Publish or perish - the practical stuff

We’ve talked about what and where you can get published, now here’s some practical advice on preparing and submitting your work.

When it comes to getting ready to submit your work for publication, the best advice is to prepare properly and thoroughly! This applies to submissions of all types, from book proposals to articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Book proposals

Your book proposal will remain roughly the same for whichever publishers you approach and should contain something along the lines of:

• A brief summary of contents
• A description of your target audience
• What is exciting/new about your book
• A list of chapters/illustrations
• A sample chapter
• Your CV.

Peer-reviewed journals

For peer-reviewed journals the following practical advice is applicable:

• Always read the instructions of the journal to which you are submitting, otherwise it could end up straight in the bin. Editors don’t have the time to hold your hand through the process!
• Learning how to write a high quality journal article requires a lot of trial and error. Absorb the style and tone of the articles that appear in your journal of choice and enlist the help of your supervisor.
• Before you start, check the author guide and make sure you read through the editorial instructions so that you submit your article in exactly the format they require with the correct scholarly conventions such as how to present footnotes and references. Look out for word limit, formatting instructions and image requirements.

The abstract

Prepare your abstract carefully. This one paragraph summary (200-300 words) needs to describe, succinctly, the work contained in the entire article. Writing in the Times Higher Education supplement in September on advising new researchers how to get published, Ian McNay, emeritus professor of higher education and management at the University of Greenwich, advised that in order to attract interest, you have to “get your abstract right.” He added, “Most abstracts – and I edited research for 17 years – are bad. Go for originality, but don’t over-claim. You’ve got 300 words to sell this so that people want to find out more.”

The abstract, therefore, needs to be a self-contained unit that encapsulates your article without the benefit of the bulk of the rest of the text and should briefly contain the following elements:

• Motivation
• Method
• Results
• Discussion

Your introduction

Of massive importance is your introduction, and could determine whether you publish or perish! Like the abstract, you need to grab the editor’s attention so that he/she wants to read on and find out more. Your introductory paragraph needs to:

• Identify the problem and explain why it’s important
• Summarise your method and results
• Summarise how other researchers have approached the topic
• Summarise the structure of the paper.

Check and check again!

Spell-check your paper. There is no excuse for a spelling mistake, especially in the abstract or early in the paper, and creates a poor impression. Likewise, check your grammar and punctuation; your paper is more likely to be rejected if it is difficult to read.

Have a read through of your paper where you just concentrate on its style, not whether you’ve presented the science correctly. Does it read well and flow nicely? Is the structure good? Is the argument convincing?

When you think you’ve done everything mentally and physically possible to make your paper a publishing success, get someone else to read it! There’s a lot to be said for the old adage ‘two eyes are better than one!’ and your reviewer will spot the typos and grammatical errors that you’re now blind to through familiarity! A good reviewer will provide you with invaluable feedback; your supervisor is a good start. The more tightly refereed the journal you’re submitting to, the more trouble you should go to to have it pre-reviewed.

Positive criticism

You’ve done all you can, it’s been submitted, you’ve waited oh-so patiently and with great anticipation…and now you’ve received an answer!

It’s not what you were expecting, and it begins with the letter ‘R’. Don’t take rejection personally, turn it into positive criticism and use it to improve your work. As Professor McNay said, “Be disappointed, but don’t be downcast.” Address their comments carefully. A simple re-write of part of your paper may be all that is required and it’s something that you can fix relatively easily.

On the other hand, criticisms of the content of the paper may require more substantial revisions, but ultimately, these changes may bear fruit and enable you to reach your publishing goal. So don’t get over-attached to your original submission and instead remain flexible and re-work your paper in light of the feedback received.
Move on and try again! And remember, the most celebrated of authors have been rejected at some point during their careers.

Good luck and see you at the launch party!

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