Guest Post by Professor Glauco De Vita
Although it is tempting to think that anyone working in academia would be familiar with what it takes to getting an academic article published, there are few subjects more prone to confusion and anxiety for postgraduate and/or early career researchers than that of getting a research article accepted for publication in a good, peer-reviewed journal. It appears opportune, therefore, to share a few tips that can significantly enhance the probability of acceptance.
- Do your homework before you start
A good place to start when thinking about publishing is to ask oneself: ‘within which debate is my contribution to be located?’ You should view these debates as ‘social learning networks’, communities of practice that you need to understand before you enter them. Ask yourself the following questions … what are they debating as I arrive? What do they already know, agree and/or disagree on? How can I add to that? Who am I conversant with in this community? Make a map of ‘who is who’ in this debate. Who are the respected elders/authorities? What is the field of provenance of the community populating this debate? And how do you wish to introduce yourself? Finally, ask yourself where they are having this debate, in which journal(s)?
- Choose the right journal (rather than just a suitable journal)
There are thousands of journals worldwide. Your target journal could well be the one you cite most often in your paper or the journal most frequently giving space to that debate. However, consider also the perceived quality of the journal targeted as per the journals’ impact factors and rankings. There is broad agreement on the leading journals in business and management journal quality lists (ABS, ABDC, Harzing, etc.). These lists are very important since there is no doubt that the ranking or star rating of a journal ascribes merit to a paper published that journal, and value to you as a researcher. Moreover, although REF panelists may not use these lists officially, they will have these journal rankings or star ratings in mind, like the rest of us. Consider also the issue of relevance. Read carefully the ‘aims and scope’ of your target journal as well as recent issues to get a feel for what kind of contributions would be welcomed.
- Study your target journal
Once you have chosen your target journal, research it as an anthropologist would! Ask yourself, how do they do things here? Is there an established epistemological paradigm? Are they mostly quantitative or qualitative? Is there a standard structure in the papers published in this journal? How do the authors talk to each other? Think of the debate you aim to contribute to as a ‘territory’, and the authors populating this debate as a ‘tribe’, with its own cultural norms, assumptions, expectations and way of doing things (see the classic book ‘Academic Tribes and Territories’, 2001, by Becher and Trowler that really illuminates on the distinctive cultures of academic disciplines). Speed read the last few issues of the target journal and read all articles that relate to your topic/debate/data/method – cite if appropriate and ensure that there are no notable citing omissions.
- Don’t submit prematurely
Getting your paper to be ‘good enough’ for submission is a critical step to avoiding a desk rejection! Get comments from more experienced researchers and present at relevant conferences to receive early feedback. It may sound obvious but make sure you have undertaken a thorough, final round of proofreading and polishing before submission. Read the ‘guidelines for contributors’ and comply in full with the journal’s house style in terms of format, length/word limit, referencing style, etc. Also, don’t forget to sell the paper in the cover letter. Not just ‘here it is’; sell the rationale, relevance, topicality and significance of your work (emphasise why your contribution is important), and spell out the reason for having chosen that particular journal as the chosen outlet vis-à-vis others.
- Address reviewers’ comments thoroughly and respectfully
Read the reviewers’ comments – and the editor’s recommendation(s) – carefully. If rejected, don’t take it personally: they are rejecting the paper, not you! One gets rejections from top journals more often than not, and if a paper gets rejected by one journal that does not mean it will be rejected by others. If encouraged to undertake revisions, don’t procrastinate. Deal thoroughly with each and every comment, in your revisions and in the Response Letter to Reviewers. Be polite and tactful, even (especially) when in disagreement with points raised by reviewers. Even harsh or unfair criticism can profitably be used to re-work and improve the paper by arguing your case cogently and by providing evidence-based counter-arguments in the revised version of the paper itself rather than just in the Response Letter.
Becher, T. and Trowler, P. (2001) ‘Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Cultures of Disciplines.’ (2nd edition). Buckingham: Open University Press/SRHE.
De Vita, G. (2016) ‘Getting your Journal Article Published.’ Presentation at the Faculty of Business and Law Research Summer School, 28th of June, Coventry University.