Journal Article Tips

Early-career researchers (those with a PhD completed within the last five years) in many cases have original research ideas with unique data, often collected during their dissertation, which can serve as the raw material for high-quality journal publications. However, they lack rich experience in maneuvering through the thicket of the journal publication pipeline, which makes the process of landing their work in strong academic journals lengthy, difficult, and sometimes harrowing. 

While an understanding of some aspects of the publishing process can only be gained through “learning-by-doing”, other important aspects, if conveyed to early-career researchers (ECRs) at an early stage, can dramatically shorten the learning process in how ECRs can get their work accepted and published in respected journals.

The following are some of the essential Dos and Don’ts for early-career scholars in navigating the journal publication process:

DO

Select your target outlet judiciously. With thousands of journals out there, it can be tough to know where to submit your paper. In selecting the outlet, consider 

  • the academic quality of the journal—drawing on both established metrics such as impact factor and eigenfactor score, as well as reputation of the journal within your field, 
  • the thematic and disciplinary fit between the journal and your paper, and 
  • examples of where your senior peers have published their research that is similar to your paper in topic and methods

DO

Take a careful look at other recent articles in the target journal. While you will likely already in the past have read articles from the selected journal, in the normal course of scholarly activities, this time look at the published articles in the journal (especially those articles in the broad disciplinary and methodological family as your paper’s) with an eye to how the article’s content is organised and structured (going beyond attention to what is captured in journal formatting guidelines). For example, in some journals, graphs to illustrate a conceptual framework seem to be a no-no, while in others they seem to be a de facto must-have. In some journals, a more detailed review of the literature is common and expected, in others this is seen as superfluous and inappropriate. Make sure your paper, then, “speaks the same stylistic language” as the journal you will submit to.

DON’T

Rush your paper out to the journal. You will have laboured months, if not years, on your paper. The very last stage before the submission is certainly not the time to rush it out to the journal. Even though deadlines, or sheer fatigue of working on it, may make you want to “just get it out,” resist this urge. Instead, after you feel you have finalised the paper, put it away, work on other research for at least a few days if not longer, then go back and take adequate time to read it through again carefully. You’ll be stunned at how many cases of poor or unclear writing, redundant information, and the like you will catch yourself. Technical quality of the core analysis aside—these are simple improvements that, if fixed, will strengthen the paper’s “curb appeal” to editors’ and referees’ eyes. Equally important: Never submit a paper without having received colleagues’ feedback (and incorporated relevant remarks), whether in a seminar presentation, or after they have read your paper. Exposure of the work to fresh pairs of eyes prior to submission is essential.

DON’T

Take referees’ and/or editors’ critiques personally. Anonymous reviewers—and in some cases editors—can at times package substantive and valuable comments in unfortunate, cutting language. If you are new to the publication process, harshly expressed remarks regarding analysis you worked so hard on may hurt and demoralise. But it is key to never take comments personally, to strip away and ignore any use of harsh formulation, and simply focus on the substantive points made. 

DO

However, take the substance of the comments seriously. Revised manuscripts often get sent back to the same referees. It is thus essential to take the substance of each remark fully seriously when undertaking revisions, and to carefully document what changes were made and how. Referees can get irritated when they feel that the time they volunteered in reading and commenting on a paper is not respected by properly addressing their points—and this irritation can make itself felt in their recommendations about acceptance or rejection. Therefore, related to an earlier point above: resist the urge to rush through the revisions because of deadlines or fatigue, and consider where you may even want to go the extra mile to address valuable referee remarks.


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Tewodaj Mogues © Tewodaj Mogues

Tewodaj Mogues is a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), within the Development Strategy and Governance Division. She is currently the acting Editor, Early Careers Submissions, for the European Journal of Development Research