Skip to Main Content
This Is Auburn Auburn University Libraries LibGuides

Research Impact Challenge

Make Connections and Promote Your Work on Listservs

Listservs are a low-tech way to get your research to a broader audience of your peers than social media can. As an active and responsive listserv member, you can position yourself as a helpful expert and allow others to learn about you and your research.

Face-silhouette-communication image via Pixabay

Listservs – group email lists related to a particular subject – are a relatively low-tech way to get your research and scholarship to a broader audience of your peers than social media can. Even those of us who are more traditional and/or technology-averse can often be found on listservs, which is a big advantage for the medium over Twitter and academic social media platforms.

Why are listservs so popular? Because all you have to do to reach hundreds, if not thousands, of your colleagues is send an email. This means all of the interaction happens in an environment you are already very well acquainted with: your email inbox.

Scholars all over the world use listservs in many ways: to pose questions to other experts in their field; to share new research that’s of interest to their discipline; to announce conferences and calls for papers; and to support one another virtually.

By being an active and responsive member of listservs in your field, you can make a name for yourself as a helpful expert. And this in turn can help other scholars learn about you and your research.

First, let’s get you onto a listserv or three.

Finding the right listserv

Listservs come in countless flavors. They can be related to any subject under the sun – from entire disciplines like this computer science listserv to as specific a topic as this confocal microscopy listserv. They also cater to speakers of many languages and scholars at all stages of their careers.

So, how can you find the right listserv for you? Here are three good ways to home in on your listserv(s) of choice, ranging from easiest to most difficult:

  • Search your scholarly society’s homepage: Many scholarly societies host listservs dedicated to researchers at particular points in their career (student, postdoc, faculty, and so on) or the many sub-disciplines within their field. Browse the homepages of the most popular scholarly societies in your discipline to see if they host listservs. You don’t necessarily have to be a dues-paying member of a society to join (although sometimes you do). These listservs tend to be the most widely used in many disciplines.
  • Ask a colleague: We’ve always found it helpful to ask colleagues what the most useful listservs they follow are. Colleagues at a similar point in their careers as you can probably give the best recommendations: they’ll tell you the best listservs to follow for job announcements, where to find the best new publications, and what listserv audiences are especially kind and engaged when answering questions. And mentors or senior researchers can help you find the listservs that those more established in your field monitor.
  • “Deep googling:” Another way to find relevant listservs is via search engines. Brainstorm keywords related to your discipline and also your specific area of study, a particular type of analysis, and so on. Then search for the term (plus the words “listserv”, “google group,” or “email list”) on your favorite search engine and see what turns up.

No matter whether the listservs you find are expert recommended or discovered by searching, you should always evaluate whether they’ll be right for you. For each, take a look at the listserv’s archive. You can determine their relevancy to you by researching:

  • How active the listserv’s members are – if no one’s posting to it regularly, the listserv is likely dead in the water.
  • The quality of who’s posting – have you heard the names of those who are contributing? Or are the listserv participants only people you’ve never heard of?
  • The type of content being shared – is it only “call for papers” announcements? Or are contributors also discussing and sharing other content regularly?

Ways to use your listserv

Once you’ve subscribed to any listserv, you should first “lurk” for a few weeks. That is, just read through the messages that are posted without responding. Lurking will help you get a sense of what type of content is regularly posted and how others tend to interact (are they curt, kind, brief, wordy, etc.?). The listserv’s guidelines or codes of conduct will often spell out what can and cannot be posted, as well. Make sure to read those!

There are three main ways professional listservs can be used to forge meaningful connections with others: sharing content, posing & answering questions, and inviting debate.

Sharing content

Knowledge Sharing © Ansonlobo. Used under a CC BY-SA license

Any time you are reading an article that might be of interest to others in your field, email the paper’s citation to the listserv (within reason), along with a link to where the paper can be found (an open access version is particularly helpful) and what you liked about it. Others will appreciate the recommendation; it helps them sort the wheat from the chaff when deciding what to read.

And articles or papers aren’t the only type of content you can share: links to news articles, conference websites, datasets, open source software, and anything else you think others in your field would want to know about are good things to send along.

Promoting your own research is encouraged, too (again, within reason – keep reading). If you’ve recently published the results of a study, created software, written a book or a book chapter, released data, etc.  that would be of interest to others in your field, send it to your listserv. But don’t only send your own work along: it can come across as self-promoting, and it won’t have as much weight as if you’re well-known for sharing quality content in general.

Ask Questions image licensed CC0  

Posing & answering questions

Listservs can be an excellent source of crowd-sourced knowledge. Scholars often post questions to professional listservs along the lines of:
  • “What’s the melting point of isoxazole? I can’t find it in Reaxys.”
  • “I’m trying to find that Axel and Smith paper from the early 2000’s related to alluvial flow. Does anyone have the proper citation?”
  • “I’m new to the field and looking for a few good studies on GIS, engineering, and rock formations along the upper Mississippi River. Any recommendations?”
Don’t be afraid to pose thoughtful questions to your listserv. Any disciplinary question you’d ask a colleague is appropriate for posting to a listserv.

And you should also answer questions that others pose. People appreciate helpfulness. Connecting others with the knowledge they seek will make a name for you as both knowledgeable and charitable.

Inviting debate

Debate can be both challenging and super rewarding. It’s “challenging” in that it can be difficult to do diplomatically over email. It’s “super rewarding” in that, if done well, you will help position yourself as a smart, well-argued, rhetorician (at least for members of the listserv).
A good way to invite debate is to share and comment upon a paper you’ve recently read. Others will often chime in with their own thoughts and questions; respond carefully and thoughtfully to everyone who has replied to you. Keep in mind that the point of inviting debate is to add value rather than flaunt your own intellectual prowess. No one likes a know-it-all.


Listservs have some noteworthy drawbacks. Chief among them is the volume of email they might  generate – it’s often too much for subscribers to handle. You can mitigate this by either creating an email filter that keeps messages out of your inbox, or opting to receive the listserv messages in a digest format that’s sent daily or weekly (rather than receiving messages one-by-one).

Email volume can make participation in listservs challenging. It can be difficult to keep up with the onslaught of messages, especially if you’re subscribed to more than one listserv. “Batching” your responses can help you save time–set aside time once a week to read through messages and respond to any where you’d add value.

The final limitation to listservs is that they can sometimes be politically tricky to navigate. It’s not uncommon for a message to be misinterpreted and cause hurt feelings or, worse, start a “flame war.” And researchers have found that gender differences in communication can be exacerbated by listservs.

In this case, knowledge is power. If you receive a response that’s rude, take a step back and remind yourself that:

  • Email can be a challenging medium, and it’s possible that your interpretation of a message is different from the sender’s intent.
  • Taking the high road is always a “win.” You’ll retain your professionalism, even if others don’t.
  • You don’t have to respond to messages immediately.

Sometimes waiting 24 hours can help lessen the sting you’re feeling and make it easier to compose a thoughtful, measured response to even the harshest criticisms.

How to unsubscribe

There will likely come a time when you’ll want off of a listserv. Don’t email the entire listserv with a request for removal! It’s a common mistake that pollutes thousands of inboxes with unwanted email.

Instead, look for unsubscribe information at the bottom of your email, or perform a web search to find unsubscribe instructions instead. Sometimes, unsubscribing can be done with the click of a button on the listserv website; other times, you’ll need to email the list moderator to be removed.


Find, join, and start lurking on at least three listservs that are relevant to your area of study.

Then, set up filters in your email application, so the listserv email you get is channeled into a folder, away from your inbox. Here’s how to set up filters for Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and Outlook.

And your final task is to batch your reading and responding to listservs. Scan your listserv emails at least once a week at a designated time and respond to any conversations or questions that you think you can add value to.

This guide is based on the "30-Day Impact Challenge" by Stacy Konkiel and used here under a CC BY 4.0 International License and the OU Impact Challenge which is also licensed CC BY 4.0.  Many thanks to those authors for creating and sharing these materials.