Publishing academic work

Newcastle University’s Politics department hosts a professional development seminar series. The series is very useful, offering helpful advice to postgraduate students across a range of issues, from setting up a research radar, to getting funding for your PhD, to publishing your work and getting a job in the academy, there are many things that postgraduates might want to know more about, but are not sure where to start. For more info, click here.

Today’s seminar was titled ‘Meet the editors: getting advice about publishing from the journal editors in Politics‘. Newcastle is fortunate at the moment to have four members of staff in the Politics department that edit academic journals. Martin Coward and Kyle Grayson edit Politics, Alistair Clark is one of the editors of the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, and Anthony Zito is one of the editors of Enviromental Politics. Together, they offered their advice to postgraduates in the seminar, and I’d like to post some of their thoughts on this blog today. Wherever I can, I’ll try and group them into specific sections. I’ll refrain from attributing specific ideas to specific people, because I think they all concurred with each other sufficiently to make that unnecessary. Whilst all of the comments below are helpful and important, I do not take any credit for them. This blog is written with postgraduate students in mind.


Journal article writing is a genre in its own right

A journal article is different from other aspects of writing that might still be deemed academic. It is not the same as a project approval, a speech or a blog post. Particularly, it is not the same as a thesis chapter. A thesis chapter is situated within a thesis. A journal article needs to situation itself on its own. It is a genre in its own right, and thus has its own conventions. Three particularly significant aspects were highlighted:

  1. Introduction – outline your research succintly and tell the reader where you’re going to go in the article
  2. Place in the field – where is this placed? A journal article should fit into a specific field of academic study
  3. Significance – what contribution is this making? It needs to do more than provide a comment on other work

To publish in an academic journal, article submissions must speak to these three things. Without them, editors and reviewers will not be sympathetic.


The process

The process for getting your work in submitted will differ from journal to journal. I have recently submitted a piece of work to a journal, so I’ll outline the process as I understand it. Whilst each journal will differ, the general process will largely remain the same. After writing the paper, you will submit to the journal, usually online. Get everything right – there’s a lot to go through (formatting etc). Once submitted, one of the editorials will read it and get back to you with their preliminary thoughts. This is known as desk editing, or the ‘smell test’. They are letting you know if they will send it out for peer review. It is not uncommon for papers to be rejected as the ‘smell test’ stage. If so, accept it and move on.

Once the editor has ‘okayed’ it to go out for peer review, one of the associate editors will find peer reviewers in the paper’s field to read it. The journal I submitted to asked three peer reviewers to read it. Some will be two, some will be four. It differs. This can take time – reviewers are not easy to find, depending on the specificity of the field you’re writing in. The journal I submitted to is on the much faster side of the scale, and got back to me within 40 days. A lot of journals will take longer.

Once the article has been reviewed, you will get an editorial decision. The editor(s) will consider all of the comments made, and make one of three (or four – depending on the journal) decisions. They can ‘accept’ it without any revisions. This is very rare. They can recommend ‘revise and resubmit’, which can mean anything from a few minor corrections to a major revamp of your piece. Finally, they can ‘reject’ it. In this case, you just have to accept it, and move on.

Let’s assume you get a ‘revise and resubmit’ decision. You then have a period of time (between 4 and 12 weeks, say) to make your revisions and then resubmit. Sometimes, the article will then be reviewed again, or it might simply be read through by the editors and accepted. If it goes on to be accepted, your paper then gets passed on to the publishers, who will format the paper in to the journal’s house style. Again, this can take time. Be patient. The publishers will then send you a proof, which you edit and correct as appropriate, and then send it back to them. You guessed it – this can also take some time.

Once the publishers have done their work, the article is ready to be uploaded online. Most journals now have what is known as ‘Early View’ or ‘Online First’, which means your article is available to be read and cited straightaway. Previously, you would have to wait months for the article to appear in print – this is no longer the case for most journals.

Journal article publishing can take a long time. My journal article submission will be out online from February 2014, and I first started writing it in May 2013, and mine can be classed as one of the faster processes. Particularly if you are writing about something that is subject to change (my own work is in British politics and elections), you need to think ahead about when you want your work to be published, and plan accordingly.


Research the journal

Each journal is different. Even in the broader and more general journals, there will usually be some research aims and objectives that the journal will be looking to achieve through its publications. The journal will also have a certain format, referencing style and so on. You need to know this and know it well. If an editor gets a submission that is footnote-referenced and the journal’s referencing style is Harvard, they won’t be best pleased.


Be prepared, both to submit and to get rejected

Don’t just write a paper you think is good and then submit it. Send it out to friends, colleagues and (especially) your supervisors. Get their thoughts, so that when you submit your paper it is as ready as it can be.

However, even the best prepared papers can still be rejected. There will be comments that are brutal and unfair. Deal with it. It happens to everybody. If you get rejected, make sure you revise the paper before you submit it to another journal; you never know, you might get the same reviewer…

See below an appropriate cartoon from PhD Comics.

Work with the editors – don’t annoy them

Journal editing is a human process. It takes time for things to happen. Remember that the reviewers that read your work do so voluntarily, and they will need time to get around to it. If you get a ‘revise and resubmit’ (the most likely positive outcome) then make the revisions and get it back in reasonable time. Do not let papers ‘drift’.


Pitch your article to the right journal

As noted earlier, journals are different. They cover different aspects of research. They are also different ‘rankings’ of journals. Whilst a lot of political researchers might dream of getting published in American Political Science Review, not every paper will (most papers never will). Think about where you will pitch it. Some journals are more suited to early career researchers, some journals are more suited to fields you might want to publish in. Think about it, talk with your supervisors, and pitch it right.


Other things to think about

  • Make your title clear and related to the paper. A lot of people will find your paper by searching for it on Google. They will be more likely to find it if your title contains keywords about your paper.
  • Open access – do not leap into open access journals. A lot of them can be scams that will cost you a lot of money. To open access in most peer reviewed journals will involve a significant cost – most will stay behind the paywall.

Hopefully, you find this useful. Any questions, feel free to comment or contact me.


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