WHAT TO PUBLISH AND WHEN: BEING PRODUCTIVE WHILE AWAITING MAIN OUTCOMES AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
Sharing knowledge generated from research is fundamental to the research enterprise and an ethical obligation of investigators. Publishing results is an essential action of research such that an investigation cannot be considered complete without engaging in a dissemination activity of some form (DePoy & Gitlin, 2015). Communicating the results of scholarly research is important across all disciplines and research designs whether qualitative, quantitative, or integrated mixed methods. While these points may appear obvious, it is important to recognize and honor this obligatory and contributory expectation when conducting behavioral intervention research.
Knowledge gained from a research study can be shared in multiple formats (e.g., video, oral presentations, blog posts, editorials, final reports). However, the most esteemed and respected approach in academia is the dissemination of evidence through peer-reviewed journal publications. Publications in peer-reviewed outlets are an explicit demand of academia and funders of research such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Evidence reported in peer-reviewed publications can garner important attention in news outlets and by stakeholders. In turn this helps to support and legitimize moving forward with the translation and implementation of a proven program.
It can take an extraordinary amount of time for the outcomes of an intervention study to be available for analyses, interpretation, and manuscript preparation. This is particularly the case when conducting Phase II (proof of concept), III (efficacy), or IV (effectiveness) trials. Main trial outcomes may not be available until upwards of 1 to 5 years from initiation of a study. Treatment outcomes from traditional research designs, such as the randomized clinical trial, can typically not be reported until data from all follow-up time points have been collected. Consequently, the question arises as to how to fulfill the need to maintain productivity while waiting for the final outcome data to be ready for analyses and write-up.
The delay in publishing main study outcomes until the completion of a planned trial can serve as an unnecessary deterrent to engaging in behavioral intervention research. Unfortunately, doctoral, postdoctoral, and early-stage faculty members are often dissuaded by their mentors to participate in this form of inquiry because of its complexity, and what appears to be an elongated time frame for generating manuscripts. However, there are many important opportunities for developing meaningful and contributory publications related to a trial that do not require waiting years for primary outcome results to be available. Thus, the need to publish should not serve as a barrier to participating in behavioral intervention research.
The purpose of this chapter is to offer guidance as to what to publish and when in behavioral intervention research. In particular, we focus our discussion on the efficacy trial phase as it poses the most challenges to publishing. We also discuss writing guidelines and key elements of a main outcomes paper. Our main message is twofold: developing contributory and meaningful publications is important and possible prior to waiting for main trial outcomes to be accessible; and selecting a journal outlet and developing a main outcome publication is a thoughtful process entailing the identification of key stakeholders one wishes to impact.