6 things I’ve learnt from my first well-cited paper

This week my co-authored 2015 paper “Motivation and cognitive load in the flipped classroom: definition, rationale and a call for research” reached 300 citations. According to Google Scholar it’s the most cited paper in Higher Education Research & Devlopment from the past five years, and it’s the 3rd most read paper in HERD since the journal went online. In this post I reflect on the reasons why I think it has been well cited. I’m writing this more as a ‘note to self’ than as a ‘how to’ – beware the n=1 sample size.

(Please forgive how strategic this post is – I care a lot about doing good quality research as well as the more mercenary matters in this post!)

1: shamelessly embrace the zeitgeist

This chart probably shows the main reason why the paper was so influential. Our paper was published online-ahead-of-print in August 2014, when interest about the flipped classroom was reaching its peak. At that stage there were very few papers on the flipped classroom, and practically none in decent journals. However thousands of educators were trying out the flipped classroom and getting ready to write up their results.

Phill, next time you’re choosing between papers to write, do the one that occupies the gap between the peer reviewed literature and the zeitgeist!

2: ‘definition’ is a good word to use in the title of a paper

It should come as no surprise that people like to use definitions in academic papers. So when a lazy researcher is searching Google Scholar for ‘flipped classroom definition‘, they’re probably more likely to download and use the paper that promises a definition in the title.

Phill, next time you’re writing a conceptual paper, consider using ‘definition’ in the title. This was a missed opportunity in your 2017 paper on rubrics.

3: provide researchable propositions

FC propositions

Our paper essentially provided a definition, mapped a couple of existing theories to what goes on in the flipped classroom, and then posed a set of obvious propositions from those theories. In my opinion, anybody reasonably conversant with the theories we used (cognitive load theory and self determination theory) could have come up with these propositions. However, they really proved useful for researchers in designing studies.

Phill, don’t relegate your suggestions for future work to a paragraph or two in the discussion. Consider having these permeate through your next paper. Justify research that other people can do.

4: promote work that engages with your articles

It should go without saying that I Tweeted the hell out of this article. I’m a shameless self-promoter, however too much self-promotion can be counter-productive – we all know that one person who only jumps on Twitter to tweet their own papers! Once we started getting some traction with this paper I started monitoring the citations and altmetrics. I’d jump on Twitter and promote articles that cited it, or blog posts that mention it. This has led me to some great connections with other scholars and communities.

Phill, remember that people get sick of you tweeting your own papers, but they love it when you bring them something new that engages with a topic they follow you for.

5: put your work on Wikipedia

FC definition WIkipedia

There’s a myth that ‘real researchers’ go straight to the peer reviewed literature when researching a new topic. In the tradition of drug user forums, SWIM (someone who isn’t me) usually starts reading about new topics on Wikipedia first, and uses the reference list as a starting point of what to read next. For a key period around 2015-2016, the definition from our article was in the first paragraph of the Flipped Classroom Wikipedia entry. I strongly believe that lazy scholars like SWIM going to Wikipedia first was a big part of the success of this article.

Phill, remember to put your work on Wikipedia – but only where it’s appropriate and genuinely useful for the Wikipedia entry.

6: you don’t need to be a big name researcher to write a successful conceptual article

This article came into being when I was teaching higher education pedagogy at Monash University and Laki (lead author) had just completed one of my classes. At the time I only had one journal article published, and Laki had never published in education. Laki had written a really great section on the flipped classroom in one of his assignments, and he wanted to write a journal article from it. We met over coffee a few times and observed that nobody had really defined the flipped classroom in the peer reviewed literature, and nobody had done much theorising. We decided to take a theory he had taught (self-determination theory) and a theory I had taught (cognitive load theory) and apply them to this new thing. Neither of us was a ‘somebody’ in higher education – we were just writing the right paper at the right time.

Phill, to sum up, the formula of this article seems to be:

  1. find colleague with interesting theory x
  2. add theory y that you know
  3. choose zeitgeisty topic z that nobody has written in the peer reviewed literature about
  4. define z, come up with the implications of theories x and y to z, and suggest some future research implications
  5. promote the hell out of it
  6. ???
  7. citations

Can you do this again?

Leave a Reply