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Academic Publications: Do’s and Don’ts

Have you written a research manuscript but wonder what to do next? Do you want to stand a better chance of getting your paper published? Read on! I will unravel a few vital publishing secrets that might make things less confusing for you.


DO Get a Preview of your Manuscript
Hold off on sending your paper to a journal for publication. Firstly review it! Ask two colleagues you trust.

The first one can be part of your own faculty. He or she is familiar with your research topic. The second one is from outside your faculty. He or she is not familiar with your line of work. Give both colleagues sufficient time. And if any of them did not fully understand page 5 and therefore got lost in page 6, don’t assume they didn’t read carefully enough. The journal’s peer reviewers will probably voice the same criticism!


DON’T Choose the Wrong Journal

Check the editorial board names of the journal you plan to choose.

It’s a bad sign if you do not recognize any. At the very least, you should have encountered one name while working on your literature review .

If you are a first-time author, you might lack familiarity with the journals in your field. So check that your article is within the scope of the journal. Have a look online and see for yourself how often editors complain about articles that are completely inappropriate for their particular journal. Do yourself and everyone a favor: make sure that you choose a journal that is closely related to your research topic.

If you’ve published before, then you might be tempted to submit your new manuscript to the same journal again. This, after all, would solve the problem of finding an appropriate edition for your manuscript. It’s fine to do so, but don’t submit more than three manuscripts to the same journal. You want to broaden your readership and not write for the same audience of only one journal time and time again.


DO Pay Attention to the Journal’s Impact Factor

Any journal indexed in JCR or Thomson Reuters (SCI or SSCI) has an ‘impact factor”. That’s a ranking reflecting how often articles from that journal are cited in other academic publications. Academic exposure, in other words.

This impact factor has consequences for you. Your university will calculate high impact publications into your performance as a professor.

This will, in turn, influence your chances for academic tenure – your job prospects. Yet, the importance attributed to such rankings varies from school to school.

Check your university’s evaluation regulations. Then decide which journal you should aim for. Still, objectively evaluate your own research manuscript and determine whether it is truly suitable for a top-tier journal. If not, you risk losing valuable effort and time in resubmitting (and re-editing) your paper for another journal with a different style guide.

Whatever your decision might be, keep in mind that journals with high impact factors are notoriously difficult to publish in.

Editors/peer reviewers will often let you wait a real long time before judging your manuscript’s publication value and content. An SSCI journal with an impact factor higher than ‘5’ will accept 10-15% of all manuscripts it receives. Add to that the extra time for peer review and your submission could take up to two years to get published.

Also consider that you can only submit your manuscript to one journal. You can’t even send a similar but somehow modified manuscript to another publication for review. This would be a breach of academic ethics. The academic editing world can be surprisingly small. Doing so would catch up with you. Choose a journal with a relatively low impact factor of between 0.3 and 1. Once you manage to get your first manuscript accepted and published, aim for higher impact factors. If you’re up to it, of course.

Your faculty might be satisfied with one low impact factor publication and one conference per year. Or you might be under immense pressure to publish in higher impact journals. Either scenario can lead you away from journals that might give you the audience and positive results you’d be expecting. If you’re at a loss, talk to senior and more publishing-savvy colleagues. Ask which journals they know of, which ones they read, as well as those they hold in high esteem. Also ask about their experiences concerning peer review for certain journals.

While you’re at it, be sure to verify whether the journal you then choose has an online edition: will it post your article online? If so, your article will receive a broader readership. More importantly, it will be published soon after the peer reviewers and editor have given the green light. Have no doubts: ‘online’ not only sounds good. It’s necessary, full stop. Unfortunately, there’s a pitfall…


DON’T Go for Predatory Online Publications
Output in research publications has recently taken precedence over quality in all but a few remaining ‘resistant’ universities.

Chances are you’re a faculty member working in such academic environment. You are tempted to publish more – and faster. That’s why the demand for journals is increasing, as is the number of journals on offer.

It might surprise you, but academic publishing lacks standard rules and processes. Anyone can buy a domain name and set up a so-called academic journal and then bless it with an important-sounding name. The motive of such journals: making money, of course. But money from, usually, non-suspecting lecturers and professors under pressure from university authorities to publish.

Such journals are knows as ‘predatory’: open-access publications that actually charge you for publishing your article. There’s even an editorial board – usually with non-existing or non-suspecting members. They often accept your manuscript within a month or two since only one peer reviewer and no quality control whatsoever is involved.

The good news: predatory journals are easy to avoid. You will:

  • See an overly general title or scope that includes many areas of research: “We accept all articles related to a broad field of language” (or ‘social sciences’, or ‘management’, etc.)
  • Find articles with plenty of grammatical and style errors. Most contributors will be non-native English authors, and this fact will be conspicuous.
  • Be notified of an article fee, but only after your article has been accepted.
  • Receive aggressive emails to submit your manuscript, to serve on an editorial board, or to become a peer reviewer. I know that this can be flattering, but do steer away from such traps.

Also, predatory journals:

  • List professors as members of editorial boards without their permission, something much harder to verify, unfortunately. These journals don’t even shy from faking people’s names.
  • List publications dating back for a short period of time only. After a year or so (never more than two) they will simply cease to exist, or they change name.
  • Imitate the Web style or even name of established journals. “What looks good must be good” is the message here.
  • Provide misleading or incorrect information about their location. A simple search Google maps search can help here.
  • Provide fake impact factors and false ISSN codes (see my links below)

There’s no single online database I know of containing a list of verified non-predatory journals. But I encourage you to consult one or more of the following websites:

In case someone has actually not done enough work of high quality, he or she might still turn to predatory journals. They have a right to do so, of course. But they hopefully understand that publications in such journals eventually lose value.

A predatory journal might temporarily advance your career on the base of publication count. 

But you might be shamed later on in front of your colleagues and students.

This will happen when the journal is exposed for what it really is: a scam to make money and undermine more honest academics. In the worst case, you might face disciplinary action if your school becomes aware of your case. Also, the paper you’ve submitted will never be read or cited, nor can you resubmit it for publications elsewhere.

I’m not saying that all open access journals are predatory journals. Making research accessible to anyone who needs it is a noble mission. But it’s also a model that is increasingly abused by predatory publishers.


DO Follow the Correct Submission Procedures

You have chosen a journal for your article. Great! Now you need to spend 15 minutes or so on this:

Carefully read the guidelines for authors – also known as ‘formatting instructions’ or ‘instructions to authors’.

Some journals give authors freedom and only require you to follow their submission guidelines after they have accepted your article. Nevertheless, keep this in mind: your peer reviewers will have a more positive attitude if they notice that you took time and effort to format your article to the journal’s requirements. It also shows you’re serious about getting published in the journal they work for. So read those guidelines for authors! Discover the limitations imposed by the journal you chose: article format, word count, citation styles, table, figure and appendix specifications – just to name the most important ones.

The journal you submit to usually requires a cover letter. 

You need to mention what you think is most remarkable and significant about your research.

In your cover letter, state why you believe your manuscript is an appropriate contribution to this journal. After all, the most common reason for rejection is a mismatch between your research topic and the journal’s scope and aims.

You may sound confident in your cover letter, but try to remain factual. Refrain from using emotional language like I really believe not enough research has been done about my topic”. Don’t repeat things you already put in your paper’s abstract. And don’t bore the editor or proofreaders by giving a summary of your paper. Give the bigger picture instead. Where would you position your research in the larger research community? What can other scholars in your field gain from your research findings.

Don’t overstate your methodology in your cover letter. Lots of articles I’ve come across claim to be based on an ‘ethnographic methodology’. A popular phrase indeed. But a few interviews at the market place or outside your local supermarket can hardly be called ethnographic. In your cover letter, be very clear on the nature and scope of your data collection. It will give the peer reviewers a good insight into the ways you’ve analyzed your data prior to reading your article.

Want to know more about academic publications? This book makes one good and easy read:

“What They Didn’t Teach You in Graduate School: 299 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career.” 2nd Paperback Edition 2012, by Paul Gray, David E. Drew, Steadman Upham, Matthew H. Hall.