Research and Publishing Resource Center

Pencils that resemble trees artwork

Among the central objectives of the National Communication Association (NCA) is the cultivation and generation of knowledge about communication and the dissemination of that knowledge. At the 1919 Annual Convention of the National Association of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking (the association that became NCA), Charles Woolbert of the University of Illinois presented a report from the Committee on Research that concluded that research and scholarly inquiry were important activities, indeed, essential ones, for the scholars of public speaking who had only recently formed their own discipline. Moreover, the committee sought to demystify the research process, noting that the requirements of research are “in reality simple; the end involved is to learn the facts, to bring out the truth; the means of doing this can be as varied as differing circumstances demand; and they allow much latitude(“Report of the Committee on Research,” Quarterly Journal of Speech Education 6 (1920): 59).

The Research and Publishing Resource Center is an attempt to digest and synthesize the most compelling and relevant information available about conducting and publishing research in the Communication Arts and Sciences.

One of the more persistent images of researchers and academics emergent from popular culture is of the “mad scientist”; the researcher who, through sheer brilliance and with considerable luck, happens upon an amazing discovery that is then published and changes the world. Sometimes, these researchers are rogue archaeologists (think Indiana Jones) who discover ancient artifacts of great historical and cultural value while on an expedition in some exotic, usually tropical, locale. Sometimes they are treasure hunters in an archive (think Benjamin Franklin Gates from theNational Treasure films) who find a long-lost document or secret. Sometimes they are nerdy symbolists (think Robert Langdon from Dan Brown’s books—Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code) who crack some medieval mystery to uncover an international conspiracy. Sometimes they are science-fiction fans, who are socially inept but scientifically obsessed physicists (think Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory) who seem to come across significant scientific discoveries almost by chance. These “researcher” characters pepper our popular culture and offer a rather skewed, though often entertaining view of research.

Contrary to the dictates of popular culture, most research is not accidental and doesn’t happen by chance or serendipity. Good research is well-planned; productive researchers take the time to think through and formulate a careful research plan (or protocol) that sets forth clearly and concisely a guide for the research project to be undertaken. Research plans are useful because they motivate the researcher to clarify their thinking and justify their purposes; they can also function as a useful road map for research if a team of researchers is involved. Research plans are also essential for research that involves human subjects and where external funding is sought. This section of the NCA Research & Publication Guideexamines the components of a Research Plan, and also offers information about Institutional Review Boards(IRB) with links to proposed changes in the "Common Rule" for the protection of human subjects, as well as possible sources for external research funding.

Research Planning   

Usually, a good research plan will have several important components:   

  • Working Title. The title, in its earliest form or its final iteration, should be concise and descriptive. Titles are used by indexing services and journal publishers and can drive readers to a publication. Starting with the research plan’s working title, think of your title as the first line of advertisement of your research for a broad audience—avoid obfuscation or cleverness.
  • Summary/Abstract: You should be able to state, from the very beginning of the research process, the basic information about your project. In approximately 100-150 words, you should indicate the basic questions you seek to answer, the general approach/method you will pursue in answering those questions, and your anticipated findings/results. Of course, this initial summary is projected and will frequently undergo revision as you complete the research.
  • Description/Rationale. This is a more developed portion of your research plan, based on your preliminary reading of the existing literature and your sense of what you intend to do in the project. You will generally offer a brief rationale for why the research should be completed—what is missing from the existing literature or why the analysis you plan to undertake will be necessary or interesting or relevant. Your project description should also identify the objectives you seek with your research and the approach or methods you will use to fulfill those objectives. Depending upon the nature of your research, the discussion of research methods may be of greater or lesser specificity. That discussion should also delineate how you will manage your “data.” How will you organize your survey responses, or archival documents, or transcripts, or experimental results?
  • Ethics. Your research plan should anticipate and address any ethical concerns that you envision arising from the conduct of your inquiry. Just because you may seek and secure approval of your research from your Institutional Review Board, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also work to foresee and resolve any ethical issues that may occur in your research. Thinking about ethics right from the beginning will help you prepare your application for IRB approval.

After all the thinking and brainstorming, the research plan begins to give your ideas substance; it is the research plan that forges the way for your project. It provides the map, the guide that will lead you to the end you seek—a successful, high quality research product that says something interesting and makes a difference.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) 

The IRB is a review board composed of faculty from across campus that is charged with ensuring that your research meets certain standards for ethical treatment of human subjects. To conduct research involving human subjects on your campus, you must first secure the approval of the IRB.

Why do IRBs Exist? 

IRBs exist for the protection of human subjects and evolved out of research mistreatment of prisoners of war. Hamilton provides an excellent review of the development of and rationale for the establishment of IRBs. The other reports are links to the Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines for protection of human subjects.

Responsible and Ethical Conduct of Research 

As federally mandated and required, all researchers and individuals involved in the research project must complete a self-study course in human subject protection. Typically, campus IRBs must have evidence that all have received online training prior to submission and review of the IRB proposal. There are at least three places to receive this online training. 

Researchers are encouraged to check with their campus research office to see which of the three online tutorials they prefer for submission of the IRB proposal.

Changes to the Common Rule 

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, working in conjunction with the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) that proposed changes in what is called the Common Rule—the federal guidelines for the protection of human subjects in research.

In response to the ANPRM, the National Academies of Science, through the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, convened a project group to study and provide comment on the ANPRM, particularly as the changes affected the social and behavioral sciences. On March 21-22, 2013, the project group held a workshop, attended by NCA staff, to discuss the ANPRM and its potential consequences for social science.

Working with the IRB 

A special issue devoted to Institutional Review Boards was published in the August 2005 Journal of Applied Communication Research. The issue was devoted to navigating the often difficult relationship between researcher and IRB, and included responses to a number of narratives about the inherent tensions in these relationships. Articles that highlight these conflicts and offer specific suggestions for negotiating them are posted below.

Finding Funding 

Whether your research is in the humanities or the social sciences, the pressure is on to find external funding to support your work. NCA has an entire area devoted to all aspects of the funding process, Help for Grant Seekers

Making the decision to publish your research is a complex and complicated one. When making that decision, the researcher confronts a number of challenging questions: What do I need to do to publish my research? What is the best venue for my research? Do I need to change or alter my manuscript before I submit it for publication? How should I read the reviews of my research? What is peer review? How do I decide whether to revise and resubmit my essay, if that's a possibility?

As you confront these important questions and look for the right answers to them, remember that scholarly publishing is not magical or mysterious. It's a process, with certain rules and expectations, guidelines and recommendations, that when followed will often yield positive outcomes. At the same time, it is also a complicated, political, rigorous process that changes constantly and that demands vigilance and careful consideration by those seeking to publish their research.

Our goal on this page is to provide some advice and insight on the publication process: how to prepare your research for submission and publication, how to decide on the best and most appropriate outlet for publishing your research, and how read the reviews of your research from journal reviews and editors.

Preparing Your Manuscript

One of the more unpleasant outcomes for any author is a "desk rejection," or the rejection of your submission by the editor before sending the submission out for peer review. Any editor will tell you that they receive hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts and that they are simply unwilling to over-burden their editorial boards with reviewing tasks when a manuscript is obviously unsuitable for publication in the journal. Increasingly, editors are using the "desk rejection" to streamline the reviewing process and to improve the quality of research that they publish.

The key for any researcher seeking to avoid "desk rejection" is to make sure the research manuscript they submit is prepared properly. Australian family business scholar and journal editor Justin B. Craig notes that central reasons for desk rejections are a poor fit with the journal's mission, a failure to test theory or build on relevant research, and a lack of adherence to journal guidelines. David Ahlstrom, an editor at the Asia Pacific Journal of Management, identifies three main reasons for desk rejections: manuscripts lack a research question; manuscripts are too general; manuscripts are written for another discipline or audience.

Minimally, before submitting any manuscript for review by a journal, read carefully the journal's submission guidelines.

  • Does the journal define or limit its editorial scope?
  • Does the journal have a specific manuscript length requirement?
  • Does the journal require a specific style manual to guide authors on questions of manuscript structure and source citation mechanics?

For most reputable journals, the answer to all these questions is yes—and it is the author's responsibility to ensure that their manuscript conforms to the basic journal submission guidelines.

Finding the Right Journal

NCA has prepared a list of more than 100 journals that specifically publish scholarship in the discipline of Communication. The database includes the 11 journals published by NCA with its publishing partner, Taylor & Francis, as well as journals published independently or by other associations. While all of these journals publish Communication scholarship in some form or another, they're not all similar in their aims and scopes for publishing research—some publish book reviews only, while others concentrate on social scientific research. Some only publish historical scholarship, while others are oriented toward publishing public relations case studies. Finding the right outlet for your research is a critical and sometimes difficult task.

At the minimum, you'll want to determine a few things before submitting your manuscript:

  • Is the journal peer-reviewed?
  • Is the journal's reviewing process anonymous?
  • Is the journal well-indexed?
  • Is the journal "current"? Is it published efficiently and in a timely manner?
  • Is the journal online? Only print? Both?

Carnegie Mellon University's Barbara Johnstone (editor of Language in Society) offers specific advice for authors searching for the right journal:

  • Be able to articulate the contribution your work makes, and to whom.
  • Is your topic of interest? Is your use of methods innovative and correct? Are you making any new theoretical contributions?
  • Know the journals. Never send a manuscript to a journal only because of its name.
  • Read the journal before you submit to it. Make sure you know what kind of research it publishes.
  • Ask for advice. Seek out input from authors who have published in the journal you're considering.


Reading Reviews

Imagine this scenario: You present a paper in a graduate seminar and your professor and the other graduate students love the paper. It then becomes part of your dissertation and your committee thinks it's one of the strongest parts of the larger project. You send it to a competitive papers call at a convention and it gets accepted to one of the sponsoring group's Top Papers panel. Then you find the perfect journal, get the paper ready, and send it off--only to have the journal's reviewers subject the essay to withering criticism such that the editor only offers you the possibility of a pessimistic "revise and resubmit." What do you do?

There are typically four specific outcomes following the submission of a manuscript to a journal:

  • Acceptance (with or without revision)
  • Rejection
  • Desk Rejection
  • Revise and Resubmit

The most common of these is the decision that asks you to revise and resubmit your manuscript. As Mary Bucholtz indicates, this decision "is an expression of the editor's interest in the project and confidence that with revision the manuscript can be publishable." Too many authors believe, falsely, that a "revise and resubmit" decision is a guarantee that, upon revision, the manuscript will be accepted for publication—such is not the case. It's fully plausible that a revise and resubmit essay may still be rejected upon resubmission. Manuscripts, however, are rarely ever accepted outright, and how an author responds to the revise and resubmit recommendation may be very important for the likely publication of the manuscript.

Bucholtz provides some useful advice for dealing with reviewer comments:

  • Don't take criticism personally. Take your ego out of your writing/research.
  • Make sure you understand the reviewers' suggestions. Double-check your understanding with a trusted advisor or mentor.
  • Don't assume that you have to address every comment in your revisions.
  • Don't resist reasonable suggestions for revision.
  • Commit fully to the revision that you make.
  • Don't dismiss conflicting reviews.
  • Don't make extensive revisions when a small change will solve the problem.
  • Keep in communication with the editor--but don't be a pest.
  • When you resubmit, include a detailed revision letter detailing the extent and level of your revision.
  • Submit your revision promptly. Too many revisions are simply never resubmitted.
  • Keep trying.


Some final advice—from Jim Martin, the former editor of American Journalism. One of his final columns in the journal was a discussion of "How Not to Get Published."

  • Don't use Wikipedia as a source.
  • Don't submit manuscripts on fancy paper or with "scalloped" edges.
  • Don't beg.
  • Don't sell yourself short.
  • Don't threaten the editor.
  • Don't drop names.
  • Don't submit an article to a journal you haven't read carefully.
  • Don't fawn and flatter.
  • Don't ignore conventions and expectations—length requirements, citation styles, etc.


“Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances. … It is a general right that applies even in situations where the law provides no specific authorization for the use in question.” – Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication

The International Communication Association published a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication in June 2010 after review by a legal advisory board. The Code was brought to the attention of all members of the Council of Communication Associations in September 2011. The Executive Committee of the National Communication Association endorsed it in January 2012.

The Code “identifies four situations that represent the current consensus within the community of communication scholars about acceptable practices for the fair use of copyrighted materials.”