We almost called this “How to NEVER Get Published in an Academic Journal” because there are so many things we can seemingly do wrong when trying to “publish, not perish” as graduate students, and the negatives and the “don’ts” seem pertinent. But instead we decided to keep this thing positive! We have enough negatively floating around academia!
So, this is a list of all the things you SHOULD DO in order to get published in an academic journal.
This information comes from a combination of research, attending conferences and workshop sessions at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver on how to get published, and from our own experiences as graduate students in the fields of language education and biology.
1. Know that you can publish at any stage of your academic career (undergraduate, master’s, or PhD)
Many students don’t realize that you don’t have to be a master’s or PhD student in order to publish in an academic journal. That said, it’s very difficult to publish as an undergraduate student, due to a lack of research and writing experience, and usually the lack of a supervisor. But if you have the drive, it’s definitely possible and having a publication will help you tremendously if you plan to go on to do a Master’s or PhD later on. Many graduate students will tell you that they wish they had tried to publish as undergrads.
How can you publish as an undergraduate student? Follow the steps here, but also go the extra mile to set up a research project or plan to publish a review of some kind within your first semester of your undergraduate studies if possible. Talk to your professors, advisors, and get advice. See if you can join a lab, talk to graduate students, get on a project, anything to get that ball rolling right away.
2. Familiarize yourself with the journal in which you want to publish: editorial board members, popular articles, and the politics
Once you find the right journal—which you’ll do after much research, much time on Google Scholar with your research topic, and much time talking to your supervisor(s) for their expert recommendations (hopefully), you have to consider a few more things before writing or submitting.
Depending on the journal you choose, there are obviously going to be different parameters and expectations. It’s your job to research and narrow down the journal you want before “perfecting” your writing. This is because, ultimately, if you want to publish in an academic journal, you have to fit the kind of thing that they do. That’s just the way it is. They are going to ask themselves when they read your article: Is this a conversation we want to start? And it’s your job to make sure that answer will be yes.
Some journals only publish empirical studies… only publish studies from a certain theoretical angle… etc., etc…. so why waste your time submitting something that won’t fit their agenda (yes, I know, that sounds bad), their politics (worse!), and the ideas that their editorial board will agree with (you still want to publish in an academic journal?).
This is how it goes. So, first, pick a journal you’re interested in, and then write your article the way they want it and in a way that fits the worldview of that journal. Look up the editorial board for that journal (it changes all the time) and read their work. Get to know what they’re interested in and what they might be looking for. All journals will be “political” in some way, with both explicit and implicit values. And if your article doesn’t fit these values, it won’t get published.
Read 2 or 3 articles from the journal where you want to publish. Get a feel for what they normally publish. For a better idea of this, go to: https://www.scimagojr.com/ and check out “most read” and “most cited” in the journal you want to publish in.
3. Find your communities and join special interest groups
“Scholarship is social” – this is a sentiment that makes introverted academics recoil, but it’s true! We’re in this business to share ideas, and that means in multi-modal ways. Not just the academic paper that may only be read by other academics. It’s a good idea to get involved in communities and special interest groups of people who are studying similar topics to you.
This can be as easy as checking out what’s going on in your own graduate school community and making a point to attend social events, or reaching out to academics in similar fields and departments at other schools.
Don’t be afraid to send an email and ask someone for coffee to pick their brain. Most academics will be flattered and love talking about their own work. Introduce yourself, reach out, ask seasoned academics questions about journals and publishing and writing—what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll make yourself known, make friends, and gather a lot of quality, first-hand information.
4. Cite the journal that you want to publish in
This is self-explanatory! It harkens back to the politics bit kind of… journals and editors will want to self-promote to a certain extent. Look at who has published previously in your topic area, look at the editorial board and see if anyone there has published in your topic area… and if any of these articles are relevant, it’s a good idea to cite them.
5. Attend conferences in your field
This is very much related to #3. The power of the in-person connection cannot be denied. A person whose work you’ve been reading suddenly becomes a real human when you see them speak at a conference. If you have a chance to introduce yourself and ask a question or two, take the opportunity. In-person, face-to-face feedback is invaluable and again—gets your name out.
Combat your instinct to hide behind your writing and computer screen. Remember that your purpose for doing research is ultimately to share your ideas with others—and to learn from others. And that many people exchange ideas best during real human interaction.
6. Get involved in an editorial position to be able to see the process of publication
Sometimes there are editorial jobs or internships offered to graduate students. If you have this opportunity, take it. It will allow you to see the process from the back end for yourself and you’ll have all the juicy publication secrets for yourself (!). A woman on a “How to Publish” strategies workshop I attended did exactly this and said it was the most valuable thing she’d done in terms of knowing how to get published.
7. Ask your advisor/supervisor for help
Surprisingly, many students don’t seem to do this, either because they have an awkward or poor relationship with their supervisor, or because they are shy or intimidated.
If it’s the former, talk to someone else in your department and let them know what’s going on (in a respectful manner). Don’t suffer in silence. You make this time in your life the way you want it to be, and if you’re suffering due to some sort of strained relationship, you have to take steps immediately to either fix that relationship or get out of it.
If you’re feeling intimidated by your supervisor, you may be feeling a bit of imposter syndrome just like thousands of graduate students before you. Don’t worry. Try to schedule regular meetings with your supervisor (always come with questions and ideas) and eventually you should start to feel more comfortable. The only thing that will make it worse? Avoidance.
As you’re developing a relationship with your supervisor, you can also take the time to ask about publication advice. Ask about which publications are reputable, and which ones you should be considering for submitting your research.
8. Don’t try to write all of your ideas in one paper
You many have many great ideas, and that’s awesome. Choose one and save the others for future papers and projects. Trying to cram too many ideas into one article can confuse your readers and bury the important argument you’re trying to make. Consider making a game plan and cutting up your ideas into multiple papers that you can eventually plan to have published.
9. Get the formatting right, proofread, and pay serious attention to detail
Do you want to get rejected immediately? Don’t spend any time reading the parameters of the journal and ignore all submission instructions! Go way over the word limit. Don’t check your spelling or grammar either!
No, don’t do these things. You will get rejected.
Also, it’s a really good idea to have multiple people proofread your writing before submission.
10. Triple check all references and citations
If you’re citing people in your article, especially people on the editorial board of the journal you’re submitting to, you had better triple check to make sure your references and citations are correct. Also, sometimes your reviewers will be people you have cited. Make sure your citations are correct or your paper will be rejected.
11. Explain the context of your article for international audiences
One of the main reasons that articles get rejected is because authors assume that readers know what they’re talking about. But they forget that academic journals have an international audience and that there absolutely must be a clear description of the context of where your research took place. Don’t forget to do this!
12. If they ask you to make revisions, that’s a good thing
Try not to take revisions personally. Some reviewers can be brutal and it’s necessary for academics to develop sort of a thick skin to survive this process. If you’re having a tough time with comments that you receive, keep a couple of things in mind. First of all, if you got this far, they are INVESTING in you. It took time and resources for them to reach out to reviewers to look at your paper, which means they see value in it. Don’t give up. Make those revisions.
If your soul and heart and feelings were crushed by their feedback, talk to a friend or your supervisor about it. Talk to someone who can commiserate, but again—don’t give up!
Before you resubmit, make sure to revise in good faith. Many authors are rejected because they fail to take the feedback seriously or they only make superficial changes.
13. Know that you can wear them down
As I said, don’t give up. If you’re determined to publish something and keep trying and making the required changes, you will get your paper published. They are offering you suggestions because they want you to succeed.
Try your best not to invest your self-worth and personal feelings into your work (at least not completely… it’s hard). Know that criticism isn’t to be taken personally—again, I know, much easier said than done. But if you can battle your self-consciousness, you will come out of this victoriously and achieve the goal of ACADEMIC PUBLICATION!