For those students wishing to enter an academic career, publishing your work is essential. This page provides an overview of academic publishing and outlines a variety of resources you might use. There is much more to be said on academic publishing, and we barely scratch the surface here. At the end of this page, we provide a list of resources you can consult.
What makes the difference between a successful doctoral candidate and one that follows through with publications? It’s fair to assume all successful doctoral candidates are equally dedicated and know their material. The difference is how well they understand the publishing game. Unfortunately, the rules for the game are rarely made explicit.
There is a big difference between writing a PhD and writing a paper for a journal, or writing a book for a well-known publishing house. Oddly, writing a thesis does not prepare you well for writing for publication. PhDs are too dense and scholarly to interest many publishers as a book. Rarely, theses can become books, but they are not usually much more than “warmed up PhDs” and don’t generally sell well.
By contrast, publishing a book with a major publishing house that has marketing appeal requires a set of skills that many scholars need to learn. A doctorate can be a transitionary document towards a potential book, however. And writing a doctorate can certainly lead naturally to the publication of journal articles, though again, additional skills need to be learned. A thesis chapter will not automatically be suitable as a published paper.
There is also a gulf of difference between writing a PhD and writing a journalistic piece for the popular media (increasingly an important outlet for academics wishing to market their work). How can one learn these skills?
Several misconceptions exist about academic publishing. These include that you cannot publish your academic work:
- until you have immersed yourself in all the literature
- if you have not done any new (“cutting edge”) research
- before your PhD is accepted.
In fact, a great deal of different writing is published.
- Not all of the writing published is based on new “research”
- If you wait until you find your place in the literature, you may lose the desire to write anything!
- “Knowing All The Literature” is a long-term—indeed, never-ending—prospect
- Publishing a paper helps to establish your place in the literature, so you don’t need to “know the literature” to start with.
- Capable doctoral students are published well before their thesis is passed. In some disciplines, e.g., the sciences, it is essential.
There is no easy way to make the transition from doctoral student to published scholar. You just need to feel confident and make a start.
Source: R. Murray, (2005) Writing for Academic Journals.
The key thing about academic publishing is that you need to have an “angle”: a new idea, a new take on an old idea, a new way of looking at an old debate, or you need to tap into a current debate with a fresh perspective. This does not mean that you have to have a radical, cutting-edge contribution: these are good, but they are very rare. Few of us ever make cutting-edge contributions, not even over an entire career. Rather, you need to put a spin on existing literature that makes people see things a bit differently. Fortunately, this is quite achievable.
An example is the 3-page paper 1963 by Edmund Gettier in the area of epistemology in Philosophy titled: ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?’ Without getting into the technical details, Gettier caused people to reconsider a long, established definition of Knowledge with simple counter-examples. His paper spawned a voluminous literature trying to explain and deal with the counter examples. Was this contribution cutting edge? Not really. Did it have a new angle? Definitely. Gettier did not publish anything else after this paper and his entire career was built on it.
Academic publishing advances scholarship and for this you cannot merely reproduce old ideas. Nothing matter more in the publishing game than having a unique angle. Your PhD should advance a new idea, but it needs to fit within current controversies in the literature in order to be published. But how can one ensure this happens? Before we go any further, let’s look at why you should publish.
You are a working academic with a reasonable career. Or perhaps you are a newly-minted PhD. Or perhaps you are near the end of your PhD journey and want to take the next step. What are some reasons for engaging in academic publishing?
- Boost academic profile/Add to your CV: This is a very obvious reason. Academic careers do not progress far unless the person is publishing, and most academic jobs now have publishing as part of the person’s performance appraisal criteria. Often this requirement is mandated in terms of the number of A*-ranked papers that should be published in a 2-5 year period.
- Mark you out as different from other PhDs: Many people have what it takes to get a PhD but few follow through to the next step which is to get publications out of it. This is critical if you want an academic career.
- Get better/longer term jobs: Those academics that publish get better jobs and have a better chance of success in obtaining tenured positions. Selection panels for academic jobs really only look at are publications lists and teaching scores.
- Promotion: Academics that publish get promoted faster. More papers; the faster and higher you rise.
- Grant applications: Publishing leads to having a “track record” which is valuable for obtaining competitive grants. Without a track record in publications, grants (especially Australian Research Council grants) are near impossible to get.
- Make yourself more employable in other universities: The ability to convince publishers and journal editors to publish you is a compelling argument for employers to take you on. It’s a measure of your impact and influence.
- Be more employable outside universities (e.g., public service, journalism, commercial world): Not everyone can get an academic job as the market is very tight, but skills in publication are useful elsewhere. In corporate report writing, and writing briefs for politicians, for example, the public service, industry and so on.
- Develop skills in academic writing and analysis: There is intrinsic merit in being able to hone your writing and literacy skills to the extent that they are acceptable to publishing houses. Not all PhD students reach this level. It “caps off” your degree and is a concrete measure of your academic capabilities.
- Be engaged in the debates in your profession: There is likewise intrinsic merit in being fully engaged in the debates in your professional area. Most PhDs sit on shelves unread. Being published means you are in the thick of debates with other professional academics.
- Provide shoulders others can stand on: An altruistic reason for publishing is that your work is getting out there and being read and influencing others (as opposed to a thesis which generally sits on a library shelf unread). This leads to citations which are a proxy for influence and impact: the more citations you have, generally speaking, the more influential you are. (Of course, you can be cited for the wrong reasons—e.g., a poor methodology—but generally speaking citations are a good thing). Only getting published allows you to influence others. Few will read a thesis. The currency of academia are journal articles, book chapters and books. But other publication outlets are increasingly important too, e.g., articles for The Conversation, a media outlet that publishes journalistic-style articles written by academics.
- Put your academic qualifications to use: It goes without saying that research is only useful if people can read it, and publication ensures that this happens.
- Get that warm fuzzy feeling: It is a marvellous feeling to cap your education off by getting your work peer-reviewed in good quality journals.
- Add to the sum of human knowledge: Another altruistic reason to publish is that you will be adding to human knowledge. This is an intrinsically good thing too.
Regardless of your motivation for publishing it is a new skill you need to acquire as completing a doctorate does not automatically mean success in publication.
There are many different kinds of publications. They are not all equally valuable. Some are not worth pursuing—academically-speaking—though they may have merit in other ways (e.g., self-published “vanity” books can win prizes and awards). These less typical publications might also be valued in specific academic contexts, e.g., published poetry is valued in the discipline of creative writing but not other academic contexts, and technical manuals might have value in the context of engineering, but not outside this area. We only look at the traditional academic publishing outlets here.
Test your knowledge of each of the main publication formats by putting them into order of prestige, from most to least academically respectable. A brief description of each follows.
Can you put these in order of relative merit (academic prestige)?
- Book notes/announcements (editor refereed)
- Newsletters and newspaper articles (editor refereed)
- Reviews (editor refereed)
- Continuing commentaries/forums (editor refereed)
- Conference papers
- Journal articles (refereed, single blind or double blind)
- Journal articles (editor refereed)
- Chapters in books (solicited/commissioned and refereed)
- Books: a. Scholarly (editor reviewed and refereed); b. Textbooks (editor reviewed and refereed)
- Poetry/Creative writing anthologies
- Other “Vanity” publications (self-publication, etc)
Are you aware of the differences between their publication types? Which is more prestigious? Which is least prestigious? Why? Read on.
- Book notes/announcements (editor refereed). These are very short (around 500 words) that advertise the appearance of a new book in an area. These are easy to do for beginners in the publishing game and are often requested by journal editors via discipline-specific email lists. Writing a book note is a useful way to get your first publication.
- Newsletters and newspaper articles (editor refereed). These range in length and can be quite long, e.g., feature articles in the Higher Education section of The Australian. It is surprisingly difficult to get accepted into these forums, even for experienced academics, owing to the high-pressure deadlines of the media cycle, and the need for things to be topical (often focussed directly on a daily issue or debate). They don’t carry much weight academically though they get your name out there.
- Reviews (editor refereed): These are reviews of new books and run to 1000 words or more. These are easy to do for beginners in the publishing game and are often requested by journal editors via discipline-specific email lists. Writing them requires more experience than writing book notes. Again, writing these are useful for getting experience in the publication game.
- Continuing commentaries/forums (editor refereed): These are sometimes called “symposia” and are written in response to a Target article or book. They often appear in special issues of a journal. A great deal of expertise is required to write these, and they are often solicited, not open to all scholars.
- Conference papers: These can be refereed (i.e., vetted for quality by experts or peers) or non-refereed. They are typically written versions of papers read at a conference and later published in the conference proceedings. Note that not all published conference papers are accepted later in a journal. For more on this see Presenting your work at an academic conference.
- Journal articles (refereed, single blind or double blind): As the name suggests, these are papers published in dedicated journals in the field. There are tiers of journals, from the highest ranked (A or A*) to the lowest unranked journals. Some journals are “predatory” and produced for money by unscrupulous people. For more on this see Publishing journal articles.
- Journal articles (editor refereed): Some journals do not adopt the practise of blind peer reviewing and merely vet articles via the editor or via several editors.
- Chapters in books (solicited/commissioned and refereed): As the name indicates these are parts of a larger edited book. Typically an editor will solicit chapters (sometimes authors are paid for their contributions) from experts around the world. The editor compiles the book by deciding on order and arrangement and topics covered. The editor has to consider the thematic unity of the book and often insists on a peer-review process for submissions. Clearly, publishing a chapter in a book requires considerable expertise and indicates reputation, i.e., being known by one’s peers.
- Books: There are several kinds of academic books and they are not the same in terms of academic respectability:
- Scholarly (editor reviewed and refereed). These books are published via major scholarly publishing houses likes Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Harvard, Palgrave, Springer, etc. They require a publishing proposal (example here) to be written and accepted by means of peer review before a publishing contract is offered. They advance new knowledge in the field of expertise of the author. Sometimes these are called scholarly monographs.
- Textbooks (editor reviewed and refereed). These books are also published via major scholarly publishing houses likes Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Harvard, Palgrave, Springer, etc. They require a publishing proposal (example here) to be written and accepted by means of peer review before a publishing contract is offered. Unlike scholarly books they do not advance scholarship. Students are the audience for textbooks, both undergraduate and graduate.
- Poetry/creative writing anthologies: These are assessed quite differently from standard academic publications. Note that papers critiquing creative works are written as formal journal articles, and are not considered ‘creative’ works.
- Self-published work, as the name suggests, is neither peer-reviewed nor published by scholarly publishing house. It’s a publication you pay for and distribute. These publications are sometimes disparagingly called “vanity” publication.
The process of getting published depends on what you are publishing. Publishing a conference paper is different from publishing a journal article, and publishing a book chapter is different from publishing a book. However, the process has elements that are similar. The process for publishing a journal is roughly as follows:
- Targeting a journal: Typically one first has to target the journal one wants to publish in. This is important. There is no point sending a paper with a qualitative methodology to a journal that publishes mainly empirical work; there’s no point sending a theoretical paper to a journal interested in case studies, and so on. If you do, your paper will get rejected at first base. Either one writes a paper and looks for a journal that publishes that kind of paper (the usual process); or one finds a journal and writes a paper to suit the aims and objectives of the journal. To do this, study the journal in your field closely. Read the Aims of the journal /Aims and Scope section on their website. Are the focus areas of the journal the same as yours? Study the names of the Editors, Review Editors, Reviewers, and so on. Are these people you recognise from your reading of the literature? If so, it could be that it is a journal that is sympathetic to the kind of work you do.
- Conforming to the Guidelines: The next step is ensuring your paper meets the journal requirements in terms of length and style. Journals are ruthless in terms of length and style requirements. If they want no more than 7000 words that’s all you provide; if they want US spelling, that’s what you provide; if they want APA6 referencing that’s what you provide; if they want a Structured Abstract—as opposed to a conventional Abstract—again, that’s what you provide. Anything that does not conform to their requirements will be picked up on by the Administrator of the journal and your paper will either be declined, or returned to you for reworking. Many journals require a not-for-review copy (with your name and affiliation), and a for-review copy (de-identified) with your self-citations removed from both in-text and reference list citations. Again, you must completely conform to their requirements. (Normally this is done as follows: (XXXXXXX, 2019), and similarly for the reference list.) Sometimes journals require figures and tables to be placed at the end of the document with a line item in the text for where each figure or table is placed (e.g., [Figure 3 about here]). Again, you must comply exactly.
- Submitting the paper: The next step is to submit the paper. Again, you must follow their requirements exactly. Normally, there is a process for uploading to their websites. There is typically an online submission portal for this that is separate to the journal website (ScholarOne Manuscripts is an example of this). They will require you to register and login, provide your name and institutional affiliation, a list of key terms, the broad research area, an abstract, names of co-authors, and possibly even require the names of potential reviewers (these will almost certainly not be used though). There will be upload areas for the for-review document and the not-for-review document. They may require specific filenames, and/or request PDF uploads. They may ask you to be a part of their list of peer reviewers for other manuscripts. It is normal to consent to this.
- After submission: After the paper is submitted it goes through the following stages of review (this process varies among journals to some degree):
- 1) Administrator sign-off: The administrator does not read the paper but merely ensure the guidelines in terms of length and style are adhere to.
- 2) Initial read: This is usually done by the Editor or Co-editor or Screening editor. They merely skim the paper to decide if it up to standard. First round rejection occurs here if the paper is badly written or not on an area of interest for the journal. Assuming it passes this stage it goes to the next step.
- 3) Associate Editor vetting: The paper is then passed on to the Associate Editor. Their job is to review the paper closely and decide if it is worthy of peer review. If it is, they will allocate a number of peer reviewers (normally three or more) to read the paper and provide comments. Peer review is a gratuitous labour or love for no fee, so peer reviewers are hard to find. Associate Editors will therefore send the paper to a number of reviewers expecting some to back out or decline.
- Peer reviewer vetting: The peer reviewers’ role is critical. They are an important gatekeeper to publication. The review process is double-blind (the reviewer is not known by the author of the paper, and vice-versa). The reviewer can say what they really think. Often the comments are harsh and critical and authors need to be prepared for this. They will write fairly lengthy reports on the paper and chose either to accept the paper outright (most unusual); accept it with major revisions (normal); accept it with minor revisions (normal) or reject the paper (common). Sometimes the reviewers’ comments are quite unfair, but—rightly or wrongly—this is the process of peer review. This is summed up in this funny—but not altogether unrealistic—cartoon:
- Associate Editor assessment: The Associate Editor, armed with three or more reports from blind peer reviewers, will then read the paper and make a judgement themselves. If the reports conflict, they will often seek an additional reviewer. When reviewers are unanimous it doesn’t necessarily mean the AE will not take a contrary view (however, it is unlikely). The AE is required to make their own comments on the paper and call for revisions and changes.
- Editor assessment: The Editor will then review the reports from the AE and the reviewers and either recommend publication or reject or request revisions of the paper.
- Revisions: Once the review process is completed, authors will have to revise the paper by a certain deadline. They will then have to re-submit the paper following the same procedure as before. If the paper is accepted subject to major minor revisions, it is important to submit a document outlining how the revised paper has catered for the reviewers’ comments.
Use these resources to learn more about publishing and how to prepare your scholarly work to interest a publisher.
- Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in twelve weeks: A Guide to academic publishing success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Becker, H. S. (2007). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Berger, A. A. (2008). Writing a journal article. Academic writers’ toolkit: A user’s manual (pp. 111-120). Walnut Creek: California: Left Coast Press.
- Craswell, G. (2005). Journal article and book publication. Writing for academic success: A postgraduate guide (pp. 235-241). London: Sage.
- Day, A. (2008). How to get research published in journals (2nd ed.). Aldershot: Gower.
- Day, R. A. (1998). How to write and publish a scientific paper (5th ed.). Westport, CT: Oryx Press.
- De Lange, P. (2005). The long road to publishing: A user-friendly expose. Accounting Education, 14(2), 133-168.
- Derntl, M. (2005). Basics of research paper writing and publishing. http://egr.uri.edu/wp-uploads/nld/meth-se.pdf
- Hartley, J. (2008). Choosing where to publish. Academic writing and publishing: A practical handbook (pp. 137-141). New York: Routledge.
- How to get published in an academic journal: Tips from top editors. (2015). The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jan/03/how-to-get-published-in-an-academic-journal-top-tips-from-editors
- Murray, R. (2005). Targeting a journal. Writing for academic journals (pp. 36-66). New York: Open University Press.