Drafting an academic paper, especially during the early stage of your career, can be an overwhelming experience. It becomes difficult to stay focused on the task at hand when the angel- and devil-clad mini-mes on either shoulder start duking it out over whether your paper will make it to publication, or whether you’ll find yourself back at the drawing board when a rejection decision finally rolls in.
While you ultimately cannot control the opinions of reviewers, you can take ownership of the submission process to give your paper a boost towards publication and keep your writing on track from day one.
Here are 9 steps to get you started based on what we’ve heard from our editors and learned on the web:
1. Before you start writing, decide which journal you plan to submit your paper to and tailor your article to be a good fit for that publication.
Writing with no particular audience in mind (both in terms of journal editors and readers) can be a meandering affair. To have a clear aim of how your paper should be styled and organized, it’s important to have specific journal audiences in mind. Choose journals that will support the subject and scope of the paper you are writing, and choose journals you feel will favor the citations you are using (it may benefit you to submit to a journal that you’ve cited multiple articles from, or that recently mentioned some of the works you’ve referenced).
2. Make sure your article will have a spot in the journal you’re submitting to.
It may sound silly, but be sure that the style of the paper you are submitting to a journal is something they actually publish. In her blog post, How to Publish an Article in an Academic Journal: Avoid Rookie Mistakes, Tanya Maria Golash-Boza recalls experiences as a reviewer of authors submitting papers outside the scope of the journals she was working with, such as submitting a literature review to a journal that didn’t have a section for it. Be sure to check the table of contents as you research journals and keep your research in order so you don’t mix up publications!
3. Remember, writing doesn’t have to be solitary.
Tanya Maria Golash-Boza also suggests that, in order to boost the likelihood of your paper standing a competitive chance of being published, you may want to consider collaborating with another respected academic. Someone with more experience may be able to help you better organize and articulate your research, data, and argument. Working with and having the support of another academic can also make the submission process and waiting period for a decision less stressful.
4. Write clearly and accurately.
In her guide, Preparing Articles for Publication in Peer-Reviewed Journals, Siobhan Bowler offers some great tips (we encourage you to read them all!) to ensure the clarity of your writing, including:
-Make sure you have obvious antecedents for the pronouns that you use. (What “it” are you referring to?)
-Remember that headings are meant to be section introductions, not substitutes for text. Make sure your article still makes sense if you read it without the headings.
-Avoid long series’ of bullet points (while bullets work for blogs and short papers, they can look like a shortcut in academic writing if used in excess).
5. Recruit an objective colleague to do a round of pre-peer-review.
Before you send your paper into the submissions fire, don’t be afraid to ask a trusted mentor or peer for help. If you have a chance to submit an early version of your paper at a conference, take advantage of the opportunity.
6. Polish your paper from all angles.
Is there a particular section or even a particular sentence in your paper that you tend to rush past because it feels awkward to you? If that’s the case, go with your gut and make some changes! Editors and reviewers are reading MANY articles. They will likely not have the patience to unravel awkward phrasing. Also, be sure to avoid jargon unless it’s necessary (remember the point of writing a paper is to make your research accessible to a wider audience, so only use technical words when you need them).
7. If you say you are going to do something in your paper, make sure that you do it.
A good paper should have a clear roadmap. Your abstract and introduction should lay out an overview of the route your paper is taking, and you should ensure readers hit all of the right postmarks at each new section and paragraph. If you hint early on that you will be traversing a particular thought or topic, be sure you actually do so thoroughly.
8. Get to know the submission systems you are using.
The point when you are about to finally send your paper out into the submission cyber sphere is nerve racking. You want to be sure to get your submission right, so the editors don’t see a half-finished article accidentally submitted prematurely, and you want to be able to keep track of your paper once it’s been sent. Look for guides to help you get to know the submission system you’re using, to see how it works and the type of author tracking that it offers.
If you are submitting a paper through Scholastica check out the Scholastica Author Guide, which offers a complete overview of how to submit a manuscript, communicate with editors, receive decisions, and submit R&Rs quickly and easily.
9. Take Breaks.
Remember to step away from your writing, giving yourself anywhere from one day up to a full week before returning to re-read and revise the pages you wrote most recently. Getting caught in the weeds of a particular section before your thoughts have had a chance to fully form can drive you nuts – so take a break! Take a walk, cook a new meal, visit friends–anything to get your mind off of your work. When you return, you may be surprised by the new ideas that have been percolating in the back of your mind.
Do you have a tip to add? Please share it in the comments section!