Writing and submitting an article

You may decide that rather than rewrite your whole dissertation as a book, it might be more appropriate to publish parts of it in the form of articles. Or, there were sections in your PhD which didn't fit into the whole of your dissertation, but which could make for interesting pieces to be published as separate items. Or, you have just completed your PhD and are following up on a new research project and want to put some of these research results into articles. You may have participated in a conference and the organizers of this conference have invited you to submit an article for the proceedings or a collection of the different papers given. The reasons why it is more likely that you will be publishing articles before turning your thesis into a book are multiple; last but not least, because publications are one of the most important prerequisites for standing a chance on the academic job market. Unless you wrote your PhD dissertation in a style that won't require much rewriting in order to transform it into a publishable product, it is obviously easier and faster to produce an impressive list of articles rather than books. If for now, you decide to opt for publishing an article, this page will suggest a few points to consider.

Awareness of audience
Depending on the journal, collection or newspaper which has offered you to publish your article, ask yourself who is your audience: who are you writing for? Is it scholars, critics or theorists? Are you publishing in a highly specialized journal or within a context that is more cross-disciplinary? How well-versed will the readers of your article be? Or, you might for example have an opportunity to publish a book-review in a non-academic context, a newspapers or a magazine, in which case you must adjust your writing style and the content of your piece to an entirely non-specialized public.

Rewriting material
If, for example, you are rewriting a conference paper, which required a very compact and more dialogical style of presentation, communicating directly and clearly to an audience within a very short time span, your article will now have to be geared towards an audience of readers. Whereas a conference paper can allow for a certain degree of loose ends, an article will need to be far more conclusive and polished. You are likely to have more space to elaborate on your ideas than with a conference paper that is usually limited to 20 minutes, so you now have an opportunity to go into more depth and detail, whilst tying up all your arguments. Finally, you will most likely have to reconsider the ways in which you embedded your quotations, and fill in all your references – footnotes or endnotes.

Rewriting parts of your PhD thesis involves similar processes of rethinking. If you intend to lift a certain section out of your PhD to submit it to a journal as an article, be aware that you might need to recontextualize the piece. Embedded within the overall structure of your thesis, the particular section might have been supported by the larger trajectory of arguments running through the text. So if you decide that a particular section can stand on its own, you might nevertheless still need to guide the reader into your thought process in a different way than you had done in your PhD.

Checking existing publications on the subject
Before you sit down to investigate a particular topic and write up your findings in an article, do your research! Not just on your primary material, but scan existing secondary publications on the subject, in particular recent ones. If you are publishing in a very specialized journal, you will be in direct communication with colleagues who are experts in the field. You should be aware what they have already said, and what is yet to be said on the subject, so that the production of knowledge can progress and be innovative rather than stagnant and repetitive. Don't rely on being an entirely original genius, but engage in a written discussion with your colleagues, respecting and responding to all the great ideas that are already in circulation. Once you have informed yourself about what is generally known by your particular readership, you will know exactly what to include and what to omit. Moreover, it will be straightforward to mark out your own contributions.

Choosing a journal
When you are first beginning to search for a journal that might possibly publish your article, you can pursue different avenues:

  • Word of mouth: ask around – your supervisor, and if you already have your doctorate, your examiners, and the colleagues in your field who you are friends with.
  • Search engines: there are portals and search engines, which can help you trace journals and collections that might have an interest in including your article. For example, www.papersinvited.com, is a website which allows you to search conferences, but also collections seeking for submissions for a particular topic. You will, however, have to get membership to browse their database.
  • Existing publications: rather than look for new journals which you don't know yet, you are very likely to already have read the kinds of journals which might also want to publish you. If you find yourself returning to reading a specific journal title, this might be an indication that this could be the right place to approach.

Narrowing down
Once you have narrowed down your choice of potential publishers to a specific selection of journals, it is important to read their mission statements and notes for contributors. It will also be useful to take a look at some of the articles in the journal, so that you will be clear as to what exactly the journal expects, and how in fact the submitted articles relate to this mission statement, that is how open to interpretation their thematic spectrum is. In the mission statement you will be able to find out about

  • the thematic focus of the journal
  • whether its editions are theme-based or/and open to a variety of different topics within one issue
  • if the journal is open to newcomers in the field or only representing established scholars
  • what the language/s for contributions is/are
  • deadlines for submission
  • word-length and presentation style of the submission
  • their translation policy
  • reference styles
  • the mode of submission; whether the article is to be sent as a hardcopy, disc, or email

Approaching several journals at once
This is not good practice. Some journals are explicit about this in their mission statement. But even if they are not, avoid sending around one particular article to different journals. Each article you submit will be passed on to a referee who will take the time to take a thorough look at your text. If the referee finds out that your article has been accepted by a different journal when finishing her/his read, she or he will not be happy, nor will the journal editors who have equally invested time and energy in favour of your work. Also, the specialized academic community is not too numerous so you might run the risk of having your submission being sent by different journals to one and the same referee. Again, not a very comfortable scenario – avoid it.

If your article has been accepted
Once your article has been accepted by a journal, it is quite likely that the editors will ask you for some changes. It is in your interests to follow their advice as closely as possible. If you feel your point has been misunderstood, try to be objective and self-critical. It might mean that you will need to make your arguments clearer.