Publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals, business, social sciences, humanities


Introduction

This resource considers the publication process for your work, and particularly how to get a paper or article published in an academic journal. The resource steps through how to set up a publication plan, how to research journals, what is involved in the submission and review process, and what constitutes ethical conduct within that process. At the end of the resource you will find a useful discussion by experienced social science academic writers and editors from Yale University which elaborates on some of the points covered in this topic, as well as raising some we have not covered here.

Planning process

Clarify goals

The first step in the academic publication process is to clarify your goals. There are a number of ways in which graduate work can be published. All UniSA students can choose to submit the thesis to the Australian Digital Thesis Program which is an online thesis repository accessible to a worldwide audience. Sections of theses are also published in academic or professional journals, edited books and conference proceedings. Some one day become books themselves, although usually in a significantly revised form.

Possible goals on the path to publication might include:

  • sound out early ideas within a friendly but critical discipline or peer forum
  • attend an academic conference in your discipline 
  • present a paper at a conference in your discipline 
  • have a paper published within the conference proceedings
  • write an academic journal paper
  • submit an academic journal paper for review
  • publish an academic journal paper
  • write a chapter for an edited volume
  • submit the thesis to an online repository
  • write a paper or piece for a professional or non-academic journal.

Ultimately your aim is to produce a quality piece of research writing that reaches its target audience, and is well received by that audience. Although rejections can be difficult, they are often an important element in eventual success.

Dissemination of research conclusions within public forums beyond the scholarly community should not occur until after the research has been peer reviewed. This is to protect the public from potentially misleading information. If the research has not been subject to peer review and you wish to discuss your findings within a public forum, it is important to clarify that the research is 'in progress' or 'yet to be finalised'.

Thesis publication plan

A thesis publication plan is a document that links specific elements of the thesis with specific journals. A plan may comprise one or more abstracts with a list of the names of specific journals or conferences that will be targeted for review and publication of that work. The plan also includes other important information such as the impact factor and the journal's requirements and word limits.

A clear publication plan during candidature:

  • ensures writing is targeted to appropriate academic audiences;
  • provides critical, expert, independent feedback;
  • improves quality and research integrity;
  • provides reassurance of 'newness' and 'originality';  
  • provides deadlines;
  • reserves best/substantive work for quality journals/publications;
  • gives experience in receiving critical feedback;
  • provides reassurance that the work is fit for public dissemination;
  • builds confidence.

Potential problems:

  • too much pressure to publish too early can drain motivation,
  • becoming discouraged by a rejection,
  • the thesis does not emerge in publishable portions,
  • publications are tangential to the thesis and do not advance the thesis,
  • academic misconduct.

Research potential journals

If you choose to publish your work in an academic journal, the first step is to locate potential journals in which to publish an identified chunk of your work. At this stage the aim is to write a short abstract that describes your paper, and to make a list of journals, with accompanying information and research profiles, to target for its publication. (The reason publication plans include more than one target journal is because of the high percentage of papers that are rejected. A publication plan has a built in back-up).

The journals you are most familiar with are likely to be the most appropriate journals for you to publish in. Indeed, many journals will expect to see some degree of overlap between the journals listed in a paper's reference list and their own content list. However, because there are often many academic journals in a discipline, all with slightly different foci, it is often necessary to do some research to enable you to put together a list of journals to target for a given piece of work.

In researching journals, the aim is to find a good match between your work and the interests of the journal and its readership.

Strategies for locating appropriate journals could include:

  • checking reference lists in chapters, books and articles close to your topic area to see where other authors are publishing;
  • asking your supervisor, colleagues, peers;
  • searching periodicals, serials and other library data bases;
  • searching the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) Web of knowledge journal citation reports (list of journals by 'impact' or average frequency with which the articles in the journal are cited in a given year or time period).

When thinking about potential journals, look for a fit between your work and the journal in terms of:

  • discipline,
  • broad area of academic interest,
  • geographical context (as relevant for your research).

Once you have identified a possible journal, the next step is to become acquainted with its requirements in more detail. This will involve visiting the journal web site, and browsing its 'aims and scope' in the first instance. If the journal's interests seem to coincide with those of your chosen piece of writing, you might consider checking word limits, content lists, and perhaps even reading back copies of some journal articles. In many cases skimming the contents pages will provide enough information to decide whether the journal is relevant or not. If the contents look promising, you can read selected papers in more depth. You can also type key search words related to your topic into the search option on the journal home page to see what kinds of articles have been published on your subject in the journal in the past.

In deciding whether or not to target the journal for publication of your work, consider the following important factors:

  • its 'impact factor' relative to the discipline;
  • how the journal describes their focus, or the kinds of papers they want to publish (eg theory/practice oriented, scope of focus, literature reviews or empirical only, inclusive of professional/practice focus);
  • any upcoming special editions or calls for papers that might be relevant, and their deadlines;  
  • whether open access (more widely cited);
  • if open access, whether listed on the Directory of Open Access Journals (index of high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals);
  • word limits.

When reading journal articles in the journal, consider:

  • the methodological perspectives represented by articles in the journal, and fit with your work;
  • topical debates, major subject areas, key questions pursued, and fit with your work;
  • what your paper contributes to the subject;
  • how your paper's contribution is different from other papers on the subject.

Be sure to take notes on these points and to include them in the literature review and/or the cover letter to the journal when you submit (more on this below).

The aim of the research exercise is to determine whether an identified chunk of your work fits with, and contributes to, the interests of the journal's readership.

What is a 'high status' publication?

Different types of publications have different status levels, and this can depend on your discipline. Generally, journal articles are considered to be more prestigious than book chapters, conference papers and posters, or papers published in conference proceedings. This reflects how difficult it was to get selected for publication, or how much competition there was to achieve publication. Although book chapters are peer reviewed, and authors are often competitively selected from a larger pool (such as a conference); they can also reflect special interest areas and are not generally blind peer reviewed. Conferences aim to enable wide participation. Although conference papers published in conference proceedings are often peer reviewed, the standards are usually less strict than for ranked international journals. Journals receive a large number of submissions, reflective of their large readerships, and accept a small percentage of submissions for publication compared to other publishers. Publications in international journals are also more likely to continue to be searched and read many years after publication than many edited books and conference proceedings.

However, there are exceptions to these generalisations, and it is important to understand the publication culture in your discipline area. In many areas of the humanities, book chapters carry significant weight. This is usually the case when the book's contributors are well known in their fields, when the publisher is well-known with a wide distribution, and when the book takes up a topical or critical theme in the field. Edited books are also important in many areas in the humanities because journals are not a traditional site of publication and there are few journals to publish in.

Impact factor

The impact factor is an important means by which quality is assessed. The impact factor refers to the average frequency with which the articles in the journal are cited in a given year or time period. In understanding impact factors it is important to consult relevant library guides and workshops. For our purposes here, the main thing to remember is that the impact factor number of a journal is meaningless on its own, but must be compared to other journals within the same discipline or field area. The impact factor of a journal in one field relative to a journal in another field is meaningless because of different citation practices, circulation ranges, and field sizes.

Ranked journals are generally considered to be of higher quality than non-ranked journals, but some prestigious journals are not ranked on impact factor lists, or are ranked lower on the list, but are nevertheless held in high esteem. This usually reflects a high level of specialisation and narrow readership. Notwithstanding the usefulness and influence of measures of impact, it is important to understand that:

  • some journals are more well-known or more widely distributed than others, but not of higher quality;
  • scholarship published in languages other than English are not included;
  • research of national interest is less likely to be published in international journals; 
  • applied aspects of subjects are often excluded;
  • impact factor is measured within a short temporal window (two to three years) excluding consideration of long term significance;
  • authors may cite themselves;
  • some journals adopt practices which are not reflective of quality to increase their impact factor (eg publishing more review articles which generally receive at least one citation following publication);
  • non-academic and other publications are not counted;
  • very original or complex scholarship may receive fewer citations because not well understood.

Submission process

The final step in the planning process is to submit the paper to the first journal on your list. When preparing drafts for submission be sure to adhere to the writing guidelines stipulated on the journal web site. Submission is usually electronic, involving a number of steps including provision of the author's name/s and contact details, some key words, a cover letter, title and abstract, and, finally, submission of the article itself. Journals usually require one copy of the manuscript without information that might identify the author. This copy will be sent out for review. You will also be asked to submit a copy which includes identifying information.

Cover letters

  • Many online submission sites ask for a cover letter.
  • Cover letters provide an opportunity to explain to the editor directly what is special about your paper and why they should publish it in their journal.
  • Cover letters should be short, concise and well written.
  • Explain what is in your paper, why it fits the journal’s publishing agenda, and what makes it stand out from other papers in the journal or on the subject.
  • To achieve the latter, you might explain how your paper fits into scholarship as a whole on the subject, or how your methodology or theoretical perspective provides new or rigorous insights compared to other approaches on the subject.
  • Be confident, but avoid making empty claims. Provide substantiation. And keep the focus on what the paper offers to the journal.
  • If you’re unsure, don’t write a cover letter. They leave an impression. You want it to be a good one.  
  • You may suggest the names of possible reviewers for your paper in the cover letter. Although these will probably not influence the editor, (because they could be biased in your favour). Nevertheless, providing names of suitable scholars to review your paper suggests confidence and knowledge of experts in your field, and, you never know, the editor might refer to them.
  • Always get a second and third opinion on your cover letter before attaching it.

Steps in the submission process:

  • editor acknowledges receipt of manuscript (online automatic reply);
  • editor reads manuscript and decides whether to send it out for review;
  • manuscript goes out for review (two to three reviewers);
  • reviewer's forward comments to editor (comments cover weaknesses in the paper, suggestions for improvement, and the reviewers opinion about whether the paper is worthy of publication in the journal);
  • editor considers reviewers' comments and makes a decision (takes from three to 18 months);
  • editors decision (reject, resubmit or accept);
  • reviewers' comments forwarded to author;
  • author and editor negotiate changes, usually over email;
  • copy editor reads for technical, stylistic, spelling, grammatical errors;
  • author asked to proof final text, contents pages, abstract, author biographies;
  • copyright contract forwarded to author for signing;
  • editor forwards copy of journal edition to author upon publication.

After submission

  • Do not harass the publisher.
  • Expect at least three months to elapse before you hear from them.
  • Check the author submission centre (online) to confirm receipt of article and whether it has been sent out for review.  

If you are successful:

  • Give yourself a pat on the back - you've done it!
  • Attend to any revisions promptly and precisely.
  • Consider feedback carefully and decide what you agree with and what you do not agree with.
  • Outline the changes made in reply emails.
  • If you disregarded any suggestions, state this clearly and explain why.
  • Attend to requests of the copy editor promptly and precisely (content pages, name spelling, punctuation, grammar).
  • Carefully read any copyright contracts you are asked to sign.
  • Ensure the contract enables you to reproduce the work for examination purposes and to submit to an online thesis repository.

If you are unsuccessful:

  • Give yourself time to digest the reviewers' feedback (the advice may seem more reasonable after a day or two).
  • Carefully consider the reviewers' feedback.
  • Talk about your decision with your supervisor, peers, colleagues.
  • Rewrite the paper and resubmit to another journal.

Reasons journals reject submissions:

  • not relevant to the context (local concerns not explained to a wider context);
  • not relevant to the readership/key concerns of the journal;
  • not new/original enough;
  • weaknesses within the paper (methodology, argument, findings);
  • a good paper, but not as good as others that were received;
  • methodological/theoretical conflict with the reviewers, editor and journal readership;
  • academic misconduct.

Managing discouragement

  • Remember many journals accept only a small percentage of what they receive.
  • Even famous, distinguished scholars regularly have their papers rejected.
  • Publishing in quality journals is typically a slow process.
  • Prepare for rejection by having a back-up plan (another journal to send the paper to).
  • Give yourself time to recover from disappointment—it's normal.
  • Move on to the next journal in your publication plan.
  • Understand that you are one step closer to achieving your goal.

Ideally the publication process would support and complement the thesis writing process by providing deadlines and critical feedback on chapters as you go. However, do not be surprised or dismayed if things don't work out this way. As noted above, the relationship between writing the thesis and publishing the thesis can be slower and less predictable than we may like.

Ethical issues in publishing

 Although not without its flaws, the peer review process aims for confidentiality and impartiality. Ethical peer review:

  • is confidential (reviewers may not discuss the review process or outcomes);
  • uses set criteria in its assessments;
  • draws on recognised experts;
  • is free from conflicts of interest (personal prejudice, affiliations, financial remuneration, or other consideration that might bias responses against the review criteria);
  • disallows reviewers from taking advantage of information gleaned in the review process;
  • disallows rejection of research simply because it challenges existing paradigms.

For the most part, academic reviewers assume that any data upon which a publication is based is new, original, and accurate, unless they are advised otherwise by the author in the text.

Unethical publishing practices include:

  • failure to acknowledge sources (see referencing ethics);
  • fraud (data fabrication, data falsification, data plagiarism);
  • misdemeanours (data manipulation, data exclusion, suppression of inconvenient facts);
  • failure to maintain confidentiality of sources;
  • failure to honour publishers' conditions during the review process (sending the paper to more than one journal);
  • duplication, redundant publication, data slicing, data augmentation;
  • text recycling;
  • failure to honour copyright contracts;
  • misleading ascription of authorship;
  • improper acknowledgements.

Academic misconduct

Academic misconduct, whether inadvertent or deliberate, includes the following:

  • presentation or collection of data with respect to laboratory work, field trips or other work that has been copied, falsified or in other ways obtained improperly;
  • inclusion of material in individual work that has involved significant assistance from another person, where such assistance is not expressly permitted by the other person;
  • breaches of ethical protocols, including the Joint NHMRC/AVCC Statement and Guidelines on Research Practice known as the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

Data fabrication, falsification, plagiarism

Research is an original investigation to obtain knowledge or insight. Data integrity is part of the bed rock upon which ethical research rests. Without it we could not come to meaningful conclusions or conduct meaningful research programs. It is a serious breach of research ethics to invent, miscalculate, or plagiarise data (claim someone else's data as one's own). It is unethical to alter, exclude or suppress data or findings. All data of relevance to the research conclusions must be honestly reported.

Data fraud and misdemeanours are likely to be discovered given that researchers are often working on similar research problems sometimes within narrow fields of inquiry and will query discrepant findings. In order to enable research findings to be checked against the data a number of laws and regulations have been formulated. These include The Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act and the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. These laws require researchers to keep raw data in secure conditions for a period of five to fifteen years following research and publication.

Data fraud and misdemeanours can be avoided by being as scrupulous and transparent as possible about your research design and data analysis procedures.

Do not fabricate, falsify, or plagiarise data. Report all data relevant to the research conclusions.

Confidentiality

It is important to obtain written consent from research participants before publishing the results of data analysis. In most cases consent forms also promise to protect the identity of the participants. This must be scrupulously adhered to within any publications arising from the research. All traces of information that could reveal the identity of the source must be removed in publications.

Honor commitments regarding confidentiality.

Submit to one journal at a time

A journal paper may only be submitted to one journal at a time. When a journal has declined to publish a paper, the author may then send it to another journal. While this can extend the publication process considerably, and is sometimes frustrating for authors, it serves to prevent duplication, dishonesty and wasted resources. Journal space is extremely limited, and duplication of the same publication prevents new work from being published. It takes staff within editorial offices of journals considerable time and effort to select reviewers and to manage the review process, and reviewers volunteer valuable time to support the peer review process. By sending the same paper to several journals you are wasting the time of the editor and the reviewers and undermining the peer review process. Since many fields are comprised of relatively few experts, it is likely that a paper sent to two or more journals will be sent to the same reviewer. In other words, you can easily be found out. This can lead to a seriously damaged scholarly reputation, as well as disqualification from the journal/s in future.

There is one instance where it is ok to submit the same paper to two journals. That is when a previously published article in one language is translated into a second language and submitted to a second journal.

Do not submit or publish the same article to more than one journal.

Redundant publication

In addition to the problem of publishing the same paper twice, there is the associated unethical practice of duplicating key findings, or of 'redundant publication' (Roig, 2006). Redundant publication refers to submitting the same data or substantive ideas to more than one journal without disclosing this to the journal or the reader. Sections of text may be reproduced word for word, the same idea may be published more than once using a different wording, or within a different context, or narrow slices of data may be separated out from the core findings and published separately. Data slicing involves the separate publication of segments of data taken from the same sample, giving the misleading impression that the data came from different samples. Data augmentation is another unethical practice. Data augmentation consists of publishing the results of a study in a journal, and subsequently gathering additional data and publishing that data in a second journal as though it were from another independent study.

These practices misrepresent or magnify results and can thereby lead to false conclusions. In each case, the findings are reproduced unnecessarily and aim to serve the career aspirations of the researcher rather than the research aims of the scholarly community. In order to ensure selection according to merit, it is important that a researcher's publication list reflects actual research achievements.

The best way to avoid duplication is to report findings which make more sense when combined in the same paper (especially when the data sets come from the same sample), and to clearly indicate to editors and readers that the ideas or data have been previously published.

It is not considered redundant publication when key findings are discussed within a conference and published within a conference proceedings, and then significantly expanded and reworded and sent to a journal later on. Exceptions can also be made to allow for the duplication of findings or text within anthologies and other collections.

Do not recycle your own data or substantive ideas without disclosure in the text.

Text recycling

Text recycling is a form of intellectual laziness that involves reproducing sections of your own text from previous publications. This represents a violation of copyright, and can be avoided by scrupulously referring readers to the source of any borrowed text either with direct quotes or by paraphrasing just as you would for any other work.

Do not recycle your own previous writing.

Copyright infringements

When you sign a copyright agreement, you are transferring ownership of the material over to the publisher. This means it is no longer yours to copy for public dissemination unless you have permission from the copyright holder. In addition to being unethical, publishing the same paper, or sections of the same paper, redundant publication, and data slicing are also an infringement of copyright and are unlawful.

Do I need to obtain permission from the publisher if a section of my thesis has been published and I want to submit my thesis to an online repository?

Yes, if:

  • you have signed copyright in the material to the publisher without an agreement to deposit the work in an institutional repository;
  • and you are reproducing the substance of the work, whether verbatim or not.

Publishing often involves signing over copyright to the publisher. In exchange for bearing the cost of publishing your work, the publisher asks to be given control over where and how the work is printed in future, including uploading on the internet. For the most part this is in order to secure any financial gains flowing from the work. At UniSA online theses are available for open viewing on the Australian Digital Theses (ADT) program, as well as Arrow@UniSA.

In publicly disseminating your work (including submitting it to an online thesis repository) you must get permission from the copyright owner. It is a good idea to discuss this with the publisher at the time of publication. Many contracts allow authors to deposit theses in online repositories, others do not. Read copyright contracts carefully and do not sign away anything you do not have to. Always keep a copy for your records.

If you want to copy less than the whole work, like a section or a paragraph, you need to determine whether it is a 'substantive' section. Generally speaking this judgement is determined not by the amount of text reproduced, but by its centrality to the overall work. If you are unsure, check with the copyright owner and secure their permission before reprinting.

Permissions are sought in writing. Email is fine.

The Copyright Act permits 'fair dealing for the purpose of research or study'. You do not need to obtain permission from publishers to copy published work in your thesis for supervisors and examiners, but check your copyright agreement before distributing to be sure.

Should I make my work publicly available on an online repository if I want to publish from it later?

It is a good idea to submit your work to an online thesis repository. Not only will the work be more accessible, online repositories offer safe, long term storage, and they make plagiarism more difficult. Plagiarism from an unpublished thesis sitting on a dusty shelf is much less likely to be noticed than plagiarism from a publicly available thesis.

At the same time, if a journal deems that the work has already been disseminated to its target audience, they will probably not want to publish it. In most cases, merely submitting a thesis to an online repository will not be considered dissemination to a target audience. However this could change if online repositories become more popular.

It is a good idea to check any prior publication guidelines on journal web sites before submitting your thesis. Note carefully the publisher's stipulations and consider how wide the dissemination of your work is likely to be before you submit to the public domain. While all UniSA theses on the ADT program are given open access, the Arrow@UniSA repository allows authors to nominate what level of access they prefer. The author can also choose to withdraw the work from either site at any time.

Of course, this applies not only to online thesis repositories, but to the public dissemination of your work at conferences and other professional forums. It is wise to develop a publication plan early in your candidature and to reserve your substantive findings for targeted, quality publications.

Journals may request that the online thesis depository accesses the work from a link to their web site, or that the thesis version uses a different format from the journal formatting of the work. The journal may also ask that the thesis be taken offline.

Do not publicly disseminate work without the permission of the copyright holder.

Misleading ascription of authorship

Authorship can become unclear when several researchers are involved in the same project. Authorship is defined by the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007) as 'substantial contributions in some combination' of the following:

  • 'conception and design of the project
  • analysis and interpretation of research data
  • drafting significant parts of the work or critically revising it so as to contribute to the interpretation'.

The Code notes that 'the right to authorship is not tied to position or profession and does not depend on whether the contribution was paid for or voluntary. It is not enough to have provided materials or routine technical support, or to have made the measurements on which the publication is based. Substantial intellectual involvement is required'.

Authorship of any publications emerging from the research should be discussed, decisions documented at the beginning of the research project, and submitted to the school of the senior author. All authors must accept or decline authorship in writing. Authors may not be included as authors unless they fulfil the requirements stipulated above. Authorship should be periodically reviewed to reflect developments in the research process.

Do not claim authorship unless you have had substantial intellectual involvement.

Acknowledgements

All sources of support, both financial and in-kind, must be disclosed within publications to ensure proper acknowledgement, and to avoid potential conflicts of interest. If an individual's name is included in the acknowledgments, the person's consent must be obtained in writing.

Acknowledge all sources of support, both financial and in-kind, and obtain consent before acknowledging individuals.

Publishing the thesis as a book

Publishing the thesis as a book is a good idea when:

  • the thesis is suited to book form rather than a series of journal articles (more true for narrative based writing as opposed to primary research with single conclusions);
  • you have 12 months to rewrite the thesis for a new audience (theses are rarely published without substantial rewriting);
  • it is important for your career (sometimes journal publications will get you there faster);
  • you have an interested audience.

Publishers' considerations

  • Marketability is critical in publishers' decisions about which manuscripts to publish.
  • Publishers want to know who will buy the book. Will it be used as an undergraduate or postgraduate text book within set courses?
  • Reviewer's comments are important.
  • Publishers may ask for money to publish the manuscript.

If you decide to go ahead, prepare a book proposal.

  • Publishers' web sites have instructions for submitting a book proposal, or you can write to them and they will post their guidelines.
  • Book proposals are anywhere from 1000 to 4000 words in length.
  • Book proposals include a general rationale, expected audience, review of competing titles, table of contents, a copy of your curriculum vitae, and one or more sample chapters.
  • Do not send the whole thesis to the publisher!
  • Do your research, spend time on the plan, and get feedback before submitting.

If accepted ...

  • Follow the reviewers' guidelines.
  • Write for a broad audience. Readers, unlike examiners, are not judging your ability to do research. They want to know your central conclusions.
  • Cut out long footnotes or endnotes, methodological descriptions, and literature reviews.
  • Cut out long introductions, conclusions, linking sections describing what you will do or have done.
  • Do not mention that the book was once a thesis in the acknowledgements or elsewhere in the book. This is not necessary and could undermine its status in some people's minds.

Watch a video

'Publishing 101 for social science grad students' is an hour long presentation by experienced academic writers and editors sponsored by the Yale Graduate Writing Centre.

Topic areas and time point within the video:

  • Why bother? 2.42      
  • Types of publication in approximate order of importance 4.15
  • When to start publishing 6.51
  • The publication process 8.26
  • Ways of slicing the thesis 15.11
  • The editorial perspective 25.26
  • The kinds of papers we often reject 32.28
  • Common problems with graduate student submissions and drafts 34.40
  • Relations with faculty in publishing 43.28
  • Things you can generally ditch from papers coming out of the thesis 49.04
  • Dealing with revisions 50.35
  • Dealing with rejection 59.54
  • Finally: Most important reasons for not getting published 1.04.28

References

Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council and Australian Research Council 2007, Australian code for the responsible conduct of research, AGPS, Canberra, viewed February 2008.

Roig, Miguel 2006, Avoiding plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and other questionable writing practices: A guide to ethical writing, viewed February 2008.

This web resource was developed by Wendy Bastalich

Last modified: Wednesday, 22 May 2019, 11:55 AM