by Jaclyn MacNeil
Published at 2022-11-09
Publishing your own journal article is an exciting prospect. At this stage in the process, you’ve likely spent many hours writing, editing, integrating feedback, rewriting, revising, and so on. But now, finally, you’ve developed a polished manuscript. Unfortunately, the work is not over quite yet. It’s time to get your work published! Submitting your manuscript to a publisher is a writing stage of its own. Whether it’s your first time or your tenth, submitting an article for publication will always require time, attention, and hard work.
Here are four general tips to help you with the submission process!
There are many academic journals out there, so how do you know which one to submit to? Maybe you’ve always had one in mind, or maybe you feel less certain about the right one. It’s important to do your research about which one is the best fit for your manuscript.
Academic journals will always have their aim, scope/focus, or mandate on their websites. For the journals you are interested in, review these to get an impression of what the journal is all about. Check out their editorial board or team. Do you know of the editors, or are you familiar with their work?
Another good thing to do is to read a handful of the articles and/or other content that the journal publishes. Find out who and what is being published. What topics and critiques are present? Which types of articles are being published most? Are you familiar with the researchers/authors? Have you cited any of the journal’s articles in your manuscript?
Do you think your manuscript is a good fit?
At the end of the day, you want your manuscript to fit within the larger scope of the journal while providing a nuanced or unique perspective or critique.
Taking the time to thoroughly read the submission guidelines is essential. Many journals provide in-depth information on the entire process (from manuscript preparation to what to expect once accepted) and will have specific instructions on manuscript format and style.
Adhering to the publisher’s style and specific guidelines shows that you care, that you pay attention to the details, and that you are taking the submission seriously.
Many, if not most, journals today exclusively accept submissions through their electronic portals (however that is not the case everywhere). There is no face-to-face interaction, and cover letters are becoming less common. Your submission is the first (and maybe only) impression that you can make — you want it to be positive, respectful (by following the guidelines to a “T”), and memorable (your writing is polished, succinct, and impactful).
Some journals will request manuscript anonymization, suggested reviewers, and information on permissions. Each of these elements takes time to prepare, so make sure to budget a proper amount of time to complete each step. And if your manuscript contains tables, figures, and illustrations you may need to follow another set of instructions to properly submit (format, size, naming, placement, captions, titles, etc.). Also, keep in mind the requested file format — be sure to submit the correct one.
Print out the guidelines — take notes, circle or highlight important things — this will help you remember the changes you need to implement.
If you do have to write a cover letter, keep it concise. Be sure to highlight notable accomplishments or what makes you, your research, and your manuscript distinct.
Remember that you should always submit your best writing to a publisher — polished and succinct — no typos, misspellings, or inconsistences.
Some journals will have their style requirements integrated within the submission guidelines, while others will have a separate style guide on their websites. Wherever these style rules are located, be sure to study them closely.
Publishers often follow an established style guide such as Chicago, APA, MLA, AMA, and so on. But sometimes they’ll have their own additional style rules along with their chosen established guide. It’s important to know what rules you need to follow.
Style goes beyond documenting sources — publishers will have style preferences about document format, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, translations, inclusive language, headings and titles, special treatment of words, quotes, and emphasis, font size and type, line spacing, margins, and so on.
Other aspects that are subject to style requirements are manuscript length, abstract length, key words, and acknowledgements. Each element of your manuscript may need revisions to adhere to the journal’s style.
This may sound like a lot of tweaking, and it can be, but don’t get discouraged. Make a master list of all the elements you need to check and all the changes you need to make to your manuscript in order to get it ready for submission. Break up tasks into smaller chunks and create a schedule to complete them in a timely manner.
Here is an example of a list below, adapted from Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks.
· How does the journal accept submissions?
· Do I need to submit an abstract?
o If yes, is there are word limit?
· What types of articles does the journal accept?
o What category does my manuscript fall under?
o Does my article type have specific requirements? Does my article meet them?
· Does the journal have an anonymous review process?
o What information must I strip from my article to adhere to anonymization?
· Is there a word limit?
o Does this limit include tables and works cited?
· What style does the journal use?
· How does the journal expect me to cite sources (in-text/author-date, footnotes, endnotes, etc.)
· Does my article use the serial or oxford comma?
· Does the journal use Canadian, British, or American spelling?
· How should non-English words be treated?
· Are any of my illustrations, tables, or figures produced or owned by someone else?
o Does the journal require me to have that permission before submission?
o Do I need to ask the owner of the copyright material for mission to reproduce it?
o Do I have the proper contact information?
These are just a few of the questions you need answers to before you begin! By strictly following the journal’s instructions, you communicate to the editorial staff that you respect their time, the requirements, and that you take this submission seriously. These in turn suggest that you would be a good author to work with.
Once you’ve made your changes, ask a friend, a colleague (one that you won’t recommend as a peer reviewer), or an editor to review your manuscript for proper formatting and adherence to style. It’s easy to miss or forget things. Having a fresh set of eyes to review your work can help you spot things you simply can’t see anymore (cause you’ve likely been looking at this for many, many hours).
If you’ve followed these tips and put in the work, then you’ll be ready to submit your manuscript with confidence! If you’ve checked every detail and polished your writing as much as possible, then you should feel ready to click that “submit” button.
Although you have come a long way, with countless hours spent on your manuscript, do know that getting your manuscript accepted for publication is not easy. It may take several tries at several different journals. But, when it is accepted, you will likely receive revision suggestions from the journal reviewers/editors, who will only agree to publish your work once you’ve implemented the changes. This in of and itself is a whole other stage of the process. But luckily, it is one that has you so close to the finish line, you’ll have a renewed motivation and energy to see it through.
Check out former editor Jonathan’s review of Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks.