I had a former dissertation supervisee contact me about publishing part of his masters dissertation research, and he asked the question about how to get started. Rather than spend this time writing an email reply to one person, I thought it better to make a blog post that answered the question generally in the hope that more than one person would benefit from the information.
There are all kinds of articles and books available about how to do this, and most policies and practices are field specific, so it is necessary to ground the discussion in this post in a particular field and geographic setting. For this post the field is English applied linguistics and the geographic setting is Japan.
What are the options?
Not all academic publications are considered equal when it comes to evaluating a person’s scholarly output. A general rule of thumb is that the faster and easier it is to publish in a particular publication, the less credit you are likely to receive for it, and vice versa. If you’re a contract lecturer applying for a part-time position that requires, “three academic publications”, then the expectation is not likely to be that these are publications in top-tier journals. If, on the other hand, you are applying for a tenured academic position with responsibility for supervising postgraduate students, it’s likely that the hiring committee is going to expect you to have prestigious publications in the specialty they are hiring for.
My advice here is geared toward readers nearer the beginning of the writing for publication experience spectrum, although while I’ll mention other publication types , I’ll concentrate the majority of this blog post on publishing articles in journals.
My first academic publication was as a chapter in a book, Teachers Exploring Tasks in English Language Teaching. I’ve since gone on to co-edit on two book projects, Exploring EFL Fluency in Asia and Exploring EFL Fluency in Asia. Depending on where you are located, book chapter publication can be considered a relatively prestigious type of publication. It can also be rewarding to work on a project that has a common goal to explore a particular area of interest to the different authors contributing to the project.
If you’re interested in this publication type, I would recommend keeping your eyes out for calls for papers for chapter proposals. Generally the way these projects are expected to work, at least in my experience, is that the book editors collect a variety of chapter proposals, they vet these and assemble them into a proposal brief for a publisher (Palgrave Macmillan published all three of the books linked to above), the publisher solicits reviews of the brief, and pending a favorable evaluation, the book editors then ask the authors to complete their chapters. The book editors then solicit the full chapters which are submitted for another round of review, and pending a favorable evaluation, the book can move into the publication production process. The reviewers can also recommend further changes to the submitted chapters, or the project can be rejected by that publisher, in which case the book editors may choose to submit their proposal to another publishing house (all of the three books above were initially rejected by the first publisher they were submitted to).
One place I’ve seen calls for book proposals circulated is The Linguist List. That’s a good resource to keep abreast of generally, although receiving their emails can be a bit overwhelming.
The editors of an academic book are generally university affiliated academics; they do not work directly for the publisher. The person at the publisher responsible for receiving and vetting book proposals is generally title the Acquisitions Editor in my experience, and is normally not responsible for the academic content of the book, but rather for soliciting reviews and managing the proposal evaluation and production process. That’s why I’ve used ‘book editor’ above; to hopefully disambiguate the different roles.
Proceedings, Regional Journals
Another popular way to publish is through conference proceedings. Following a conference presentation, many academic societies offer the chance to contribute to a proceedings, or a summary of the presentations delivered at the society’s meeting. Publishing papers in a proceedings is generally not considered particularly prestigious, but it’s one way to secure a publication credit, and can be used to share preliminary data or analysis that would be unlikely to make it into a full journal article.
There are also a number of local chapters of national societies throughout Japan, such as the Chubu branch of JACELE. Some of these groups publish their own regional newsletters or journals, and they are often eager for contributors to them. This is another potential way to secure a publication credit. All of the JALT SIGs and some of its chapters produce semi-regular publications that solicit content on different schedules.
Scholarly journal publication
The academic standard of publishing is generally considered to be a paper published in an academic journal, and so the bulk of this post will be devoted to a discussion of this kind of publishing. Please keep in mind, though, that not all journals are considered equal. Some will be easier to get published in than others. For example, when I was Co-Editor, The Language Teacher had about a 30% acceptance rate for Feature Article submissions, while I’m told the acceptance rate for JALT Journal is closer to 10%.
One standard used as a kind of shorthand to evaluate the relative prestige of a journal is the Clarivate Analytics (formerly Thomson) journal indexing measures. Using these as a measure of quality has been pretty roundly criticized (I’ve done it, too), but the appeal of a number to busy administrators being asked to decide between three plausible candidates for a position can’t be overstated.
There are also a number of disreputable journals that, for an exorbitant fee, will basically publish anything. To make it more confusing for those living in Japan, many legitimate academic societies here do charge modest publication fees. A rule of thumb is that if you know the academic society, then it’s probably legitimate. If you get an email saying a journal would love to publish a paper based on your recent presentation, then it’s likely predatory.
Scholarly journal publication: The process
This entire blog post is predicated on my former supervisee asking if he should contact editors to see if they may be interested in his research. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and writing time; the answer is no. Journals generally publish unsolicited manuscripts which, following submission, are put through a peer review process. The general standard in applied linguistics is blind, anonymous peer review, where the reviewers don’t know who the author(s) is/are and the author(s) don’t know who the reviewers are. There are generally, but not always, two reviews solicited.
That said, you can ask an editor if they may be interested in reviewing a paper on a particular topic, but they aren’t going to be able to say much more than maybe until they receive your full manuscript and make a determination about whether to send it to review or not. Following review, the editor should let you know the results of the reviewers’ assessment of your manuscript. This is generally described as following three assessment patterns: accept without changes (very, very rare), accept with minor changes (another review isn’t necessary, but some changes need to be made in consultation with the editor—hopefully), revisions required (the manuscript will need to go through another round of review following the authors revising it—this is the most common assessment in my experience), or reject (unfortunately all too common—I would recommend that after receiving a rejection authors consider what other journals they may be able to submit their manuscript to, although also consider the reviewers’ comments and make changes first).
How do I find a journal to submit my manuscript to?
If you haven’t started writing, then I would recommend you consider which type of journal you would like to publish in. Select one that may be a good fit then carefully read their guidelines, read a few papers that have been published in the journal on or around the topic you are researching, and tailor your manuscript to that journal. If you are like my student and have a completed dissertation or assignment and want to try to publish it, then I would recommend seeing which journals you cite in your references and do some legwork to find out what those journals’ submission guidelines are. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, I would recommend doing the same as if you were writing from scratch; read a few papers published in that journal related to your research, consider whether what you’re doing can fit into that conversation and how, then start preparing a manuscript intended for submission to that specific journal.
Most journals have a for authors or submissions page that outline the kinds of papers they publish, what the word count requirements are, and the formatting system they prefer for authors to use. The submission guidelines for The Language Teacher are here. I would recommend sticking to any maximum word counts listed; that was the number one reason for desk rejections when I was a Co-Editor at The Language Teacher.
Also consider writing for a journal’s shorter article formats. Many journals have a long backlog for full article submissions, but their shorter pieces, such as a Forum section, tend to not have as long of a wait time for publication. The shorter articles may not carry as much institutional clout for hiring, but they are certainly a good place to try to get started with academic writing.
How long does publishing take?
Depending on a variety of factors, including the relative prestige of the journal, the process can take from months to years. The longest text trajectory in my PhD research was four years, and the shortest was about a year. While some authors shared stories of manuscripts being published in weeks or months, I didn’t analyze any manuscripts that had such a short publication trajectory.
Once you submit your manuscript to a journal for review, you should receive some confirmation that it’s going to go through the review process or has been ‘desk rejected’ (the editor isn’t going to send it out for review). The consensus seems to be that most desk rejections are attributed to the paper not fitting the remit of the journal (see my comments on word limits above, too).
Assuming your manuscript is sent out for review, I would recommend planning on the review process taking up to six weeks. The journal will hopefully let you know by when you should expect a review, but if they don’t, don’t be shy about following up, but I would recommend waiting until six weeks have passed before you do; soliciting reviewers and getting someone to agree to review the manuscript, then doing the actual review takes time (I have one I’m sitting on as I write this blog post that I’m hoping to get to today).
How long it takes to publish your manuscript following the initial review, assuming your manuscript isn’t rejected, depends on the evaluation it receives and the instructions from the journal. My experience is that most journals have a time limit for resubmitting for a second review. Assuming you can make that time limit, your text trajectory will be a bit shorter. If you can’t, then you may have to start over as if you were submitting your manuscript to the journal for the first time.
I would recommend viewing writing for academic publication as a process rather than a destination. Assume you are going to face rejection, and make plans to accommodate that by selecting more than one journal to aim for at the outset, ranking them in terms of first choice, second choice, etc. If you disagree with a reviewer’s assessment, remember that they are also human, despite any evidence to the contrary, so either push back on suggestions you don’t agree with when you are given the opportunity to revise your manuscript, or don’t take those suggestions on board if your manuscript is rejected and you need to send it to another journal for a new round of review. Talk with others about your experiences, and solicit advice and guidance where you can. Not just about the text of your manuscript, but also about where to submit your work, and what the relative standings of different journals are according to different people at different institutions. Don’t assume that there is one standard by which all publications are ranked and assessed; it’s far more complex than that.
The text above really is aimed at people in applied linguistics, and is pretty specific to my experience of and research into publishing practices in Japan in this field. If your field is different, you may have access to other options. For example, in the biological sciences there is sometimes the option to formally appeal a rejection decision by a journal, and there is at least is one published case of such an appeal process being successful and the manuscript in question ultimately being published. Also, publication fees tend to be more common in the physical sciences than they are in the social sciences. I’m not an expert on assessing the veracity of such fees and whether they represent predatory practice or a legitimate scholarly journal. I would recommend you ask someone knowledgeable in your field if you have a question about a particular journal or fee.