By Dr. Kathleen J. Tate, Program Director of Teaching, Professor, and Editor-in-Chief of the APUS Internet Learning Journal
Planning and writing a manuscript to be accepted and published by a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal can be a daunting task. As editor of such a journal for APUS, I am happy to share that every article has a home. This is something a former Auburn University colleague shared with me early on in my academic career that has helped me get published over time and that both emerging scholars and those who are seeking to increase their publishing success should keep in mind. So, how do you find a home for a manuscript? I recommend the following phased process.
First, search journal options that seem to initially align to your topic. With an idea in mind, be prepared to have some flexibility. You may find that it is outdated or already amply covered in the body of literature. You might also discover that similar topics are covered in journals, but that there are some gaps. This is an opportunity to adjust yours to fit that particular journal.
In your research, you may find that your topic does not fit at all with upcoming themes of various journals. If you cannot revise your topic to fit a specific issue, you may need to consider others. Often, we get used to reading the same journals year after year, not realizing that there is an array of journals in our field. Other than typical web and library searches, another way to find relevant journals is to look closely at the references in published articles. You could be surprised at the number of such journals of which you were unaware. Research those journals and continue with the same process, if needed.
Another way to find journals is to review the online vitae of established faculty members. You may either personally know or know of professors through articles, books, conferences, or blogs. Search their public web biographies at their institutions as often their full or partial vitae or list of publications are provided. The publications of such established scholars may reveal academic journals previously unknown to you.
Second, once you find a journal that seems to best fit your topic, make sure you know the journal well. If you do not already receive it, consider subscribing so you can closely study its particular trends, style, and information. It is important to understand the purposes and scope of the targeted journal before completing your writing. Read back issues, but make sure to review current ones in case it has shifted its focus or format.
Journal websites have directions about themed issues and types of papers accepted. Become familiar with the themes and categories of articles the journal publishes. Then, if there is still uncertainty about the fit of your topic or type of manuscript, email the editor to inquire. But make sure to first do your research.
Journals have different procedures. Most will automatically reject manuscripts that do not comply with the submission guidelines and expectations. Every journal delineates the format, style, and steps for properly submitting a paper. These are so important that you may want to print online instructions and refer to them throughout the writing, submitting, and revising processes. Even quality manuscripts will never be published if the Author Guidelines or Call for Papers information is not followed. For example, if figures or tables are supposed to be saved and labeled in a separate document, then submit accordingly.
Journal editors must screen submissions before they can be sent to reviewers. Improperly configured papers will not make it past the editor. Once you have completed a manuscript, check and double-check that it meets submission requirements. Then, ask a colleague or mentor to review it to help reveal potential issues you might have overlooked.
Third, once you research journals, target one, write and submit, what are the next steps? Wait to hear from the editor. It takes a few months for the review process, and sometimes longer depending on the amount of articles received, availability of reviewers, and frequency of publishing. Once the editor collects blind peer reviews and input, he or she will decide whether you should revise and resubmit; complete minor revisions or edits; or receive a rejected decision.
Many manuscripts require more than minimal revisions. Do not take constructive criticism personally, but as an asset. The process involves multiple professionals, including the editor and reviewers. The idea, much as with dissertation review, is to guide the author’s work to become a more polished quality piece to add to the body of literature.
Follow revision instructions from the editor closely. Many editors will ask that you address the reviewers’ comments and/or explain why you disagree with them. You might be asked to use Track Changes or highlighting in the revision process. Read and reread guidance from the editor. Then, if you provide explanations to reviewers’ comments, be mindful. Reviewers and editors already reviewed your work and do not want to embark on an unnecessarily time-consuming second review. Also, do not change too much beyond reviewers’ comments and editor guidance as the manuscript may then require too much re-review and in the short interval between issues, it could be pushed back and set aside.
Ask the editor for clarification, but refrain from over-communicating. Editors not only manage submissions and journal issues; they work with reviewers, copy editors, formatters, and managing editors. They are engaged in much activity behind the scenes, in addition to rereading your work during the process. Editors are typically charged with promoting the journal, working with marketing teams and libraries, increasing readership, seeking and soliciting reviewers and authors, and much more. Research and effort on your part can streamline the phases from submission to publication.
In sum, the publication process can seem overwhelming. But approaching it in manageable chunks may lead to more success. If you think you found a home for your manuscript, but receive a rejection, do not be discouraged. It simply means that was not the right fit at the right time. Try submitting again later to that journal or find another one and alter your paper to align to it. There is no substitute for due diligence in getting published. Reach out to mentors, colleagues, and editors for guidance along the way. Remember that every article has a home!