Top Ten Tips: Preparing to Publish

There’s a ton of advice out there for PhD students and ECRs on getting published, from choosing a journal to improving your academic writing.  Here are my top tips for useful things to do BEFORE you start writing; so if you’ve got half an idea that you think could turn into something publishable, here goes:

1.       Pick your journal. Decide where you want to balance between highly prestigious, wide-ranging journals, and smaller ones that focus on a particular sub-field.  Try looking at the e-journal collections or using the articles that you’ve been reading that by definition are in the right area – where are they published?  Use impact factors if they’re relevant to your field.

2.       Read your target journal.  Common sense, perhaps, but it’s a good idea to look at a WHOLE issue of your journal to get a feel for its tone.  Does it have a quant/qual focus?  Is it mostly theoretical or empirical?  Is there a special issue coming up on something relevant?  Sign up for email notifications that will let you know about these.

3.       Decide on the type of article…  Look at the type of work that is published – for example, Work, Employment and Society publishes full articles, Research Notes, Debates and Controversies, On The Front Line (a section for research participants to have their say) and Book Reviews.  Behavioral Sciences and Law differentiates between Research Reports and Research Articles.  Music Analysis has a Critical Forum as well as publishing original research.  Which style best fits your idea?  Or, which would you feel better able to write?

4.       …And read some of those articles.  Look at the content and structure of published pieces: are there any common features that it would be a good idea to include?  Do they go Intro-Methods-Results-Discussion?  Is there usually a historical perspective?  Are there diagrams, illustrations, links to external content?  Do they usually end with a firm conclusion or ideas for further work?  A bit of time spent studying here will give you enormously valuable information you can really use.

5.       Consider co-authors.  If you’ve got a brilliant idea that would benefit from an additional angle, consider asking a colleague with particular expertise for their input.  Establish roles and the division of work early on and decide on the order your names will appear on the paper before you start.

6.       Follow the Author Guidelines for the journal.  Writing 101.  Each journal’s guide is available online and contains various info on how to construct your article; from referencing style to word limits, formatting diagrams and what to include on a cover sheet.  Not following the instructions is a really easy way to get your article rejected without even making it to the review stage, so take note and keep checking.

7.       Write your article!  Pitch it to the journal you are writing for, taking into account all the info you’ve gathered so far.  Put it away at least overnight, sleep on it, re-edit; lather, rinse, repeat.

8.       Make the abstract brilliant.  Make sure it does genuinely summarise, rather than introduce, your article.  Get the key points in loud and clear – remember that the editors and reviewers may not be experts in the specific topic you are writing about, and see many, many submissions, so make sure it’s right there at the start.

9.       Include a short note to the Editor when you submit.  Editors have jobs too, so don’t waffle on!  A brief note including why you are submitting your article to that particular journal is useful, but don’t rewrite your abstract (or the whole paper, or your CV…).

10.   Aim high.  Despite lower acceptance rates, an advantage of submitting to some of the higher-ranked journals is that you’re quite likely to get some useful feedback, even if your article is rejected.  Use it, learn from it, revise your article and get ready for submission to the next journal – have a big cup of coffee, and restart from point 2.

Hannah Perrin is an ESRC DTC Scholar and PhD student in Social Policy at the University of Kent with interests in health professions, clinical education and training, occupational socialisation and work transitions. She twitters on about her research @HCPerrin and blogs at Academish.

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