Finding Our Best Readers

Carmen Werder and Karen Hoelscher offer advice on identifying optimal publications and audiences for your writing.


November 12, 2010

Have you ever heard the lore contending that most academic journal articles are read by only two or three other academics? Of course, if we truly believed it, we’d never submit a manuscript. And yet the myth does highlight the challenge of finding the largest audiences that will most appreciate what we have to say. In this column, we offer seven strategies for identifying optimal publications and finding the best audiences for your academic writing.

Assuming that you have carefully aligned your writing projects with your departmental expectations, managed your writing time well, and sustained your writing momentum -- the topics of our first three articles in this series -- you are ready to decide on where to submit your work.

1. Consider submission and turnaround timelines. Chances are your department requires a certain number of refereed articles for tenure and promotion. If so, it helps to develop a long-range writing plan with scheduled submissions that allow ample turnaround time for editors to consider your work. Of course, that turnaround time often varies with the perceived prestige of the publication. Also, given the increasing difficulty of finding qualified reviewers with time to offer peer review, be sure to allow extra time. You may need to go with an alternate publisher if you need something in print sooner, rather than later.

2. Start with receptive audiences. You will be more likely to publish with audiences that have already shown an appreciation for your ideas. So look at publications associated with professional associations sponsoring conferences where you have presented. Translating conference presentations/papers into articles represents one of the most practical (and perhaps too often overlooked) channels for publication.

3. Consider publications you cite. Review your reference list for possible publication venues. For example, one of your top citations probably references an article that has influenced your thinking significantly. If so, chances are high that that journal’s editor will see the link and be interested in your piece. While this move may seem obvious, sometimes in our haste to get something out, we can overlook immediate possibilities.

4. Check the “future topics” lists of potential journals. Browse prospective publications to find upcoming topics and timelines that best match your scholarly interests and timelines. Be sure to browse broadly because you might find that a publication you have overlooked is focusing on your writing topic. Or you might even realize that your piece fits a publication and audience that you had not even previously considered.

5. Use your writerly momentum to submit in multiple places. Sometimes we can adapt or recast one submission for a different purpose to another publisher. That means if you’re really engaged in an issue, put as many submission lines in the water as you can by writing about an issue of deep interest from various angles, for different audiences, and varying purposes.

6. On occasion, publish where you can. Even if a particular publication is not a top venue in your field, getting published it can add to your publishing track record, make your work more attractive to future editors, and provide the energy necessary to submit again. Sometimes it’s wise to go with an editor enthusiastic about your piece just to get your momentum going, even if the publication wasn’t your first choice. For example, you might opt for a regionally published newsletter, rather than a national publication.

7. Consider alternative publication venues and reader access. As David Crotty has noted, “The traditional peer-review system used by academic journals has come under a great deal of recent scrutiny,” and many engaged with scholarly communication contend that copyright concerns have also contributed to views of the traditional system as growing outdated. In 2001, the group that founded the Creative Commons, with the intention of making online information more readily accessible (by making licenses available to authors to specify how they want their work distributed), agreed that academic writers and readers need a different system (Henry). Consider how you might enter this new world of scholarly communication by exploring alternative venues.

Over all, we invite you to think of identifying a publisher, like writing itself, as an open voyage of discovery. Here is a case in point. Initially, we submitted an article about our Western Washington University Faculty Writing Series model and its philosophical underpinnings to an esteemed higher education publication. While the editor responded promptly on receipt, it took several months to receive reviews. And although neither reviewer recommended publication as is, they both suggested revisions that could make our piece more attractive for this journal.

Initially, we focused our attention on taking on these revisions one-by-one (a topic in one of our upcoming columns, dealing with rejection and/or requests for revision) and even shoehorning our article into their vision. Midway in the revision process, we realized we were less interested in publishing a theoretical piece on our faculty writing group model, and more interested in providing practical advice. As it turned out, we have found an excellent match with Inside Higher Ed, and couldn’t be more pleased with both the number and the receptivity of its readers. Here’s hoping the seven tips we offer help in finding your best readers, too.


Carmen Werder is director of the Teaching-Learning Academy and of Writing Instruction Support at Western Washington University, where she is also on the faculty of the Department of Communication and part of WWU Libraries. Karen Hoelscher is professor of education at Western Washington University, where she guides teacher education majors into and out of the K-8 certification program in the year-long internship program at Woodring College of Education, and writes about intercultural communication and faculty development.


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