLT) as a proofreader, and over the course of the past six years have moved through various roles at the publication, including Coeditor. As part of my involvement with TLT I was invited to work with the JALT Conference Proceedings team, where I have most recently served as vetting coordinator. There are a number of other publications that I have been or am involved in, including The Asian ESP Journal.

Barbara originally approached me about writing a blog entry on writing for academic publication, but I hope to expand that theme into an invitation for readers to participate as staff on academic publications in addition to writing articles. One reason I would encourage you to do so is that the face of the profession, and the dialog of its members, tends to be represented through journal articles. Since teachers with posts at universities are pressured to publish academically, and assessment of their job performance is at least partially dependent on securing academic publications, the discourse of EFL in journals tends to be centered on university students, their beliefs, motivations, and changes in proficiency over the course of their studies. Yet I believe this is a small part of what the profession represents, and that if more can be done to describe, measure, and share successful teaching methods and techniques from other age levels and contexts, then that would benefit the field as a whole.

While part of changing the current narrow focus on university English teaching involves teachers of children, adults, and non-traditional students writing for publication, that isn’t the whole picture. If you consider publications as representing the final form of a process negotiated and enacted by a team of people, then the picture of academic publishing becomes more three-dimensional. There is a large team of people (all volunteers in my experience) who process, evaluate, edit, proofread, layout, and ultimately produce journal content. Perhaps, not surprisingly, many of the people that participate in these communities are full time academic staff at universities. But particularly in regional publications, like TLT, and newer online publications, such as the Asian ESP Journal, there is extra space for people from outside university contexts to participate, and through that participation they can shape the dialog of journals.

As an example, while I hold an MA degree and am part of the University of Birmingham’s Centre for English Language Studies Open Distance Learning team, tutoring MA students and evaluating their work, I am not employed full time at any universities, instead working part time at a number of different places, including my own co-owned English school, Noah Learning Center. Thus when I served as editor of TLT I was able to add my perspective as more than just a university lecturer to the journal and I could encourage private language school teachers and teachers of children to contribute articles.

While I may be in the minority now, if more people like me take an active interest in joining the teams of such journals, I’m confident their combined voices will be able to find expression in the dialog of those publications. If you’re wondering where to get started in joining the staff of such journals, TLT editors tend to be taken from the proofreading team, and there is a description of proofreading duties available on their website. For those of you in Japan, other journals include Snakes and Ladders, produced through ETJ, or any of the JALT SIG publications. If you’re outside Japan and are interested in joining a journal or know of a journal that could use more staff, please include that information in the comments section of this post. Before I move on, one more journal I should mention for teachers of children is Teachers Learning with Children.

Participating as staff at these journals also ensures that you see and process texts written by others, which is one of the most powerful ways for you to learn and define your own writing voice, and offers a nice transition into writing your own articles for academic publication. Other advice I have regarding writing for publication is a little mixed. I’ve heard recommendations to write formulaic, lesson sharing articles as a start, such as TLT’s My Share-style articles. This is a potentially compelling beginning, but having just come from editing for TLT, I have to warn you that there’s a long wait to publishing these articles (up to a year), at least in TLT, perhaps because they’re so popular with first-time writers. I would instead recommend you connect with someone who already has some experience in academic publishing and see if there’s a project they’re working on that you could join, or if they are interested in helping you to conduct and write your own research. One place where teachers can meet and exchange ideas is MASH Collaboration (Meet, Ask, Share, Help), which also has a Facebook group you could join if you’re interested in this topic. There are a number of other similar groups, one of which I participate in is devoted to Task-Based Teaching in Japan. Finding someone who shares common interests and has some experience of the academic writing genre would help you to ensure your writing efforts are successful and also offers you an introduction to the genre of academic publishing, which is quite distinct from writing for other mediums.

Another place to search for potential co-researchers and coauthors is the comments section for this blog, which is how I would like to conclude my contribution, by inviting and encouraging you to share your own interests and expertise, and to find your own means of becoming more of an active voice in the discussion of English language teaching. Also, if you have any remaining questions, please feel free to ask them there. Hopefully I or another reader will be able to answer them. I certainly don’t consider myself enough of an expert in your context and situation to offer definitive advice, but I have faith that you understand yourself and your situation well enough that, given the tools for success, you will be able to pursue and attain it.

Thanks for reading this far. I really appreciate it, and am looking forward to reading and participating in the conversation that I hope this post sparks.

Theron and his son, Jonah

I am a teacher and researcher based in Nagano, Japan. My publications include exploration of TBL and academic publishing, and currently I’m interested in exploring reviewer evaluations of academic papers submitted for publication and contrastive analysis of academic writing across languages and cultures. I am active as an editor with JALT Publications and the Asian ESP Journal. I am also part of the University of Birmingham CELS Open Distance Learning team. Starting March 2010 I’ll be teaching a course on Academic Publishing through MASH Collaboration. For information about the course and for sign up details, please see our invitation.

  1. Thanks for this great advice, Theron!

    The only thing I can imagine adding is that teachers can also get a start by offering to translate articles. Teachers Learning with Children (The JALT Teaching Children SIG newsletter) publishes all of its articles in both English and Japanese. I imagine that other regional publications are similar, so are probably also desperate for translators. For teachers who might like to be involved, but don’t feel confident to write original articles in English, this can be a great way to start!

    I hope that the discussion here brings new co-authors together, and brings in a lot of fresh talent for publications around the world :)

    • Barbara,
      Thanks for the compliment. It was a pleasure writing the post, and I’m looking forward to the discussion it sparks.

      Your suggestion regarding translation is a good one. As an embarrassingly monolingual writer, I often forget about translation as an option open to many people throughout the world.

  2. Great post! I’ve been mostly working for myself doing one-on-one language instruction since I graduated from my MATESOL program, and I’ve been wondering how I would ever be able to get published. I’d love to collaborate with someone in the San Francisco Bay Area on some kind of research someday soon, but right now I’m in the middle of a more traditional job hunt and couldn’t necessarily commit to anything. I hadn’t thought about trying to get involved at the publication level, though.

    Thanks!

    • Thanks for the comment, Clarissa. I would recommend you consider volunteering for a journal if you know of an appropriate one looking for people; it’s a good way to differentiate your resume from the resumes of less active teachers. Good luck with your job hunt!

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    • Thanks for the information. talkclouds also mentioned this post on Twitter: I’m really interested in this… RT @barbsaka: New post: Participate in academic publications (by @theronmuller) http://bit.ly/biSMJ4

    • Adam, thanks for the compliment; I’m really glad you found my contribution useful.

  4. Theron,

    As current editor of the JALT TC-SIG newsletter Teachers Learning with Children, I’d like to thank you for mentioning us as a publication that is engaged in broadening the dialogue among language educators in Japan. I’d also like to invite readers to consider contributing to our newsletter, especially as the teaching of English to young children is becoming increasingly important in light of the government’s plans to introduce English/Foreign Language Activities nationwide from grade 5 next year. We would like to hear from educators, both Japanese and foreign, who are on the front lines of this initiative.

    Interested parties can contact me at publications@tcsig.jalt.org, editor@tcsig.jalt.org or via the link to our website in your post above.

    • Martin,
      Thanks for sounding in. I really appreciate it. It was no trouble at all mentioning Teachers Learning with Children–I know how hard you’re working to keep teachers of children in Japan informed during these times of change in educational policy here. Keep up the good work!