Getting your work out there is hard. And while research and writing are the hardest parts, they’re not the end of the story.
In this blog post, we take you through 10 tips to maximize your chances of getting your paper published.
1. Make sure your research is sound
Making sure your work is published starts at the point of designing your study. Think carefully about your research questions, and which methodology you will choose to answer them. Never make claims that your results don’t support, and always acknowledge the limitations of your work. If you don’t, others will point you to them.
2. Pay attention to the narrative
Whichever journal you are targeting, your paper should tell a story that progresses in a logical way: from surveying your discipline to identifying knowledge gaps, formulating research questions, devising a methodology to answer them, reporting results, and drawing conclusions. Often, a paper forms a closing loop, in which the introduction and conclusion mirror each other.
3. Polish your title and abstract
Remember that first impressions are critical. Certain sections of a research paper have more prominence than others, and will be used as a proxy for judging the quality of the whole. We advise paying specific attention to your title and abstract. These are the first things people will see. (Not only journal editors, but also readers finding your work online.)
4. Proofread, proofread, proofread
We cannot stress this enough: many papers are rejected on the basis of bad writing alone, so time spent proofreading is never wasted. At minimum, your paper should be free of typos and grammar errors. But proofreading (human or automated) should go beyond that. Check for consistency in language variety (e.g. UK vs US English) and use of acronyms/abbreviations. Make sure you use the right words and phrases for your sentence, and the right tone for academic writing.
5. Choose the right venue for publication
People will usually spend a lot of time perfecting their paper. But often, not much time or consideration is spent on choosing where to submit it for publication. And that is a mistake, because the chances of your paper getting published in a journal depend a lot on how good a fit it is.
Get a feel for a journal’s prestige, scope, audience, tone, and style by browsing its website and reviewing recent issues. Talk to your colleagues and supervisor for advice. Remember you can only submit to one journal at a time, so pick wisely!
6. Make sure you follow the rules
This may seem obvious, but many don’t bother with it. So just by following this one tip, you’ll get a headstart over others competing for submission in the same journal as you.
Read the submission guidelines on the journal’s website very carefully, including formatting rules and referencing style (for most it’s APA, but do double check), and adhere to them. And definitely stick to the word limit!
7. Adopt an editor’s mindset
Journal editors are very busy people, so anything you do to make their lives easier will work in your favor. Don’t make them second guess what you want: for example, indicate clearly where you want to be published (if it’s in a special issue of the journal, make that clear), and if asked to suggest peer-reviewers, do put forward names if you can (ideally, suitable people with the necessary time and expertise).
8. Craft a polished cover letter to the editor
The cover letter to the editor may determine their decision to pass your paper along for review or reject it outward. So it’s important to spend time on it and get it right. This is your chance to ‘sell’ your paper and demonstrate it is publication-worthy.
Highlight its significance and relevance (to the journal and discipline), its novelty and originality, what’s surprising and compelling about your results, etc. But don’t repeat your abstract!
9. Address reviewers’ feedback and resubmit
Even if you follow all the above tips, it’s unlikely your paper will be accepted straight away. Often, you will be asked to revise it based on peer-reviewers’ feedback. Read their comments and criticisms carefully, consider if you can address them, and how. Take the time you need for edits and revisions, then draft a carefully considered response showing how, and where, you’ve included them in your paper. If you don't agree with everything, that’s fine, but you should explain why.
Many people don’t actually resubmit and just give up; by re-submitting your paper, you are showing determination to get published in your journal of choice.
10. And if at first you don’t succeed…
Try again! Getting a paper rejected hurts, but it happens to everyone, even established scholars. Learn from rejection, but don’t take it personally (it’s not you, it's your paper).
It might be that you picked the wrong journal (try another one), or neglected another tip in this list (revise your paper). If the negative feedback points to fundamental flaws in study design, it can be more tricky to know what to do. But at least you will have learned something for your next study.