Vol. 16 : No. 12< >
Editor’s Note: There is always more to learn about
writing. After a score of courses, I continue to learn by observing, listening,
reading, and … writing. An idea does not look the same when you see it on paper.
You edit it, sharpen it, reduce ambiguity, enrich meaning, add examples, and
massage the format. Writing is both an art and a science. In this article, Brent
Muirhead addresses fundamental aspects of planning and preparation for academic
publication. I heartily endorse these for beginners and professionals alike.
Incidentally, the same principles apply to editors and those who write Editor’s
Writing for Academic Publication
Online Editor, USDLA Journal
The process of writing for academic publication is a unique
professional challenge. Individuals would like to write but are not quite sure
how to get started. The author shall provide advice on how to develop a
practical writing plan that will increase opportunities for publication.
Establishing a Writing Plan
A frequent question through the years has been what is the most difficult aspect of writing? Often, it involves simply getting started on a writing project because people often struggle with the initial steps. Individuals will offer an assortment of excuses for not writing for publication such as not having the time, my colleagues do not publish, it is not in my research area and my job description does not require writing. Perhaps, the deeper reason involves a personal awareness of deficient writing skills and a fear of rejection. It is important to face these concerns and realize that the self-confidence to be a successful writer will require taking some risks and developing a plan that will enhance the quality of their writing. The competition for publication is intense but the good news is there are specific steps that individuals can take to enhance their odds of getting articles published in journals and books (Henson, 1999).
The first step in the writing process should be to select a topic that will be informative and relevant to capture the attention of today’s editors. There is no real formula for identifying a meaningful topic. Yet, the author has found that creative topics will flow from an individual’s reading and studying habits. It is wise to have a diverse reading program that includes nonfiction books, journals and major newspapers such as the New York Times. Reading a variety of works offers a practical way to identify hot topics in a particular academic discipline and within the popular culture.
The reading of research reports requires critical reflection and systematic analysis to clearly identify the salient elements of the study. Locke, Silverman & Spirduso (1998) recommend reading with realistic discernment “small steps in improved understanding are the reasonable goal of most inquiry, not great leaps based on perfect studies…If every study involves trade-offs and compromises in scope and design, the same is true in preparing reports. No journal article contains the full story. The constraint of space alone makes this inevitable (p. 54).”
The author usually begins with several potential topics and then decides what topic would best fit the journal’s theme or type of articles. This is a crucial step because it is wise to investigate several journals to clearly identify which one offers the best possibility of being published. For instance, it is important to understand certain basic facts about the publication such as the percentage of articles that are written by free lance writers, the average length of time to peer review an article and the acceptance rate for submitted articles. This type of information is an effective way to start exploring what would be the best journal or magazine to pursue publication. Brogan and Brewer’s (2003) Writer’s Market is an example of books that examine potential publications. It offers practical advice and contact information for writers who are investigating places to submit their work. It is important to devote time to studying various publications before making a final decision on a topic and place of submission. Ray (2002) recommends asking the following questions:
· What is its purpose?
· What regular departments or features does it include?
· What seasonal material does it include?
· What range of freelance-written topics does it cover?
· What topics and articles have been recently published?
· What elements and features do the articles include?
· What writing techniques, structure, and organization do authors employ?
· How long are the articles?
· How deep is the information?
· How do articles and accompanying graphics appear?
How formal or informal are the design, writing, and graphics?
The list of questions will help individuals to identify the top three or four potential journals or magazines that offer the best publication opportunities. The next step is to establish a series of short and long-term writing goals. It is essential that individuals create goals that help them continually write and practice their skills. The author writes letters to the editors on a variety of social issue to major newspapers such as USA Today and the New York Times because they represent competitive writing situations. The New York Times will publish one letter every two months and they attract writers who are leaders in their respective fields. USA Today newspaper receives approximately125, 000 letters a year and has 2.2 million readers (Hoover’s Online, 2002). Therefore, it is a real honor to be published with either of these newspapers.
Serious writers will share their knowledge and insights in a diversity of articles such as a literature review, reflections on a recently attended conference and book reviews. The articles can be creative and descriptive narratives that can reflect a good working knowledge of the literature. Usually, editors will invite individuals who have specific expertise in an academic area to review a recent book. Fahey (2001) recommends, “a book review should not just summarize the book, but should incorporate personal judgments. You should be polite even if you disagree with the author (and especially if you are just beginning your writing/teaching career) (paragraph 20).”
Authors occasionally experience a time where they lack ideas and they draw a blank. It is wise to realize that others can have this problem and take a healthy perspective on this issue. Skinner & Policoff, 1994 offer strategies to jump-start the writing process.
· Establish a writing routine that creates a specific time and place to write and encourages daily practice.
· Change your established writing schedule to a different time of the day.
· Read books and articles in your research area with renewed sensitivity because it can promote new ideas.
· Write a letter or poem that expresses your thoughts.
· Exercise or listen to music to help energize your creativity
(Skinner & Policoff, 1994).
Develop Good Relationships with Editors
The key is to be continually writing and networking with other writers and editors at conferences and online newsgroups. There are numerous professional organizations that offer formal and informal formats to meet others who are involved in research projects and publication related activities. For instance, The International Forum of Educational Technology Society (IFETS) provides an online discussion platform for sharing information and networking with others (Fahey, 2001).
It is essential that writers cultivate good relationships with their editors by learning to be attentive to the publishing process. The author is an editor and it surprising how people will often neglect to provide updates on how they are progressing on an article. Also, individuals will miss promised deadlines and then decide not to write the article but not inform their editor. Unfortunately, some writers can operate in a manner that undermines their relationships with editors and it can diminish the possibility of having future writing opportunities.
“But, while editors may assign an article based on a query
and subsequent exchanges, they may choose not to work with you again if you
became lazy midway through a project, didn't respect their time, were difficult
or time-consuming to communicate with, or didn't follow through on what was
promised (Ray, 2002, final paragraph).”
Editors are always looking for creative and relevant
articles that will meet the needs of their readers. Writers should strive to
develop positive communications patterns with their editors by submitting
quality work, meeting promised deadlines and responding promptly to their e-mail
or telephone messages. The author has found that a writer’s focus should not be
on fears about their work being rejected. Rather, individuals need to be
dedicated to producing excellent material that editors will want to publish.
Writing for publication represents a wonderful opportunity to interact with the
others and make a positive contribution to the academic community.
Brogan, K. S. & Brewer, R. (2003). Writer’s market. Cincinnati, OH:
Writers Digest Books.
Fahey, S. J. (2001). How to write academic articles for publication. Available:
Henson, K. T. (1999). Writing for professional publication: Keys to academic and business success. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Hoover’s Online (2002). Gannett Co. Available: http://www.hoovers.com/co/capsule/3/0,2163,10623,00.html
Ray, D. S. (2002). Freelance article writing: Tips for establishing and maintaining good relationships with magazine editors. TECHWR-L. Available:
Skinner, J. & Policoff, S. P. (1994). Writer’s block—and
what to do about it. Writer, 107 (11), 21-24.
About the Author