Writing for publication in journals

things I wish I’d known before I got started

Nigel Harwood

What questions do you have?
Either individually or with someone else, please make a list of questions and issues that you wish to address in today’s session Hopefully these questions/issues will be answered/covered as we go along We can talk about anything which hasn’t been dealt with at the end of the session, when there’ll be an opportunity for extended discussion

So what should I warn you about?

The chances are you’ll get some kind of rejection the 1st time you submit In fact, you’ll probably get some sort of rejection even when you’re an experienced writer and you’ve published a number of articles!

However, a rejection might not be a rejection. You often get invited by the journal editor to make changes to your manuscript and resubmit it You need to be patient because it takes so long to get the reviewers’ comments on your paper (two-three months at the minimum. Four or five months is about average—and seven or eight months isn’t uncommon!)


What else should I warn you about?
  

Many reviewers are very courteous and helpful…

You may get comments which you believe to be unfair
You’ll need to draft and redraft, and write lots of different versions of your article You may have to write two or even three revised versions of your article before it’s finally accepted The whole process of sending the 1st version of your article to the journal and seeing it appear in print may take two or three years (I had an article accepted in October 2010 but was told it won’t appear until September 2012!!)


Don’t give up yet!

So far it’s been all bad news—but don’t give up yet…
People who’ve never published before often have a number of mistaken ideas about publishing. Once these are cleared up, things aren’t as bad as you might have thought they were Let’s look at some of these common misconceptions, and correct them…

Common misconceptions
Misconception  ‘Everyone else writes better than me—look how beautifully written the articles in this journal are’ Response  No wonder they’re beautifully written—they’ve been redrafted and rewritten so many times! McKay (2003), a very experienced researcher and former editor of TESOL Quarterly, begins an article on writing for publication by saying ‘This is my 23rd draft’! (p.91) For an article to go through 23 drafts is unusual—but expect it to go through four or five…

Common misconceptions (2)
Misconception  ‘If my article is rejected it means my work’s no good’ Response  It doesn’t necessarily mean this at all. The most prestigious journals have extremely high rejection rates. McKay (2003) reports that only about 10% of manuscripts were eventually published when she was editor of TESOL Quarterly.  McKay adds, importantly, that ‘almost half of the submissions were not at all appropriate for the journal to begin with’ (p.99), and she didn’t even send them out to reviewers  So if your article is rejected, it may be because you’re trying to publish in the wrong journal. Get your supervisor’s help with choosing the right journal, or an experienced colleague’s advice…

Common misconceptions (3)
Misconception  ‘If my article’s rejected by one journal, that means no journal will accept it’ Response  Probably everyone who’s ever published anything has had an article rejected by one journal but accepted by another journal

This doesn’t mean that if you get a rejection you should automatically send your article unchanged somewhere else. You should read the reviewers’ criticisms carefully, perhaps give your article and the reviewers’ comments to a trusted colleague for comment, and then decide whether to change the article and resubmit it to the 1st journal again.

Common misconceptions (4)
Misconception  ‘All western journals are equally hard to get published in’ Response  I wouldn’t agree with this—some journals are harder to get into than others, and their reviewers and editors are more demanding  A common method of trying to get an article published is to make a shortlist of suitable journals which publish the kind of article you’ve written, and then to draw up a ‘pecking order’ in terms of prestige…  You may have no idea about what the pecking order in your field looks like—but your supervisor will know, so ask him/her 9

Common misconceptions (5)
(Partial) Misconception  ‘I’m a non-native speaker—so it’ll be even harder for me to get published than it would be for a native speaker. Reviewers will see my English isn’t perfect, and will reject my article because they’re prejudiced’ Response  I don’t think this is a total misconception: some reviewers probably are prejudiced. However, I don’t believe you should be pessimistic if you’re not a native speaker, because there are things you can do to lessen any potential prejudice.

Non-native authors and prestigious journals

Top quality journals reject the vast majority of manuscripts submitted for publication:  several of the editors of mainstream British and north American physics, chemistry, and biology journals Gosden (1992) corresponded with put the rejection rate at over 70%  Swales (1990) claims that the figure is even higher in the arts and humanities at 80-95% This helps to explain why the editors in Gosden's (1992) study admitted they were, in effect, 'looking for reasons to reject manuscripts', and that 'linguistic grounds [were] as good a reason as any for rejection' (p.129). However, there are things you can do to lessen any difficulties you may have…

Non-native writers: publishing strategies

Journals are beginning to offer a proofreading service to non-native authors. The journal English for Specific Purposes, for instance, offers to provide Japanese authors with ‘a list of people who can check and improve the English of an article before submission’

Get a native speaker in your field to proofread your manuscript (If they’re not in your field, they probably won’t understand the article—and they may make inappropriate changes)
Consider collaborating with your supervisor/a native speaker and co-authoring your paper


Interpreting editors’ cover letters

Take a look at the handout of three examples of editors’ cover letters
Identify where the editors are giving the author(s) encouragement! How is this done? What language is used?


Mixed messages

‘…with their first experiences of submitting papers to international journals for publication, students may approach me with their referees’ reports, explaining that they generally understood the scientific points of discussion…, but they were not quite sure what they were being invited to do, often due to conflicting signals. For example, one of the papers in the corpus was described as ‘interesting’, ‘carefully studied’, and ‘sound enough’; but then the referee went on to comment that the basic idea underlying the research could ‘hardly be understood’. Learning to decipher the lines and inferences between the lines of referees’ comments…are…skills which require considerable practice.’ (Gosden 2003: 99) Again, I suggest your supervisor or someone who’s experienced at publishing in your field will be the best person to turn to when trying to interpret these ‘mixed 14 messages’…

The publishing process: from start to finish

On the handout I’ve sketched out what the process of writing a journal article might look like from your 1st draft all the way through to publication


Reviewers’ comments
What criteria do reviewers use when evaluating manuscripts?

Take a look at the instructions to reviewers provided by Journal of Pragmatics and Journal of Second Language Writing


Responding to reviewers’ comments

Normally editors ask you to carefully record how you’ve responded to reviewers’ comments. I suggest more rather than less detail is better here (within reason!); and that you should go through EACH of the reviewers’ comments in turn in a separate document to the editor. Here’s an example of how I responded recently to a reviewer’s comment…


Responding to reviewers’ comments: an example
Reviewer 2’s Comment: I found myself wondering, in this section and again later, why the authors had chosen to focus on the proofreaders and not the writers themselves (or both). Authors’ Response: As the reviewer points out, there are other parties directly or indirectly involved or affected by proofreading. We point this out towards the end of our paper, where we discuss our future research plans which involve these other parties. However, we have added a footnote to our introductory section so that the point is made sooner rather than later that there are other parties involved. We also make clear in this footnote why we started our research on proofreading 18 with the proofreaders.

Writers’ stories

Hopefully this handout of a few stories of writers’ experiences of the publishing process may help some of the things we’ve discussed so far make more sense..


Final words

If I had to give someone who’s new to publishing one piece of advice, it would be: Write with someone who has experience of publishing, or at least have someone like this read your work and the reviewers’ comments you receive.



Have the questions and issues you noted down at the start of today’s session been dealt with? If not, let’s discuss them now…


Gosden H (1992) Research writing and NNSs: from the editors. Journal of Second Language Writing 1(2): 123-139. Gosden H (2003) ‘Why not give us the full story?’: functions of referees’ comments in peer reviews of scientific research papers. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 2(2): 87-101. Leki I (2003) Tangled webs: complexities of professional writing. In CP Casanave & S Vandrick (eds.), Writing for Scholarly Publication: Behind the Scenes in Language Education. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp.103-112.. McKay SL (2003) Reflections on being a gatekeeper. In CP Casanave & S Vandrick (eds.), Writing for Scholarly Publication: Behind the Scenes in Language Education. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp.91-102. Sasaki M (2003) A scholar on the periphery: standing firm, walking slowly. In CP Casanave & S Vandrick (eds.), Writing for Scholarly Publication: Behind the Scenes in Language Education. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp.211-21. Swales JM (1990) Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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