Publications are arguably the most important currency in academia. It is therefore not surprising that everybody tries to get their articles published. However, the more people submit their articles to academic journals, the more difficult it becomes to get past desk rejection and through peer-review. Rejections and critical feedback are common. In my roles as peer-reviewer and member of editorial boards, I have seen my share of articles that were ultimately rejected. I do not like to reject work and always try to offer authors the option to significantly revise their work, should they wish to publish in that particular journal. But even experienced academics with strong tracks of publications are not exempt from having articles turned down. That is why it is crucial to prepare our articles in such a way that our work is afforded the best chance possible to go out to review and potentially get published. I have written some blog posts on good academic writing, but here are my 5 tips for writing articles for publication from my social sciences vantage point:
Do your research.
Find the academic journal that will be best suited for your articles. In my opinion, it is much easier to find a journal where articles fit naturally, than trying to shape an article into what the journal wants. Carefully, check the aims and scope of your chosen journals, and ensure that your articles fit their brief. If they don’t, continue the search for a different journal.
Do what the journals are asking for.
Once you have identified the journals you are aiming for, make sure you do exactly what they are demanding. If the journals say 8000 words including references, stick with that word count. If they want you to use a specific template for your article, use it. If the journals’ preferred referencing style is Harvard, don’t use APA, even if APA is your favourite referencing style. If the journals ask for a conclusion including strengths and limitations, supply that conclusion. Journals are swamped with submissions, and editors will desk-reject anything that does not fit the journal’s bill.
Have a back-up plan.
Even if your articles have gotten past the desk-rejection stage and have been peer-reviewed there is no guarantee that they will get published in that chosen journal of yours. It would therefore be prudent to have a back-up plan. When you do your research on where your articles would best fit, make a note of two or three journals. You should not submit simultaneously, but when your first choice has rejected your work, you have a second and third choice to submit to. That way, rejection is easier to take.
Make sure you have a central argument.
Published articles are usually successful because they focus on one central argument, which they explore, exemplify, and demonstrate throughout the article, from the abstract through to the conclusion. Most articles I have seen rejected lack that central focus and central argument. If you are not sure what your central argument is, try verbalising what you want to convey to a friend or a significant other. “I’m trying to say that…” or “My argument is…” are good conversation starters. The “My argument is…” also makes for a good two or three sentences within the introduction of your article, which offers clarity to your readers, and therefore the editors and peer-reviewers. For the remainder of the article, you need to then make sure that everything you say fits within that central argument.
Spell out your contribution to the field.
The contribution to the field is just as important as the central argument. Many academics, especially those in their earlier career stages, write tentatively instead of authoritatively. That is problematic because journals will only publish articles that contribute something to the wider scholarship, especially if a field is already saturated with articles. It is up to the author to demonstrate that their articles are of value and bring an aspect that has not been covered before. If a google scholar search lists fifty-odd pages of results to your key terms your contribution, your unique selling point for your articles, need to be even more clearly marked out.
Publishing articles is not easy, and rejections are still coming in. However, approaching the process of writing articles for publication strategically and pragmatically goes a long way.