How to Get an Article Published in 20 Easy Steps
How to get an article published in 20 easy steps: A guide for grad students and assistant profs
So you've got a conference paper in your hands. Or maybe you've got some early data-collection and analysis done and you're worrying about the tenure clock. Here are some tips about how to go about getting that piece published.
1. The first step is to find a journal or two that would be interested in your work. Make a preliminary list of possibilities:
a. Look at the names of journals you've cited in the article you're trying to get published.
b. Look at the lists of well-ranked journals in your field.
c. Browse through various publishers' websites for journal titles of interest and check out their sample issue to see if the journal's of interest to you (for media people: Oxford University Press, Routledge, Sage, Lawrence Erlbaum)
d. make a list, starting with the most highly ranked journal, or if it's a very specialized topic, the journal that seems to fit best with your topic.
2. Once you've got the list of possibilities, it's time to dig deeper. Go to the home page of the journal that's on the top of your list (or for old-times' sake, go to the university library) and look at the editorial board. Are there people on that board that you read regularly? If not, move on. If so, go forward.
3. Now, look at your chosen journal's issues of the last three years. Do they have articles published that employ the same methodology as you do? Are there articles of interest to you? If not, time to move on to a different journal. If you find one article that looks kind of similar to what you want to write, get a copy of that article. This is going to be a model for you as you write up your own article for this journal. After all, if they published an article that reads like this one does, they're more likely to accept another article that is organized in much the same way.
4. Now, go back earlier in your chosen journal's history, say over a ten year period. Scan the titles for anything that relates to your topic, your theoretical framework, your methodology, or your findings. The articles you find are going to be important to cite in the article you're preparing. There are a few reasons for this.
a. It's important to see academic journal writing as participation in a conversation. In order to be a participant, you have to know what's taken place in the conversation before you got there. Previously published articles are your best clue, and the best way for you as an author to communicate, 'hey, I've done the work in listening to those of you who've been talking about this, and now here's what I have to say.'
b. There's also a very good political reason to cite previous articles from the journal in which you're hoping to publish. How do you think journals choose reviewers for the blind review process? They look to their previously-published authors who seem to know something about the area you're writing on. Thus, you'll be citing articles that may be written by those who will review your article. Not only is this nice for the ego of those reviewing, but you're also going to look like you know at least something about the topic at hand, according to how your reader tends to look at it. The reviewer thus will recognize you as a potential conversation partner and will be more likely to give your article a chance.
5. Now go back to that article published in recent years that's organized in a way that could work for your article. Outline the article. Pay attention to things like how long the literature review and methodology section are, where in the article they place the research question and how they signal to the reader that it is the research question. Notice how the findings are presented, and how the discussion section is organized. Choose the elements from this article that will help you to shape your own article. Now you've got a template to work with.
6. Your own article is going to use the same format, but you'll be using different sets of literature to make your arguments and to situate your study. It can be difficult to ascertain the way to focus your article. The best clue, for this journal anyway, is to pay attention to the literatures used in those articles over the past ten years. Look up some of the articles in those bibliographies, and put those in conversation with the books and other things you've already cited in your paper.
7. A few mistakes to avoid:
a. The most common error in literature reviews is choosing a framework that's too broad. You don't want to try to cover everything that's ever been written about "media effects" or "cultural studies approaches to media." You will find that you'll want to rewrite that part of the article several times, and each time you need to cut and condense, cut and condense, both in the lit review and methodology sections. Save some of what you've cut, though - it might be useful in the discussion section.
b. The worst sentences you can possibly write in an article: "No one has ever done research on this topic before." "Previous scholarship has neglected this topic." "This research represents a completely new direction." It's really good to think that you've got something new on your hands, but such sentences will bring out the red pens and turn off your reviewers (who may have been studying the existing scholarship related to your topic, or what they'd consider its predecessor, for decades).
c. Edit your writing, taking out your opinions, your assertions, and your advice. Some journals like having the author's "voice," but there's a difference between your interpretive voice and the interjection of the author as expert on everything. Make sure that any interpretations you're going to offer are linked to the data you've presented.
d. Don't cite yourself (e.g., an earlier conference paper). That potentially compromises the review process because it makes you identifiable. Also be sure to disguise locations that would identify where you are. Not only can this prejudice the reviewer, but it makes you look unprofessional.
8. When your article is in reasonably good shape, send it out. Right away. Don't think about it or work on it any more. Put a reminder in your calendar that you'll want to check back with the journal's editor after two weeks to make sure they received it (you should have a letter acknowledging receipt by then), and after four weeks (or whatever length of time they suggest it'll take to get through the review process). You'd be surprised how easy it is for editors to lose track of where specific article submissions are in the review process. Stay on their radar screen, but don't be a pain about it.
9. Wow - your article is in the mail! What a relief. But wait - isn't there some other conference paper you should be returning to now? It would be fun to devote the next several weeks to your teaching and your blogging, but you've got to start thinking about the next article. Besides, you're into the rhythm of writing now. Time to go back to step #1 for the next piece as you wait to hear from this journal's editor.
10. Finally - a thick letter from the journal's editor arrives in your mailbox (or a very long email). When you get the comments back, you'll want to read them right away. Be prepared: this is going to be tough. Reviewers don't tend to say, "great job! Publish this right away." No, the review process is designed to help improve articles, and reviewers have very different views about how to do this, but often it involves pages and pages of detailed suggestions about what you should read or how you should organize things differently. It's going to take several readings of these comments to decide which comments are worth following up on in your revision, and which aren't, and you'll want to keep track of this. The important thing is this: look at the editor's letter carefully. If there is any opening (e.g., an invitation to revise and resubmit, or even an invitation to rewrite it entirely - basically, anything short of outright rejection), take that as a "maybe." Despite the fact that you won't feel like celebrating, celebrate the fact that you didn't get rejected!
11. At this point, you have two options: revise the article for the existing journal, or resubmit it as is to a different one (some reviewers actually make suggestions about journals that might be a better fit, and if the article's rejected, these can be key). If you felt strongly about this journal for some reason (and you probably still do), go with the revise and resubmit route, even though it will seem daunting. You chose to go for this journal for a reason, and it will be worth it. Besides, if you switch journals now, you've just set yourself back to an earlier stage of the process. Whichever you decide, set a time frame for yourself. Ideally you should do revisions within 3 - 6 months. Give yourself enough time to process the feedback, but not so much time that you lose interest in doing the work. The one option you do NOT want to take now is to leave this and move on to something else. If you didn't get a reject, see that as an affirmation. Do NOT decide it's not good enough or you don't have time or you're not interested in this anymore or the reviewers were stupid and you're too discouraged to go forward. Deciding not to revise is one of THE m aj or mistakes that junior scholars make. Time is limited and you're too far along in the process to let this one go. Just do the revisions and get it out there.
12. Revisions are easier than writing from scratch; keep that in mind, because it's going to take longer to get these done than you think. Once you've worked through all of the reviewers' comments, you will want to draft a lengthy letter to the editor detailing how you responded to the reviewers' suggestions. When you didn't follow a suggestion, you might note why you chose not to, but you'd better have a really good reason. Don't say something like, "Reviewer A didn't understand my methodology." Reviewer A may see both your letter and the revised version and will likely take offense (even if she really didn't understand your methodology). Choose your words carefully and with respect.
13. Send the letter and the revised article. Put a reminder in your calendar to check back in two weeks to make sure they got the revisions, and then four weeks or whatever it's going to take to get through the review process. (By the way, how's that next article going? Time to return to it.)
14. Another letter arrives from the journal editor. Be prepared: you might get yet another set of suggested revisions, and you might get a deadline from the editor. But keep this in mind: the editor has now invested a great deal of time into your article, and you're much closer to getting it into publication than the articles she's just received on her desk this morning. So make these revisions much more quickly, because you're almost there.
15. Send in the revised article by the deadline. If you can't make the deadline, get in touch with the editor and negotiate a new deadline, but get it done.
16. Yet another letter from the journal editor. You may get more revisions, but you're going to notice at this point that they are not nearly as substantive. Keep up with them and get them done quickly.
17. Another set of suggested revisions? Ugh. Will this ever be over? You are so sick of this article. Who could possibly care about this topic when it seems so old to you, and you've moved on to more interesting things? Just do the suggested changes and do them quickly.
18. At some point, you're going to get a letter from the editor indicating that she's scheduled your article for publication. Hooray! But you're not done yet. You'll still go through copyediting, and then you'll need to look at the proofs. You'll also be asked to sign a form giving the journal copyright and permission to publish. Do all of these things in a timely fashion.
19.Your article is out! Even if it feels weird to do so, offer to send copies of your published article to friends you've made at conferences who share your interest, and make sure your faculty colleagues and your chair or Dean know about it. List it on your c.v. and keep the c.v. updated on your web page.
20. You have an article published! Time to celebrate! Go out with friends tonight. But be prepared: in the morning, that next article's going to be waiting on your desk for you.