May 21, 2012

How and Why to Make Your Digital Publications Matter

Category: Digital Citizenship
infographic showing digital publications and outcomes

I don’t have the metrics, but I’ll stake my professional reputation on the following  statement:  In the last one or two years, there has been a seachange in how even the most traditional academic, nonprofit, or corporation values, respects, and “counts” relevant, professional online publication and interactivity.  The keywords are “relevant” and “professional” and how you present your digital contributions is not only key to your success, but also itself contributes to the larger culture of peer learning.

This year, as I’ve been on leave and been on what is turning into a never-ending lecture tour (sixty events and counting!), I am constantly being approached, whether at corporations, nonprofits, educational institutions, or academic and professional institutions, about how and why to make online publications count.  I also hear similar reports from HASTAC Scholars and others on the academic job market who are surprised at how a blog or a post in an online forum will end up dominating an interview.

My intuition is that, even for the wary, recalcitrant, or skeptical, the ways individuals connect now online and learn from one another’s connections no longer represent the pathological or aberrant (i.e. the shallow, distracted, lonely, asocial, unprofessional digital generation:  you know the litany!), but “the future.”  Since many are worried about “the future,” those who seem to have a firmer grasp on it are now seen not as needing rehab but as harbingers.  That’s a good thing.

So, here are some ad hoc hints about how to make your online publications relevant and professional.

  • Give your online publications a separate category on your resume or vita.  I’m frankly bored with the “do online publications count as much as peer-reviewed publications?” form of the discussion.  Nothing quite counts the same as anything, even within the sanctified realm of “peer reviewed publications.”  There are always quality distinctions and rituals.  Instead of worrying “more” or “better,” “less” or “worse,” make an entirely separate category for your “print publications” and “online publications.”  Demonstrate by these categories that you know such a distinction can be made and make it—and don’t worry about which is or isn’t better.
  • Make your category descriptive of your online life and connect it to your ideal future employer.  Some examples:  “Digital Academic Publications” or “Online Scholarly Contributions” or, if you are not an academic, a similar category relevant (keyword again!) to your field, such as “Electronic Professional Contributions” or “Museum Studies Publications:  Online.”
  • If you write and contribute in multiple ways, create subcategories.  “Contributions to Blogs,”  “Contributions to Professional Forums” (i.e. “comments”—if they are real contributions), “MicroBlogging” (if it is a serious Twitter stream, such as live-blogging a conference), etc.  Your criteria for inclusion, as always:  relevant and professional.  Your judgment is at much the issue as your contribution.
  • If you have an active Twitter life, think about finding ways of corralling relevant streams in a way someone can click to immediately (i.e. such as a particular Storify or Tumblr or Scoop.It compendium that presents your online contribution in the most relevant, professional way possible—and make sure to curate it well).
  • Use the same degree of professionalism, including the proper citation form, that you would use for print publications.  For example, the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook gives all the details of online publications.  (NB: Although most advise that you no longer need to give the url and the “date accessed” for online publications, I always do, and advise my students to do so, simply because of the “looks professional” part and the need to convince those who are suspicious of online publication.)
  • If you plan to cite your online publication, think about the title you want to use.  The eye-popping, controversial title that might get you the most hits is not necessarily the one that gives you credibility in the eyes of your interviewers.  Think about audience as both your online audience and potential employers when you write for online publications and when you decide which to put on your resume.
  • In any field (including one where you believe there is still resistance to online publication), write a brief un-defensive explanation of why you are part of online communities in order to underscore the value of connected learning.  Example [NB: this content is invented for illustrative purposes]:  “In addition to publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals and participating on panels at scholarly conferences, I contribute to our profession as a member of numerous online communities  dedicated to making the work of the humanities more readily available to scholars in other disciplines and to a wider public.  As the webmaster of Humanities Now!, as a lead author on a HASTAC Scholars Forum on “X” that had over 20,000 visitors, and as a frequent respondent to the blogs posted on the Digital Media and Learning (DMLCentral) Forum, I have been able to extend the reach of the humanities in particular and higher education more generally.  I hope to continue this practice in my [insert relevant content here:  future teaching? Career as a museum educator? Etc].”

These suggestions may seem like common sense  but the welter of nay-saying pundits (in the academy and beyond) make many young professionals and even seasoned ones nervous about taking credit for all the ways they contribute.

This Fall, at Duke, I’ll be co-directing a new Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge and we’ll be running a website and some webinars with these kinds of tips—and we’ll be crowdsourcing the best suggestions in the field.

Stay tuned!  You’ll be getting the invitation.  And then you’ll be able to list your contribution (of course) on your vita or resume.  The keywords (again!) are “relevant and professional.”  You make the case for relevance and professionalism by making the translation from the most traditional rules and forms of your chosen field to your online work.  When you do, you will be appreciated.  Your online publication is not “as good as” peer-reviewed work.  It is a different and vital kind of contribution, which shows a different and increasingly essential range of skills, purposes, intentions, audiences, reach, and pedagogy.

Banner image credit: noodlepie