Tips on getting published - from our Methods School experts

02/08/2017

Notes from our Brown Bag Lecture: How Can Methods Help Get Me Published?

Academic Convenor Levi Littvay and Instructor Erin Jenne share their wisdom at the first of this year’s Summer School lunchtime sessions

 

Submitting to journals

The first important point is that you need to be super-aware of all the major generalist journals out there – not just the ones in your particular field of interest (which we’re assuming you read anyway).

Read American Political Science Review, the European Journal of Political Research, Political Science and Research Methods, the European Journal of International Relations, World Politics and the Journal of Politics. It’s also good to familiarise yourself with non-social science journals like Science and Nature.

Young scholars have the time to write good studies – this won’t be the case as you progress through your career so make the most of it while you can!

[there were mixed feelings on the next point, so I have indicated who said what - Ed]

LEVI MA students should strive to get a paper under review. If you’re a PhD student, you should have at least two articles under review at all times (with as many decent journals as you can submit to). If you’re post-PhD, you should really be aiming to have six papers under review. It’s ok if they’re co-authored, and for more qualitative fields (especially where you are always expected to be working on a book or two) you could get away with fewer. 

ERIN I agree with pretty much all that, but just to say that qualitative work is usually in the field, meaning you are immersed in one large project at a time. During their research, qualitative researchers should aim to submit papers on discrete portions of their fieldwork for article publication at the same time that they work on a larger research project, the findings of which will be integrated into a single dissertation/book. I really can't get behind the advice to have 2 or 6 papers out for review simultaneously, especially qualitative researchers. I do think it makes sense for everyone to always have something in the pipeline, however.

LEVI Working on a book includes fieldwork in my view.

ERIN Of course, but maybe not two at once, at least for most PhD researchers.

LEVI No, but for faculty. Maybe one is at proofreading stage, other is fieldwork stage.

 

Choosing where to submit

When deciding which journals to approach, don’t be afraid to aim high early on in your career – even though you won’t always succeed. Check the Impact Factor to maximise the reach of your citations, and don’t bother submitting to any publications that aren’t ranked.

Seek guidance from advisors and mentors to gauge whether they think your article is a good fit with the editorial aims of the journals to which you’re submitting.

Read the ‘aims and scope’ blurb on the journal’s website and ensure you are absolutely confident that your paper is relevant and appropriate – don’t waste other people’s valuable time with blanket submissions to lots of publications with only peripheral – or zero – relevance to your area of study.

 

Your paper

To maximise your chances of success, read carefully each journal’s submission guidelines, particularly with reference to things like Table and Figure numbering conventions and citation style.

It goes without saying that your work should be good. Top journals don't want to be flooded with poor or mediocre papers by grad students.

You've come to the Summer School to improve your methods skills but you must always remember that when writing a paper, the research and the political substance always comes first; don’t overwhelm your work with the method.

Familiarise yourself with the academic debates currently being played out in your favoured journals, and make sure your paper is directly relevant to them.

When in doubt, mimic. Think of your favourite and most-cited articles and steal their structure, their approach, their style. 

 

The review process

Many submissions don’t even make it to the reviews stage. But don’t take it badly: so-called ‘desk rejection’ is actually a good thing!

If an editor does not like your work, even semi-positive reviews may not change his or her mind. How much worse it is to wait months for a positive review, have your hopes built up, and THEN get rejected by the journal editor. So desk rejection is better than having your time wasted – it's quick, painless, and lets you move on swiftly.

However… if you DO get a review, be thankful and take it seriously.

Some requests of reviewers you don't agree with, make your argument stronger. If you commit to rework your paper based upon a reviewer’s constructive comments, be meticulous and spend three dedicated days doing it.

If you can't fix the problem in three days, stop trying. Instead of agonising over a paper for six months, collecting new data or completely shelving it, send it somewhere else. After three rejections, think about a more substantial rework, but not until then.

If you are working in a field with a limited number of scholars, be aware that when resubmitting a paper to a different journal following a rejection, the anonymous reviewer may well be the same as last time! If you have been given constructive criticism and chosen to ignore it, that could prove embarrassing.

 

By the end of your PhD, by following the advice given above, you should have been published in at least three decent journals.

 

Dealing with rejection

  1. Rejection doesn’t mean that your paper is not publishable. It just means it isn’t going to appear in that journal.
  2. Don’t bother contesting a rejection: it won’t work.
  3. Cheer yourself up by remembering that top journals have an 80-90% rejection rate – and that’s the stuff that didn’t already get desk-rejected. You’re in good company.

 

Handling a 'revise and resubmit' decision

If you have review criticism from several sources, group reviewers’ comments into general themes. When you resubmit your work, write a revisions memo detailing, point by point, how you have addressed that criticism.

Be careful to challenge existing literature in a constructive and respectful way. Remember that blind reviewers could well be existing authors in your field of interest. Don’t trash them!!

Sometimes publishers will ask you to recommend scholars to approach for peer review. If you provide them with a list of potential reviewers, and people to avoid, they will generally respect your wishes. Never recommend as a reviewer anyone who has taught or supervised you in the past – there's a conflict of interest. No friends or collaborators, either; nobody who owes you a favour.

If YOU are approached by a reputable journal to review someone else’s manuscript, don’t say no. But if you take on one MS review, it’s ok to turn down the second one if you receive it within a year or two from the same journal. Unwillingness to review gets you a bad reputation in the publishing world; the whole system is based on peer support so you are expected to give constructive criticism as well as to receive it.

 

Submitting to book publishers

Ask yourself first: does my thesis make sense as a book?

If you can boil your PhD dissertation down to 10,000 words, don’t bother: it’s an article. A typical academic monograph comes in at around 80–100,000 words.

Think about the timeliness of your research. If your topic has a longer shelf life, publishing it in book form is preferable. If the information is likely to date quickly, shape it into a journal article.

  • You need to sell your book proposal to publishers by persuading them why people will buy it. In your proposal, tell the publisher:
  • What’s new about your research
  • How it distinguishes itself from similar books in the field
  • Where it sits in the context of existing literature (include a list of competing titles)
  • Who is likely to buy it, ie undergraduates, graduates, policymakers
  • If it could be used as a teaching aid, what courses it might be suitable for (publishers love this, because it means bulk sales)

Based upon your own research, make a list of the publishers who you think would be interested in your manuscript.

If it’s your first book, go for academic publishers over commercial ones.

Peer reviews of full-length book manuscripts are time-consuming, and publishers have to pay for them. They wouldn’t even bother submitting a manuscript for review if they didn’t already think it was half-decent, so take heart.

You can shop your book proposal to multiple presses at once – just don't submit simultaneously with more than one. Wait for confirmation of rejection before resubmitting elsewhere. If you are already at manuscript rather than proposal stage, be prepared for this to take a long time: three months if you’re lucky; nine months at the outside. 

 

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