There and Back Again

Holli Vah Seliskar provides guidance on how to repurpose academic work from a presentation to a publication and vice versa.

December 15, 2020
photo/istock via getty images plus

Full disclosure: this paper is based on a presentation I gave in 2019 at an academic conference. I often engage in “double-dipping,” which I would describe as recycling or repurposing your own work into additional academic content for the purposes of disseminating previously shared information to enhance knowledge and understanding of a particular topic.

The fact is, when conducting research for a presentation, you must do a lot of reading, writing, organizing and turning the information compiled into a complete presentation that would then be transferable to an audience. After the completion of a presentation, you may also have the additional opportunity to extend the work into a publication.

People often ask, is double-dipping OK? The Office of Research Integrity at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states, “It is likely that academics are equally split with respect to the appropriateness of recycling conference papers.” In some academic disciplines, repurposing or double-dipping one’s own work seems acceptable and is almost expected, while in others, the practice is frowned upon. As an author, it is up to each person to decide if double-dipping is right for them or not. Before repurposing your own work, you should consider your particular institution and discipline, as well as issues involving copyright, self-plagiarism and being transparent about where that work has appeared previously.

Equally as important, however, you must determine whether an oral presentation even has the potential to be transformed into a publication. Making this determination requires that you: 1) ask yourself if the topic is appropriate for a journal article or other publication; 2) consider where the publication could be published and the potential audience; 3) address the need to develop ideas beyond what you originally created for a presentation; 4) identify additional resources you can incorporate into a publication; and 5) use the feedback from your presentation to continually assess the scope and purpose of the potential publication.

In this piece, I describe how I successfully transformed several of my own presentations into publications and vice versa, in hopes it will give you some insight into how to do so yourself. I detail how I dealt specifically with each of the five factors I have mentioned above.

Appropriateness of the topic. To decide if your work is a good fit for double-dipping, first consider the appropriateness of repurposing it as a journal article or other type of publication. Determine if other scholars have already extensively covered the topic in a particular field or if your work could fill a gap or specific niche in the literature. Sometimes, in fact, outlets beyond your own academic discipline may be the best places for your work to be published.

If the information is new or expounds on an approach in a different or interesting way, turning your work from a presentation into a publication is probably feasible. That said, if you decide to go ahead and repurpose it, you must definitely expand on the topic and add updated citations and references, as the most current research on a topic will add needed credibility to your manuscript.

Potential audience. The second factor in determining if your work should be repurposed is the consideration of who might read or listen to it. Who is the target audience? Where could your work be a good fit? How will the audience perceive the topic?

Check submission guidelines of prospective journals. Skim through different articles that those journals have published. What are some of the titles? What are the topics covered? What is the style of writing? Also, if the articles are published online, browse for feedback that authors may have received in the comments section.

Finally, ask yourself, what is the purpose of your possible publication: to inform, to instruct, to advocate for something? Before trying to repurpose your work, you should reflect upon the intentions of your potential manuscript in depth, along with the content and impact of the journal.

New idea generation. Make time to further develop your ideas from a previous work as well as to write. As my own best practice, I block out time on my daily calendar to think, read and write, and I will occasionally use a timer, set for an hour or two, and then focus solely on writing during that period. Such a method may not be right for everyone, but I wrote my dissertation that way, and it continues to work well for me. Continue to revisit the literature on a particular topic and work to update and revise your presentation as a manuscript, using that presentation essentially as an outline for repurposing your work.

Additional resources. Some other questions you should ask yourself to determine the feasibility of transforming a presentation into a publication involve identifying your resources. In short, do you have enough material for another article or presentation? Have you written something previously but then stopped -- could this material be repurposed? Is your dissertation sitting on a shelf or a coffee table waiting for you to revisit it? Consider your passions, your expertise and your research interests.

Use of feedback. Finally, think back on the feedback that you received from a previous presentation. What questions did the audience have? Did the feedback offer any helpful suggestions? Then revise and resubmit. There is no time like the present; the worst that can happen is your manuscript is rejected. And in that case, just find another home for it. Keep looking and do not give up.

I will conclude this piece as I started -- with transparency. To date, I have double-dipped in my own work in the following ways: from my dissertation alone, I have a book that was published in April 2020, four additional publications and 10 conference presentations. From other academic works, I have transformed three presentations into three different publications and have converted another publication into two separate presentations. I have always given full disclosure and have informed my audience that the work has been presented previously or was based on a publication or my dissertation.

In summation, repurposing your work can challenging, but if you have already done some of the groundwork, why not go one step further? Sometimes, your best works can be those that you initially developed but didn't finish -- never truly experiencing the closure that comes from publishing something that offers value to the academic community. Why not revisit some of those works and see where they lead?


Holli Vah Seliskar is an academic department chair in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Purdue University Global and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.


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