J.L.Lemke On-line Office

How to Get an Article Published

Editors have to pick reviewers. Acceptance of an article depends more on the choice of reviewers than on the merits of the research because reviewers tend to disagree, sometimes wildly, on the same manuscript's merits. Editors are busy, we take shortcuts. We look to see who on our board you have cited, or whose work in our journal you have cited, or who we know personally or professionally whom you have cited. Up to a point you can guide us in our choices.

Review is never really blind. Most fields are small and people know each other's styles, methods, terminology, and key reference citations. As a new researcher you will tend to be identified with your advisor or principal research mentor. Reviewers are always curious about authorship because it is usually relevant to our judgments: you give the benefit of the doubt to people who have earned it, or people who are trained by well-known mentors. The journal may blank out your name and references to your own work, but not those to your mentor's work. Blind review is really rather pointless; someone who cannot identify you or your provenance is probably not competent to judge your manuscript. Grant applications, where serious money is involved, are not usually reviewed blindly. The reputation of the investigator is considered central to their ability to carry out the proposed project. Their research experience is no less relevant to the final publishable product. Reviewers need to be anonymous to keep the enterprise minimally honest (as it is, there is a lot of horse-trading), but blind review seems rather pointless to me. Work around it.

The function of the review of the literature is to show that you know the relevant work by significant people in the field. It is very much a sign of club membership, and not much more. Good writers weave this into their theoretical discussion, otherwise it is the theories you are actually going to use that count, not general literature on the topic. It is really pointless to cite things you aren't going to use, but it is expected and it is wise to do so. Insightful theoretical discussion is the hallmark of good researchers, but it is also hard to do well, and very hard to do in a short space. Keep the theory section short; most reviewers are not really interested, and few readers will be, unless you are publishing in a theory-oriented journal. Make your point, present your evidence (be selective, don't dump redundant evidence on busy readers), make your point again, and stop. Editors and readers will bless you.

Almost all articles which are accepted for publication require revisions. Sometimes fairly extensive revisions. Regard this as helpful, not as punitive. Articles to some degree reflect the state of the field, not your personal opinions (put those on your website!), and you should compromise with reviewers' suggestions. Only those suggestions endorsed by the editor need to be taken seriously; others are optional, do not follow those that would unduly lengthen the article or lead you off-topic. Do take seriously all points of misunderstanding; they arise not from stupidity but from the inherent ambiguity of language. Rephrase to reduce the chances of other readers' making the same misinterpretation; sometimes you need to add a few key words to sharpen the contextual cues for readers.

Once you have been published in a particular journal, you are likely to have work accepted by that journal again in the future, but probably not more than one article per year. It's a good idea to cultivate two journals as your home base, and alternate submissions to them.

If your manuscript is rejected, do not despair. Everybody gets rejected, a lot, at the beginning of their careers. Why? Mainly because you either have not followed the advice above, or because you have not yet picked up the particular style and currently fashionable discourses of the subject. Probably you just submitted to the wrong journal or got the wrong pick of reviewers. Read articles in the journal you are submitting to before you finalize your manuscript. Try to lightly imitate the general style and recurrent concerns and buzzwords; show that you belong to the club.

Of course it is also possible that what you wrote is not considered important enough for a first-rank journal. In every field there is a hierarchy of journals. It is nearly impossible to write a professionally executed research article with empirical data in it that no one will publish. Take a look at some of the useless and meaningless stuff that gets published in the average journal. (Do you know that most journal articles are never requested from libraries, and so far as we can tell are never read by subscribers either? about one article per issue actually matters to anyone). Your work cannot be worse than what gets published by other people.

Make a list of journals in your area in rank order of prestige (consult your mentors about this). Make a realistic judgment how high to aim for the first time (usually number two or three for new researchers, except maybe for the principal result of your dissertation, which could make number one if well written). If you are rejected at that level, work your way down the list. Always revamp the manuscript slightly to pitch it to the editorship, likely reviewers, and reader interests of that journal.

You can send to more than one journal at the same time, but don't get caught doing this. Editors and reviewers spend time and money vetting your manuscript; even if they reject it, they don't want to be wasting their time. If two editors send your near-identical manuscripts to the same reviewer (not unlikely), you are in trouble. Even a kindly reviewer cannot personally contact you to warn you to withdraw one of the manuscripts; he or she is not supposed to know who you are.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket. You should be planning and writing lots of articles; some of them will be winners. Be very careful however not to publish something that is really mediocre early in your career, especially not in a widely read journal. It can happen and it will do more harm than good for you.

Early in your career you will be pigeon-holed. People in the field will associate you with a particular methodology or research interest or theoretical approach. Be sure you are happy with this because you may be stuck with that identification for quite a while. Your first book is your opportunity to change it if you're not happy with it. One or two articles will not do the job.

If you can turn a phrase, invent catchy, but sophisticated-sounding names for concepts or phenomena you write about. If the name catches on, you will gain status in the field.

Some Important Journals in the fields in which I work:

These are journals in which people whose work interests me, particularly in discourse analysis and social semiotics, frequently publish. A great deal of the interesting work in these fields is also published in edited volumes as individual chapters by various researchers.