Scholarly endeavors have always been an important facet of the faculty role. Endeavors include conducting research, presenting at professional conferences, and disseminating information through publication. Although publishing scholarly work has always been an important activity for promotion and advancement of faculty, this is also a growing expectation for clinicians (Kennedy, 2018). Balancing these expectations with teaching and other faculty responsibilities can be challenging for new and seasoned faculty alike, especially when working at a university that emphasizes teaching over research. Clinicians are also challenged because their primary responsibility involves direct patient care; thus, time and support mechanisms for writing may be lacking. Consequently, writing for publication is often put “on the back burner.”
Over the years, we have learned strategies that have resulted in a successful publication record and have created a framework that incorporates these strategies. The purpose of this article is to introduce the COMITS model (Figure 1). COMITS is an acronym representing the concepts of Commitment, Organization, Mechanics, Interpersonal, Time, and Sustainability. Using strategies associated with the COMITS model assists with overcoming barriers that often prevent nursing faculty and clinicians from publishing.
Barriers to Publishing
Many barriers to publishing manuscripts have been identified. These barriers can be categorized one of three ways: (a) personal, (b) organizational, or (c) publishing process. Personal barriers are those barriers that are intrinsic to the individual. For example, lack of confidence (Saver, 2017) can prevent individuals from engaging in writing. Nurses often think they have nothing to offer that would be of interest to others. In addition, nurses are often uncomfortable or anxious about writing. Completion of a manuscript can be hindered by both procrastination and perfectionism (Yancey, 2016). Poor time management can prevent individuals from even initiating a manuscript (Mitchell, 2018). Individuals who lack writing skills can become frustrated and discouraged. Lack of knowledge about maneuvering the publishing processes can be a deterrent for writers, making them disheartened if manuscripts are rejected.
Organizational barriers are factors that are inherent in structures and processes of academic or clinical institutions. Successful publishing often begins with an organizational culture that values scholarly work because attitudes and beliefs drive rewards and resources. When people in an organization do not value writing, a significant barrier is imposed. In such a culture, publishing may not be rewarded through promotion, salary increases, and public recognition. In addition, resources may be lacking for access to literature, mentorship, and release time for scholarly work.
Another category of barriers to publishing is the process itself because it can be complicated and lengthy (Marrelli, 2017). With the emergence of the digital age, nearly all manuscript submissions are electronic. It can be tricky to locate the author guidelines on a journal's web page. Authors may find permissions, waivers, and other documents confusing or challenging to complete. Maneuvering through web-based platforms to upload documents can be frustrating. Receiving harsh feedback from reviewers may discourage authors from revising a manuscript or resubmitting to another journal. In addition, the length of time it takes from submission to publication can be inconvenient if a manuscript revision is required with a short turnaround time.
Managing these barriers to publishing is challenging. The key to success is implementing strategies to overcome as many barriers as possible. The COMITS model serves as a valuable framework to incorporate strategies that facilitate writing.
The Comits Model
The first concept of the COMITS model is commitment. A lack of commitment to getting started is one barrier faced by writers. Picking a topic can be challenging, so it is not unusual to think that one's ideas are not worth writing about or that there would be no interest in them. Brainstorming with colleagues can be a helpful strategy to identify possible topics. Select a topic that stirs passion or is derived from curiosity. Consider areas of expertise or research, clinical questions, and teaching strategies (Tivis & Meyer, 2018). It can be rewarding to discover interest exists about the topics generated and that the topics are considered worthy.
Committing to write with a colleague is another strategy for successful publishing. Collaboration creates synergy that fosters the exchange of ideas, sharing of tasks, and mutual support. Being accountable to another individual increases the likelihood that ongoing engagement in the process of writing will occur. Therefore, when partnering with another colleague, it is essential to ensure that the colleague is equally committed to writing.
Commitment also entails the broader notion of having a responsibility to develop the knowledge base of nursing through scholarly work (Parse, 2017). The discipline of nursing grows through the dissemination of information about research findings, innovative treatments, practice challenges, and patient experiences. Without dissemination, nursing care would languish and fail to be evidence based.
The next concept of the COMITS model is organization. Being organized is an important strategy for avoiding some personal barriers. It can be helpful to begin by reviewing author guidelines to determine whether a manuscript will be a good fit with the journal's mission, scope, and audience. When in doubt, send a query to the editor, who can provide guidance about fit. Time can be saved and frustration can be avoided when drafts are written with the journal audience in mind. Also, it is important to be aware of predatory journals, which can use publication practices that are unethical, such as plagiarism and lack of peer review. Through flattering emails, authors are solicited to send manuscripts; however, high fees are charged to have the paper published (Lewinski & Oermann, 2018). For more information about predatory journals, visit https://beallslist.net/ or https://predatoryjournals.com/about/.
Having a flash drive dedicated to store documents for writing projects is a good organizational strategy. Creating a new document file for each draft at the beginning of each writing session is wise because overwriting to the same file can corrupt it, resulting in lost work. Files can be distinguished by adding the date to the file name. Saving documents at multiple times during a writing session avoids losing new writing should technical problems occur. At the end of a writing session, always back up files in a different location in addition to the flash drive.
Nearly all publications require supporting documentation for claims being made by the author; therefore, authors must do a thorough literature search. Using a worksheet to plan and conduct a systematic search (Whalen & Zentz, 2014) helps authors track key words to avoid disorganized, repetitive searching. After articles are obtained, they should be saved in a systematic manner. Labeling PDF files with the article title or names of authors with the year of publication is a good way to save them to a flash drive because it will facilitate locating articles later. If articles are printed, highlighting key points and having notes on the first page can facilitate finding pertinent citations during the writing process. Having a designated place for the flash drive and papers helps to keep project materials together. For example, a designated tote bag, so that everything is in one place, is especially helpful when writing locations vary.
Following author guidelines is critical for successful submission (Saver, 2017), and there are several strategies writers can implement before starting to write. Because these guidelines are posted on the Web, it can be helpful to bookmark that page for easy reference. Another option is to have a printed copy of the guidelines. These strategies will save time and limit the frustration of having to search the Web for author guidelines during each writing session. After reading the guidelines, list the key rules and requirements (i.e., word limits, margin, font size) on the first page of the draft. These prompts can easily be deleted when the manuscript is finished. In addition, place any headings required by the journal in the draft to ensure adherence to author guidelines. It is also helpful to find an article published in the journal targeted for submission because having a printed copy can serve as an example of what is expected.
After the headings are in place, begin fleshing out ideas for the paper. Add main ideas or bulleted points under headings to outline content of the manuscript. This strategy allows writers to organize ideas while getting them onto the page. This can be done quickly without attending to grammar and spelling. After the main ideas are added, begin formally writing the content. Keep in mind that it is not always necessary to start by writing the introduction. It may be helpful to work on other sections of the draft and write the introduction later. As new ideas emerge, they can easily be added under the relevant heading. By using these simple strategies, authors can avoid the “blank page” syndrome.
For prolific authors, organization can be facilitated by maintaining a table summarizing the progression of manuscripts through the publication process. When multiple manuscripts are in different stages of the review process, it is helpful to have a record of when and to which journals the articles have been submitted. Because the peer review process can be lengthy, a record of submission dates helps writers track the phases of manuscript publication over time. The table can also be a means for planning a time line for various projects. Productive writers know there is no need to wait until a manuscript is published before beginning the next one. It may be helpful to have the record written on a whiteboard. One advantage to this is the plan is always a visible reminder and can be easily updated. Whiteboards can also be used to post a time line for writing projects. Plotting out time frames for writing various components of a manuscript (i.e., introduction, review of literature) can keep writers organized.
Mechanics is the third concept of the model. It is not unusual to hear editors or peer reviewers say they will not consider a manuscript when author guidelines are ignored or there are frequent grammar and spelling errors. It is worth the time and effort to ensure the manuscript is up to the expected level of quality (Johnson & Rulo, 2019).
Many authors express surprise by the amount of time it takes to revise and proofread a manuscript. Allowing sufficient time for revisions and proofreading is critical to avoid mechanical errors. One strategy is to put a manuscript away for a few days, then go back later to read with fresh eyes (Johnson & Rulo, 2019). Another strategy is to proofread previous work at the beginning of each writing session. Not only will this allow writers to find errors, it is a good way to refocus on the manuscript. Asking a colleague to proofread or hiring a proofreader helps spot mechanical errors while identifying content that may be unclear to readers. Another proofreading strategy is to read a manuscript aloud because hearing the sentences facilitates finding inadvertently omitted words and grammar errors. Although spellchecking applications are helpful, it is unwise to rely solely on them for finding mechanical errors. For example, “learning” could be misspelled as “leaning” and spellcheck would not identify this typographical error.
Ensuring that citations in the manuscript and entries on the reference list are congruent is an important detail for manuscript preparation (Nicoll, 2017). Every citation in a manuscript must appear in the reference list and vice versa. One especially helpful strategy is to conduct a reference check with two people. While one person reads through the manuscript and calls out the citations, the other person checks off the references on printed pages of the reference list. Marking the citations with a checkmark also identifies citations that have already been cited in the manuscript so that subsequent citations are appropriately noted according to the citation style being used. Editors and peer reviewers appreciate when writers have provided attention to font styles, spacing, and punctuation in the reference list.
Preparing tables and figures presents its own unique challenges. All style guidelines (i.e., American Psychological Association, Modern Language Association) specify how tables and figures are to be formatted. For tables, authors need to give attention to the placement and font of the title of the table and where lines separate content within the table (Kennedy, 2018). Not only do tables take time to create, one must give thought about how to organize the content. For example, when presenting numerical data, authors must decide where to place decimal points. Attention should be given to ensure that numbers are aligned in a manner that improves readability of the table. Some journals may allow rounding, whereas others may expect totals to come out exactly to 100%. When preparing figures, in addition to following the style guidelines, it is important to carefully follow the requirements of the journal as there may be rules about use of color, size, and resolution of the figure.
The tone of articles can differ from journal to journal because tone is used to appeal to particular audiences. Some editors encourage the use of first-person language, such as “I” and “we.” Other editors will expect a more formal tone. Sometimes, an editorial approach is specified in the author instructions. When it is not, one can get a sense of tone by skimming recently published articles in that journal.
Another concept of the COMITS model is interpersonal. There are interpersonal strategies that can be adopted to make writing more productive. Because writing can sometimes seem daunting, having a collaborator can help ease anxiety and increase commitment to finishing a manuscript. Comparable to having an exercise buddy, having a commitment to a writing buddy increases the likelihood of success.
Collaborators hold each other accountable for time spent writing and meeting deadlines. Additionally, each individual brings his or her own skill set, which can be used to build on each other's strengths. For example, an experienced academic writer can pair well with a clinician who has expertise about a clinical problem.
After a collaboration is initiated, writers need to decide about how they will write. Some collaborators find it advantageous to “divide and conquer” by assigning portions of the manuscript to each writer. This works well for busy individuals who find it hard to schedule time to write together. Other writers find their productivity is increased if they write together. Talking together while writing can create synergy that would not otherwise exist. This approach to writing helps to create a consistent tone throughout the manuscript. Writing together does not mean that people must be in the same physical space because using Google™ Docs or another program can allow real-time document sharing.
To build the profession of nursing, experienced writers have an obligation to mentor novices. This could take the form of mentoring a colleague who is a less experienced writer. Experienced writers can also serve as writing coaches so that scholarly productivity can be sustained (Clochesy et al., 2019). The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars program facilitated writing by providing writers with three mentors: (a) a mentor from the participant's nursing unit, (b) a university research mentor outside the discipline of nursing, and (c) a nationally recognized nurse leader from another university (McBride et al., 2017).
Regardless of the level of experience, writers can benefit from writing circles, which typically consist of four to eight writers who gather regularly to exchange drafts and provide either verbal or written feedback to one another. According to Rutz (2019), writing circles are collaborative opportunities for providing and receiving feedback on works in progress from other writers. There are several advantages to this interpersonal approach. Having individuals from different disciplines can be advantageous because ideas must be articulated clearly so that people who are not well-versed on the topic can grasp the content. Also, reading the works of others is an excellent foundation for developing one's own writing. Committing to a writing circle can help keep writing a priority.
Similar to writing circles, bootcamps are another interpersonal strategy to foster successful publishing (von Isenburg et al., 2017). In addition to ongoing peer feedback, bootcamps often begin with structured content about topics such as establishing good writing habits, overcoming writers block, journal selection, and writing mechanics. Participation in workshops has been shown to increase writing productivity (Dhakal & Tornwall, 2020).
Other important factors should be considered when entering into a writing collaboration. Think broadly about contributions that can be made by students, clinicians, or interdisciplinary team members. Consider collaborating with individuals who have different skill sets. A writer who lacks expertise in statistics may want to collaborate with an individual who has expertise in writing about data. When considering who to invite on a writing team, avoid assuming individuals may not want to collaborate because they are too busy. For example, a writing collaboration formed by these authors would not have materialized had assumptions not been set aside.
A critical interpersonal aspect of writing collaborations is the dynamics of the relationships among writers. Establishing a nonjudgmental and open-minded environment can support exploration of ideas that foster greater creativity or complexity. Allowing individuals to engage in risk-taking without disrespect from others is essential for dialog to occur. Having mutual respect is necessary so that honest criticism can be provided. To avoid interpersonal conflicts, it is important to establish authorship prior to beginning a manuscript. Typically, authors are listed in an order representing the amount of their contribution to the paper (Rodts, 2019). When writing teams have good collegial relationships, the order of authorship may be rotated among members of the team.
One of the greatest barriers to writing is the perception that there is not enough time, another concept of the COMITS model. One strategy to overcome this barrier is to designate a specific, recurring time (i.e., Wednesdays, 9:00 to 11:00 a.m.) for writing. Entering standing times on calendars makes writing a priority and reframes the perception that there is not time available. After those times are designated, it is critical to treat those entries as nonnegotiable commitments that cannot be changed for other professional or personal activities. Additionally, it is important to communicate to others that specified writing times are essential for meeting professional goals related to scholarly work.
After a commitment has been made to writing times, the next step is to create a time line for completing the manuscript (Johnson & Rulo, 2019). It is helpful to begin by considering the scope of the project and establishing a deadline for submitting the manuscript. With the deadline determined, use backwards planning to designate which parts of the manuscript will be worked on during each writing session. Creating a written schedule gives writers a visual aid that can help with time management. The schedule should contain each date and time noting content that is to be written. Because it is necessary to estimate the amount of time required to complete different sections of the manuscript, it is important to be realistic. It is not unusual to underestimate the amount of time it may take to complete a manuscript; therefore, allowing some flexibility in the time line is wise. Flexibility also allows for unexpected circumstances that might require a writing time to be canceled.
Another visual strategy that can be effective for keeping focused on the time line is posting the schedule on a whiteboard. One advantage to this strategy is that the time line is visible at all times. Because a whiteboard can easily be erased, schedule changes can be noted as they arise. It also serves as a good communication tool when writing with a larger group of authors. In addition to being beneficial time management tools, whiteboards are an excellent place to record ideas when they suddenly pop up.
There are a variety of strategies that optimize time when writing. Generally speaking, turning off cell phones and closing email windows avoids these distractions from the writing process. When writing in the work setting, there are simple things writers can do to minimize interruptions. If available, secretarial or other staff can help to limit intrusions by taking messages or redirecting colleagues or students. Finding a secluded place where the door can be closed may discourage interruptions. A secluded place is also helpful when writing from home. Making family aware of the importance of uninterrupted writing time may help to reduce distractions. In addition, the temptation to multitask by doing household chores should be avoided because these can lure writers away from the appointed task. Writing away from the workplace or home can be an excellent way to increase productivity, particularly when longer writing sessions can be scheduled. For example, spending a couple of days at a retreat center allows for an extended, uninterrupted time devoted to writing the manuscript. Time in a different environment may invigorate the writing process, especially when it results in a significant amount of completed work.
As noted earlier, writing with others is an interpersonal experience. Because it is human nature, it can be tempting to socialize and drift off task. Finding a balance between nurturing relationships with writing partners and sticking to the task is essential. A strategy to achieve this balance is to implement the “15-minute rule.” This rule is a time management strategy whereby the first 15 minutes of a writing session is devoted to socializing. When the time has passed, writers refocus and begin writing.
The final concept is sustainability. By engaging in the strategies of the COMITS model, a sustainable set of behaviors are developed that lead to successful publishing. Having perseverance is one key to sustainability. When some writers receive negative feedback about a manuscript, they can become discouraged and give up on publishing. It is human nature to respond defensively to criticism and spend some time lamenting the feedback. To move forward, writers need to carefully read the feedback and process the suggestions. Often, reviewers make reasonable recommendations that can improve the manuscript; however, this does not mean that every point raised by reviewers must be adopted. If good rationale exists for not revising a portion of the manuscript, writers can provide explanations when they resubmit the manuscript.
To sustain successful publishing, it is important to have a plan to keep moving. For example, keep a list of possible topics for papers or editorials. Ideas can come and go, so adding them to the list as they present themselves avoids forgetting them. After a manuscript has been submitted, refer to the idea list to pick a topic and begin the next manuscript. There is no need to wait for a response from a publication editor, as the review process can take considerable time. By moving forward in a timely fashion, momentum is sustained.
Having an organizational culture that supports writing is important to sustainability. As mentioned previously, writing circles, mentors, and release time for writing are strategies that can be supported by employers. If an organization lacks these kinds of support services, then it may be possible to initiate them. For example, a writing circle can be started at the grassroots level. A mentor from outside the organization can be obtained. If writing is valued, ascertain that any potential employer has a culture that supports this activity.
Networking for publishing opportunities is another means to sustainability. Conference or in-service presentations can often be developed into a manuscript for publication. Another option for publication is to write a chapter in a textbook. Contacting editors is a good way to determine if they are looking for chapter authors. If writing an entire textbook seems too ambitious, consider being an editor who collaborates with contributing authors. Writers can also find opportunities to publish regularly by contributing to a monthly column in a newsletter or journal.
Writing is hard work, so it is essential to celebrate successes. Writers tend to celebrate once they receive word that their work has been accepted for publication. But to enhance sustainability, celebrate along the way. For example, if a certain section of a manuscript has been difficult to write, take time to reflect on the success when the section is complete. Another time to celebrate is when the manuscript is submitted for publication. When the work appears in print, do not hesitate to share it with colleagues because earning recognition should not be confused with bragging. Posting on a bulletin board or on social media is also an effective strategy to disseminate published work.