Preparing to Publish

Publishing is one of the most daunting tasks Ph.D. students and young faculty members need to do. Just thinking about writing an article can trigger imposter syndrome and self-doubt. The process of daily writing can also make you aware of all the bad writing habits you’ve picked up over the years, including that pesky undergrad procrastination. Publishing also requires us to learn new procedural requirements such as researching where to publish your work and making sure your submission (after all the hard work it takes to get to submission) isn’t dismissed for missing guideline requirements. UGH!  However, if you plan to have a career in academia, there is no way around the fact that publications are a necessity. After having spoken with Dr. Kerry-Ann Rockquemore about the importance of a daily writing habit, The Ebony Tower wanted to give our tower dwellers an explicit guide and checklist for publishing your first (or second!) article.

Identify which (types of ) journals you want to be published in.

  • You don’t need to commit to one journal yet, but at least get a feel for what types of articles your prospective journals accept and what are the style norms for articles published in them. The last thing you want to do is start writing an article just to find out it’s not a good fit for any of the forums you hoped to publish in.  

Now start writing!

  • Struggling to stay focused? Try the Pomodoro technique. Here are some resources for free online timers to help you stay on task and productive.

  • To build a long-term writing habit, I recommend scheduling two hours of writing time every, damn, day, first thing in your day (if you can). This is another tip shared with us from NCFDD that I swear by. After brushing my teeth and making my coffee (notice I did NOT mention checking emails), if I sit down and write for two hours, I have a much more productive day with much less guilt. I even tend to go back to writing in the afternoon, if I have some free time. On days when I can’t write first thing because I am teaching, it takes me much longer to settle into a writing groove and less likely to stay focused once I start writing (there are always distractions!)
  • Note to self: if you write for 2 hours Monday through Friday and you average a page of writing for every 2 hours, after a month, you’ll have 20 pages! That’s the average length of an article for my field.
  • Collect your data and have sources on hand. Stay ready. I use Evernote to organize and store all my sources. I love their web clipper because it allows me to add websites, articles, book titles from random websites to a running bibliography lists I keep organized by topic/ theme.
  • Don’t forget to dedicate time to writing a strong abstract and coming up with keywords! Abstracts and keywords act as marketing for your article. Think about it, the first and perhaps the only thing potential readers will see before passing up reading your work is your abstract. How many abstracts have you read and decidedly passed on continuing to read the article?

Be prepared to edit and edit and edit some more! No seriously.

  • Of course, we recommend a writing group (even if just between two people).
  • One thing I have struggled with is editing at every stage of the writing process and not just when I think I have a really good draft. Having someone edit your nascent, thoughts can help you hone in on your argument or, better yet, broaden your creativity and thoughtfulness in the initial stages while you’re still crafting an outline for your argument.
  • I know sharing your very early drafts can sound scary, however, to mitigate insecurities, I suggest making an editing pyramid.
  • Your sweetest, most supportive friends and mentors are appropriate for looking at the initial stages or outlines of your writing. Your harshest critics (perhaps your advisor or an advanced colleague in your field) may be better suited to read your mid-level draft. At the top of your pyramid, I put people with knowledge of my field and that “hack and burn” editor/ friend. These are the people who will really tighten up the mechanics, format, and theory of your paper.
  • Lifehack: I tend to ask for feedback based on what I need intellectually and emotionally: so when I need a direct critique of the concluding section and I’m feeling anxious and insecure, I balance my emotions by asking that person who I know will give me all their sweetness or a “whoa! You are so smart!” remark.  It’s important to remember that even our most basic work is pretty impressive to people outside of academia. So do what you gotta do to occasionally feed your soul and ego- just don’t go full Kanye.

We often have to write articles while handling a full load at school, teaching, working, balancing domestic and familial responsibilities. Basically, articles are just one extra stressful thing on top of the 100 things we need to do. It’s hard to write your best intellectual work in those circumstances.

  • However, if you have to prioritize (in terms of quality and time) any piece of your article, make it the intro and conclusion. An article with a clear, engaging intro and a unique, concrete conclusion is an article with potential. An article with a complicated, unclear introduction and without significant, concise results is difficult to read and see value in. So, make sure your intro and conclusion are tight.
  • NOTE: I’ve heard this is a discipline-specific tip. In psych, for example, I’ve been told that data charts are, “the first thing to look at to determine if it’s a good paper.” Adjust accordingly!

You may be wondering, what is a good intro? A good intro introduces us to the research topic, is engaging and tells us how you plan to answer your question.

A good conclusion summarizes the results of your research and tells the reader the significance of your research.

Consider peer review and rankings of journals

  • I hate to say it, but I have to. If your long-term goal is to get tenure one day, regardless if you are interested in working at a SLAC or a research institution, you should spend some time considering the reviews and ranks of the publication you decide to submit to. I’m not saying you have to make your decision purely on ranking, but I do think you should give it thought. The journals you publish in often matter in tenure review files and given all things you may not be able to control in your career– like every student review, relationships with all of your colleagues, departmental dramas– consider giving yourself a leg up by publishing (at least once) in one of the premier journals of your field or subfield. You can do it!
  • For more publishing pragmatism, Tom Boellstorff (cited below) makes a compelling case for using a three-tier model for getting three publications out before your tenure review:  (1) publish in your discipline-specific journal (2) publish in your geographical area-specific journal (3) publish in your subdiscipline-specific journal.

When submitting your article

  • Make sure you follow the submission guidelines, including formatting requirements and anonymizing your submission if so required. Some journals may allow you to submit a cover letter alongside your article. Feel free to do it; just keep it brief.
  • Depending on the journal, once you submit it may take months to get a response from the editor. Be patient. If a really, really, long time goes by and you feel the need to reach out, find the appropriate person to email on their website (don’t jump to the editor).  

Rejection, Revisions, Resubmitting

  • Listen, rejection is a part of our field and being told you need to make revisions can trigger feelings of rejection and self-doubt. It’s important to remember, rejections and revisions happen to MOST junior and senior scholars. After you submit your article, you will most likely get editorial feedback. Take the time to read and think about the kind of critiques you are receiving. I always give myself a moment to be annoyed, roll my eyes, even talk smack with my girlfriends. But then, I de-personalize and create some emotional space between myself and the comments and read them as a guidebook to becoming a better writer.
  • I picked up a helpful habit during my tougher dissertating years which is, I sit down with my editor’s notes and a thick black sharpie. I then go through and black out any criticisms that are personal, mean, or dismissive. Any comments that do not directly relate to my work and my writing get blacked out. It even helps to get rid of the word “you”. For example, if someone says, “you do not introduce us to your argument until too late.” I use my sharpie until it says, “introduce us to your argument earlier.” A simple reframing can make the revision process feel much less combative.  
  • After you’ve made your revisions and are ready to re-submit, draft a cover letter clarifying how you’ve addressed every previous concern and criticism.

Publishing can be a scary and long process but once you are published, what an accomplishment! The revision part of the process even helps to assure that you are putting your best work out there! So go out there and publish! And then share your tips and experience with us at The Ebony

Your story could be featured in our Tales from the Tower segment!



Boellstorff, Tom, Submission and Acceptance: Where, Why and How to Publish Your Article, American Anthropologist, 113, 3, (383-388), (2011).

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