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Journal Submissions

Journal Submissions
September 2, 2011

Publishing one's own work is essential in most academic areas. While some fields continue to put a lot of weight on books, writing journal articles is important in an increasing number of areas. The logistics of journal submission are not obvious. Nonetheless they are yet another aspect of academic professionalization that seems to go unaddressed in many graduate programs. In this piece I cover how you go about picking an appropriate journal for your paper and how you prepare it for submission. The assumption is that you have prepared a manuscript that you and your mentors feel is ready for consideration by a journal. (In some disciplines, refereed conference proceedings are more the norm. I suspect much of what is below applies to those cases as well.)

Finding an appropriate venue

With the myriad of journals out there, it can be daunting to figure out where you should send your piece. If you have mentors familiar with your paper (e.g., your adviser or the faculty member for whose class you wrote the first draft of the piece), talk to them for input. While it may be that faculty members are less familiar with your specific area, they may still have valuable advice. Another approach is to look at the bibliography of your paper and think about where your references appear. If you cite several papers from a particular journal then that may be a good target publication.

Another helpful strategy is to do a bit of research to see whether there are any special issues with your topic in the works at journals in your area. Special issues can come about in various ways. One is that experts in a field approach a journal editor and propose that they edit an issue of the journal focused on a specific topic. The upside of special issues focused on your general area of inquiry is that the special issue editors will likely be sympathetic to the topic of your piece. This matters, because convincing editors and reviewers that the question you are tackling in your paper is worthy of publication is often the first hurdle authors face in getting their papers taken seriously, so having a venue that is specifically focused on your topic can be a helpful starting point. Another nice aspect of special issues is that precisely because they bring together several papers about one topic, they may draw more attention to your work, thanks to its proximity to other related scholarship.

While browsing journal websites is one way to go about finding such opportunities, another helpful approach is to read through CFPs (calls for papers) that have been circulated on mailing lists. (Try, for example, running a search on "special issue" on the archives of a professional mailing list.) If you find one that sounds like a possibility, but you are not sure, send an inquiry to the special issue editor. In case you find a relevant match, but its deadline is far down the line when you are ready to submit, check with the journal editor or special issue editor to see whether they would review your piece immediately upon receipt. If they will not then this may not be a good option to pursue, given that you do not want your paper sitting on an editor’s desk (more likely the journal’s computer drive, that is) for months before consideration. This may not have to be the case, however. It may well be that the journal will get your piece out for review as soon as you submit your paper and you will receive a timely response.

Once you have settled on a publication, read the guidelines outlined on its site. These will address basic requirements such as bibliographic formatting and whether a title page is necessary. If you are not that familiar with the journal, then also consider looking through some of its issues to see whether your paper matches the tone and style of what gets published in it. If not then consider making some edits to your paper or reassess whether it is a realistic venue for your work.

Preparing your manuscript for submission

Many journals run a double-blind review process. What this means is that at least in theory, the reviewer does not know the author’s identity and the author does not know the reviewers’ identities. (Whether this is a realistic assumption is another matter, but despite online conference archives and Web searches, and even though many academic communities are rather small, the process does still often work to achieve an anonymous exchange.) Anonymous peer review requires that authors anonymize their manuscripts before submission. What does that mean? Authors should remove self-citations from the paper and any comments that may make the authors’ identities known.

When I write a paper and cite some of my prior work, instead of writing Hargittai 2007 in the body of the work, I would mention Author 2007. In a similar vein, the bibliography would also include a line saying Author 2007 instead of the full Hargittai 2007 citation. If there are co-authors, the same applies. Instead of Hargittai & Hinnant 2008, the paper would simply reference Author 2008. (I once saw a manuscript submitted that used the following convention: Author & Hinnant 2008. I was baffled that the author thought this really meant an anonymized reference.) References are not the only possible signals of author identity. If you did your study on a campus with which you are affiliated, then either do not name the institution or do not use language that suggests that you administered the study at your own institution (this latter point is often assumed, however, so if you did not administer the study at your own institution then that may be worth spelling out in the methods section).

There is one possible exception to anonymizing bibliographic entries. It will depend on the journal’s policy and /or the editor’s take on the matter though so be upfront about it. If one of the authors of the manuscript is also the author or co-author of a piece that would be expected to be cited in the paper, then the author may opt to leave that citation in the paper as removing it would jeopardize loss of anonymity more than leaving it in would. This is less likely to be an issue during one’s graduate school years, but it is a possibility, and so it is worth keeping it in mind. In such a case, a note to the editor would be important to explain why that particular citation was not anonymized, a note that you can include in the cover letter you send in with your paper (see below).

Possible reviewers

Some journals will ask whether you have suggestions for reviewers. While it is impossible to know whether editors will use your suggestions, it is worth including some names on the list to help the journal find suitable referees. When considering names to add, do not list anyone at your own institution or your adviser from a previous program, as these people have a conflict of interest. Also, avoid listing the giants in your field. If they are very well-known then the editor will likely think of them anyway. More importantly, if they are so prominent then the chances of them being able to say yes to a review amidst their many other obligations are small. This does not mean that established senior scholars should not or do not review journal articles, but the point of reviewer suggestions is more to draw the journal staff’s attention to people they are less likely to know than to list the authors of classics on your bibliography.

When thinking about whom to suggest, consider who may be a sympathetic and fair audience for your piece. Reflect on interactions you have had with people and what impressions you have gotten of scholars you have seen at meetings. (A person who always seems like a curmudgeon or never has anything constructive to say may not be a great candidate for this task.) Of course, think about whose work your paper addresses and who would be interested in reading it based on the abstract. (Reviewers are usually sent a copy of the title of the paper and its abstract to decide whether they want to accept the referee invitation.) List 2-3 such names on the journal submission form if there is an option for it.

Letter accompanying the submission

Journal submissions should include a cover letter. This is not always required with online submission systems anymore, but there is still often room for it. This letter is addressed to the editor by the author (or in the case of multiple authors, usually the lead author). It states the submission of the manuscript for consideration and assures the editor that the paper is not under review concurrently at any other publication. In most fields – law is an exception – it is unacceptable to submit a paper to more than one venue at a time.

The letter should also include a list of omitted references taken out for the purposes of anonymizing the paper for review (see previous section). The journal submission guidelines will mention whether additional information needs to be provided in the letter or as a separate attachment. This can include such items as acknowledgements and author contact information. Sometimes these go on a separate title page. It is important to follow journal instructions as often papers are sent back without review until they meet all logistical criteria.

In the next Ph.Do piece, I will address the types of responses you may receive from a journal and how to address them.

 

 

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