How to write an academic article that gets published

To say academic article publishing is competitive is an understatement. Often described as publish or perish, university researchers are under huge pressure to get their articles written and into the world. With career success dependent on having a rock-solid publishing history, it can be scary to get started. Having just delivered my 100th presentation on how to get published, I like to think I know a thing or two about getting your academic articles and research into the right journal.

Publishing an article? It’s a numbers game

So, you want to publish an article in an academic journal? Well, here’s some numbers to conjure with:

  • Google ‘How to publish an academic article’ and you get 8,020,000 hits
  • There are over 100,000 academic journals in the world today
  • A little over 13,000 academic journals are indexed by Web of Science, considered a mark of quality
  • The world’s largest journal, Scientific Reports, will publish around 25,000 articles in 2017
  • Most articles are only read by two people – the author and the author’s Mum

OK, so the last one is made up, and is what passes for an academic joke in some ivory towers. But, the point is that when you look at the numbers, one of the most intriguing aspects about academic publishing is that it is fundamentally data-driven, and there are statistics and calculations to be found everywhere. You just need to look, and if you are a researcher, the good news is that you are already an elite looker by any measure.

Read on: The hidden systems of highly productive academic writers >>

Understanding what counts for academic journals

Simon LInacreI’ve worked in academic publishing for 14 years and recently delivered my 100th presentation on how to publish academic articles.

Given that no one has complained or asked for a refund, I like to think that at least a few souls took on board some kernels of knowledge and put them into practice with their own ideas and plans for publication.

Like some wistful old teacher wondering what happened to all their old pupils – which ones made nothing of their lives, which ones listened to a few things and had some success – here’s the advice that generated the most interest.

Six dos and don’ts of academic publishing

1. Do ask why you are doing this

Publishing articles is a long, difficult frustrating journey that is full of pitfalls and forks in the road. And you have to do it again and again. And for multiple projects at the same time. So is it worth it? Absolutely! For most people, there’s the personal gratification or surviving the ‘publish or perish’ culture invading academia, but before you start, look in the mirror and make sure you’re up for the challenge.

2. Don’t start at the beginning

Whatever you do, do not write a title, abstract or introduction at first. Having completed your research, write the results or theory first – these will not change, and you should structure your article around them. When that’s nailed down, focus on methodology and discussion; then look at introduction and conclusion. Only when these are complete should you move on to the abstract and title

3. Don’t show your drafts to your subject–expert colleagues

But, do show them to academics who are in completely different subject areas to you. A chemist will have no clue about the research in a sociology paper, but will understand whether the internal logic is solid and the style elegant.

Read on: What do editors do? Understanding the author-editor relationship >>

4. Do bore yourself to death reading the author guidelines

You will lose the will to live poring over the 7-point fonts used in the spectacularly detailed journal submission guidelines, but satisfying every criteria will ensure a much smoother path through any peer review process. Most articles that are rejected or sent immediately back to the author by the editor are down to a failure to satisfy the journal’s policies

5. Do research your research

Given the vast data available from various citation indices, you can have great fun (in an academic context) deciding which journals are most deserving of your article. Remember to create a hit list and only submit to another journal the other rejects you

6. Do be political; do be strategic

Being political is being savvy about the specific context you have as a young academic – what demands are there on the ranks of journals you should submit to, where will you be in five or 10 years’ time. All of these determine your political context. Your strategic context is how you plan a pathway to where you want to go with your career – do you publish lots of smaller articles in ‘easy’ journals, or keep plugging away to get that publication in one of the ‘top’ journals. You decide this, and it is up to you to plan a strategy rather than simply wandering blandly down whichever path you find yourself on.

Ensuring you contemplate at least some of these points will hopefully mean you move toward maximising your chances of publishing in the academic journal of your choice. If it is indeed a numbers game, it really makes sense to play the percentages.


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