Pruning your research publications list

This post is co-written with Dr Narelle Lemon. Narelle works in Arts Education at the School of Education, RMIT University (Melbourne), and is 17 months out from graduating with her doctorate. She’s just beginning to write again, putting into practice all she has learnt from that experience. She tweets @rellypops.

Blossom in the Imperial Palace by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Jonathan: When you start out as a ‘novice expert’, you don’t have many things to put in your publication list, so you put everything in. As you move forward, though, you might want to favour quality over quantity. Prune your publications list. It isn’t like the roses – you can prune it any time. It isn’t like a bonsai – you can snip off different bits without endangering the whole. Cut it back so that the things that you are really proud of, the things that matter, can have their place in the sun.

Narelle: I chatted with Jonathan about the tension between recording everything in my publications list and beginning to notice that, as I develop as an academic, I need to cut things out.

“Do you know how hard that is?”

I can remember the why, how and when for everything I wrote. Most importantly I can remember the excitement around finding out I had been published or accepted to present at a conference (I can sense you nodding as you know what I mean!).

It’s an odd feeling when the moment arises – one I didn’t think would ever come – when you have to acknowledge that some publications just don’t belong in the CV anymore. They are delegated to a file named ‘you are a faint memory and you did exist but you have been bumped’, and saved to the CV folder for a ‘just in case moment’ (even though you know it won’t make it back in).

What to prune

Jonathan: Don’t throw away your prunings – everything has its place. Gently transplant them to a private garden, a place where you can see them, but they aren’t crowding out the glories of your key publications. Here are some suggestions for what you might want to transplant to your secret garden.

  • Journal articles that you have submitted, but haven’t been accepted yet, or books submissions that haven’t been commissioned or contracted yet.
  • Conference presentations that have not been through a rigourous review and publication process. Research is built on what has come before – if your conference presentation was never published, nobody can build on it but you. Develop it into a research paper and get it properly refereed and published.
  • Your thesis. More and more theses are receiving a wider audience, thanks to digital copies being exposed by institution repositories. However, unless you are an early career researcher, you probably don’t need it in your publications list. You particularly don’t need it there once you have turned it into a book or a series of journal articles.
  • Media coverage. The New York Times, while an august institution and a paper of record, is not a peer-reviewed, refereed outlet. Op-ed pieces, letters to the editor, and quotes from you as an expert are all massively useful in lifting your profile and getting your ideas out there, but they don’t quite fit in a research publication list.
  • Text books. A good text book generally synthesises what is already known, rather than presenting what is new. In your publication list, it will look like any other book. However, someone who knows the field will spot that it is a text book. They will start wondering if all the books on your list are text books. My rule of thumb: if it has questions at the end of each chapter, it doesn’t belong among your research publications.
  • Professional publications. There are some books that are aimed at your professional sector, rather than your academic colleagues. A technical manual if you are an engineer, or a school text if you are an educationalist, for example. The main aim of the book is to provide a working document of use to the profession, rather than to communicate new results of your research. These are valuable outputs, and indicate your standing in the professional community. However, they shouldn’t be on your research publication list for much the same reason that academic text books don’t belong there.
  • Edited books and conference proceedings. Editing a book and organising a conference are both enormous amounts of work. However, most of that work is not research. They required a great deal of organisation, scholarship and synthesis, but the act of editing is not research. List your contribution under Book chapters or Refereed conference papers in proceedings. Then move the volume off your research publication list and into your secret garden into a separate category, so that your authored books can shine.

Of all the recommendations on this list, this last one is the one that I am most ambivalent about. What do you think?

[Addendum: After you told me what you thought, I realised that I was wrong about this. Edited books and edited conference proceedings do have a space in your CV. Just don’t mix them with your authored books. They aren’t the same, and should be listed separately.]

Narelle: Pruning my CV was the best advice I could receive. Although hard advice to hear (because I’m so close to my professional achievements), I sought advice from a trusted colleague, friend and mentor in order to be able to be told the reality; to be able to stand back and hear another perspective. It allowed for clarity and for me to be able to ‘sell myself’ in an academic manner through my CV and publication list.

At the stage I flipped Jonathan my CV for advice, my publication list was what I considered ‘being well developed’ and sitting at a modest ‘ten pages’! (Yes, well I had included everything!).

The distinction that Jonathan makes between professional publications, and publications that have raised my profile and allowed me to gain the ‘seriously counted’ professional publications, was one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments. They are important, but they have ‘a place’; unfortunately, that place is not in the research publication list. These are valuable outputs and support the interactions and networking within the professional community. Most of all, they are fabulous within the context of a networking conversation, interview or application as they supports the philosophy of my career and approach as a researcher.

Observing the garden that is my publication list, having pruned (felt more like cropped with hedge-cutters, than thinned with pruning shears!) and now looking at what is in the private garden versus the front yard, I can see clarity in my publication trajectory. My research areas are clear, and I provide the key publications in my list.

What to plant

Jonathan: Once you have cut it back, you will have created some space for new material. Here are some ideas for encouraging new growth.

Most lists are boring. Annotated lists are much more fun. Add a 30 word description to each of the items on your publication list. Briefly describe the main finding of the paper. Draw attention to the eminence of the journal or the number of citations, or include a nice snippet from a reviewer. Make yourself shine.

Bold your name. It allows people to quickly see your name in amongst all your co-authors, which is nice. Also, in a 90 page grant application with five publication lists attached, it is nice to be able to quickly see which publication refers to which researcher.

Provide full citations.”O’Donnell et al” doesn’t cut it in a publications list. Full citations include:

  • All authors, in the order published.
  • Date of publication. If it is in-press, list the date of acceptance (month/year) so it’s clear that it’s real.
  • Full title, as presented in the publication.
  • Volume title for journal articles, chapters in books, conference papers in proceedings, and other parts of a bigger whole.
  • Publisher for books and conference proceedings.
  • Volume and issue number for journal articles, if they have them.
  • A unique identifier. For books, this is the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). For journal articles, it is the digital object identifier (DOI). This is the one thing that unambiguously identifies your publication – use it. Treasure it.
  • Web address, if the publication is publicly available in full on the Web. If the Web address is more than half a line long, or complicated, replace it with a short link.
  • If you are listing a grant, include the overall $ amount.
  • Evidence of impact. Sometimes, these can be abbreviated into number of citations or some sort of index. Sometimes, though, that 30-word summary is what you need.

Have I forgotten anything?

Add clear headings. In theory, it is clear from the citation whether it is an article in a journal or a chapter in a book. In fact, that isn’t the case. Group your work under clear, concise headings, please. If you are writing an application that has a style guide or suggested format, use their headings.

Put everything in order. Start with your latest work and move backwards by year. If you add material to your CV as you submit it, this will be much easier.

Know when to stop. Most applications have a limit to how much you can put in a CV. Either they only want to see X number of pages or they only want to see the last Y years. That makes it easier, as you stop when you reach the limit. If that isn’t the case, it gets harder. Do you put everything that you have ever done in the list, even if you are in the 20th year of your career? That’s a lot of stuff. There is really only one rule: put in everything that is relevant to the project you are describing.


  1. Wow, what interesting advice! Some things I can do straight away, others I’m not ready for. Plus my list isn’t that long yet 🙂 Maybe we should all send Jonathan our CVs for a look!


    • Only if I can publish the results as worked examples. 🙂

      There is probably another post in here about how to present your publications online: Linked In; CiteULike and Then there is the important topic of the institutional research repository. But that is another story.



  2. “Editing a book and organising a conference are both enormous amounts of work. However, most of that work is not research.”

    I’d have to disagree with this one to some degree, Jonathan. While I know that edited collections aren’t recognised by HERDC and other markers of ‘output’, and they don’t occupy traditional notions of researcher/researched, I think they ARE products of research. There’s a curatorial quality about putting together an edited book or special issue journal that requires in-depth area expertise + a high-level of critique and connection of the submissions for a coherent, innovative whole. Being able to pull off a good edited publication demonstrates research/project planning abilities that would be good fodder for a grant application.

    But I would say that. I’ve (co-)edited 3 books and at least 4 special issue journals, and sundry other things. 😉


    • Like I said, this is the one that I am most ambivalent about.

      I was drawing a pretty hard line here between ‘curated’ vs ‘created’. In my mind, curated research includes anything that synthesizes past knowledge, rather than extending it.

      Having said that, I know that editing a book or organising a conference demonstrates your standing among your peers.

      Would you at least agree that edited books shouldn’t be mixed in with authored books – that they should be listed separately? I guess that is what I am really opposed to – mixing authored books with edited books means that the works you have authored disappear somewhat. And I don’t think that is a good thing.


      • Yes, I totally agree that edited publications should be under a different heading to the books one has written. I’ve seen academics try to put them all under one (“Books”) and it looks a bit suss.

        That said, I think the ARC needs to recognise edited collections as evidence of quite a high level of research activity and, as Jo says so beautifully below, collaborative dedication.


  3. Great advice but some of the things you advise leaving out, I would advise putting under a different heading. In particular, with an increasing pressure for research to be “relevant” and reach a wider audience, those professional reports and media pieces are important.

    I agree that they are not equivalent to peer reviewed publications and should not be mixed up with them in a single list. However, in some circumstances it is not only appropriate but advisable to have evidence that you can reach particular non-academic audiences. And there is a difference between those reports and activities based on your research and those that look similar but based in other experiences or expertise.

    One thing I find some of my clients leave off their CV in this respect is service on government advisory boards. And yet these are an important indicator of the impact of their research on government policy. Not all policy makers what to read something. The certainly don’t read your peer reviewed articles, but they might not read a plain language summary either. They often what you to TELL them what you know and they formalize that telling in advisory boards, commissions, etc.

    Similarly, editing volumes and organizing conferences are powerful evidence of your ability to collaborate and to direct collaborative research activities. If you are applying for a collaborative research grant, that stuff better be on there or the adjudicators may doubt the feasibility of your proposal on the grounds that you have no experience of collaboration.

    The key point is that a CV has a purpose and what is included needs to be included for a purpose. The headings need to guide the reader in finding the evidence they need for the particular purpose. Even early in your career, it is inadvisable to mix up peer reviewed journal articles with book reviews in academic journals. It indicates a lack of understanding of what is important. Be honest. And don’t pad.


    • Thanks, Jo.

      Be honest. And don’t pad.

      On reflection, I should have just written that. Would have saved about 1,425 characters.

      I absolutely agree about advisory boards – your membership of them signifies your connection to government or industry. The trouble I have is that, like keynote addresses, people interpret these headings in different ways.

      • When they see them on other people’s CVs, they are impressed by the stature of them.
      • When they list them on their own CVs, they sometimes start with the best, and then add in the rest.

      So you end up with “Executive member: Rotary Club of Castlemaine” and “Keynote: Williamstown Primary School fund-raising night”. And, yes, I’m exaggerating for effect, but I’m guessing that you know what I mean.

      Sometimes “And don’t pad” is quite hard advice to follow.

      Maybe I need another post on the ‘impact’ part of your CV. Want to write it with me?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.