Guidance for Successful Research PublicationsDr. Alison-Jane Hunter
University of Adelaide
E-mail: [email protected]
Why do you want to be published?
There are a wide range of drivers for the need to write effectively in academic English: to get work published, to improve the quality of work and to ensure successful completion of a thesis by publication. In this article, we examine how to achieve quality outcomes that reflect and support the quality of your research.
How can you increase your chances of being published?
When you are deciding on your target publication, you are simultaneously selecting a set of criteria that you must fit in order to be successful, so choose your publication carefully. Are you seeking the widest audience? The greatest prestige? Or do you just want to get your words out into the world? Where you choose to publish will affect how you write and how likely you are to be published. Do not under-challenge yourself. Postgraduate students can and do get published in major journals: equally, you do not need to be published in a top-rank journal every time, so let yourself learn – and breathe.
Use your extant research skills.
Having used your research skills to help you choose your target journal for strong reasons, the first gatekeeper to be overcome is the editor, who sets the list of requirements for their journal, usually called Instructions to Contributors. All publishers set out their layout requirements on their websites and it is essential that a framework is made before starting so that your work will fit the criteria and pass this first test of eligibility. After all, how silly would you feel if your hard work were rejected on the grounds that you had used the wrong font, point size or some other trivial reason? Secondly, think about who will read your work and what will get them excited. Try and work on a succinct title that will be found easily by search engines and persuade readers to read your work. Read some articles of interest in the journal and think about how other writers have worked with the set frameworks before you start. You may also find very useful advice in the section marked Scope/Aims/Overview/Readership. If your work is very different from that normally published in the journal, maybe reconsider where you are most likely to be published.
Get online help.
A website that is likely to be extremely useful at this point is: http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk . This is a powerful support to writers as it sets out every individual stage of each paragraph needed to create an academic journal article, including starter phrases to encourage you to set to work. If you worry about your grammar, then there are range of websites available, including: http://www.mogtreeapp.com . This website explains grammar issues in clear, simple, unpatronizing ways to build your knowledge and confidence.
What is the real cost of publication?
Many journals advise getting your work checked by a professional editor before submission. That is your choice, as such help is not usually free. My advice, though, is always to get an impartial observer (a professional friend, if you prefer) to read your work before submission: they don’t know or love your work with your passion and so they will be able to help you with clarity, accuracy and engagement. Furthermore, you should think hard about open access issues: can you afford to pay to have your work published, or is that even an option at your stage in your career?
How do you overcome the terror of the blank page?
Having worked through these planning details, a good place to start writing is the Results section, focusing on a single story with a clear take-home message for your readers. Experience says these results are usually read first by reviewers as they contain the essence of your paper. The questions your reviewer will be asking are: what do the results say? What do they mean in context? Who needs to know this? Why? What contribution do these results make to the field? If you can obtain exciting, unique answers to these questions, you really do have a substantial paper to publish. Once the results are written up, you should then work through your introduction, methodology/materials and methods and discussion sections, before tailing with your conclusions and future work and topping off with your abstract. Why the abstract last? This is a quality question and simple to answer. You need to be sure that you really have written what you intended to cover and in a sensible order. Matching everything to the abstract means that you will have achieved structural cohesion, which will help your reader to relax and enjoy your work as it will fit rather than subvert the expected pattern of ideas.
How to edit your work.
In terms of the quality of ideas, now make sure that your work clarifies how it is original, relevant and will change at least a small amount of the world in which you work. Is it worth the number of words you have used, or would shortening your work be beneficial? Finally, are all the diagrams, tables and so forth helpful and necessary? Space is expensive. Be honest: can you justify your physical space in the next edition of your chosen journal? If not, then look where you can shorten – and sharpen – your writing in your next draft.
Drafting your work is crucial as you move towards submission. Think about tense, carefully. Are you describing an ‘always true’ condition? If so, use the present tense. If you are describing a sequence of events, do you go far enough back to need the pluperfect as well as perfect and present tenses? Is your Methods section robust? Is your work replicable? If the experiment cannot be repeated from your description, try the description again or you will lose academic credibility. Next, check if you need the passive voice to enhance your academic voice or if your chosen journal is happy with active verbs and first person to vivify ideas and descriptions. Finally, as you draft, concentrate on the original take-home messages you designed the article to share with a wide audience of your peers. Use a subheading or topic sentence for each take-home message and check that the take-home messages link with your lovely title (this will further enhance the cohesion of your writing).
Using checklists for success.
Finally, use this checklist to help you to remove common errors from your writing, building on it as you learn through experience where your own writing weaknesses lie. The most common error types in academic journal writing are tense errors; subject-verb agreements; modal verb use; collocation errors and incorrect prepositions. When you are confident with the details of your writing accuracy, go back to this next checklist of critical keys for successful journal article writing: target your journal carefully so you bypass the gatekeepers the first time; check all instructions from the journal; use an appropriate paragraph and inter-paragraph structure; plan simple take-home messages that are repeatable and provable; have a searchable title and keywords; start from the results; use clear, strong headings and subheadings; ensure your English is clear and accessible to a wide audience (the complications stem from the technical language used only) and, finally, check for your own typical errors to save time and stress.
Writing a Journal Article
A grammar website
A bank of phrases for every section of your article
Burrough-Boenisch, J. (1999). International reading strategies for IMRD articles. Written Communication, 16(3), 296-317.
Cargill, M and O’Connor, P (2013) Writing Scientific Research Articles: Strategy and Steps. 2nd Ed. Oxford, UK, Wiley-Blackwell (www.writeresearch.com.au )
Olsen, L A and Huckin, T N (1991) Technical Writing and Professional Communication. New York, USA, McGraw-Hill.
Weissberg, R and Buker, S (1990) Writing Up Research: Experimental research report writing for students of English. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA, Prentice Hall Regents.