Top Tips from Journal Editors

I've invited a number of journal editors to share their tips for writing in their journals. If you are a journal editor and are interested in submitting please e-mail me.

Professor Wendi Arant-Kaspar
Joint Editor Journal of Academic Librarianship

Professor Arant-Kaspar visited NUI Maynooth and spoke at the seminar on Advancing Academic Writing among Librarians in January 2014.  She kindly agreed to do a guest post for this blog.

I have been reading the comments from other editors with interest – and I could keep this post incredibly short by saying “Ditto” but there a few specifics that I can highlight with regard to JAL:

·         Forest hits the nail on the head - Check the guidelines for authors and follow them.  It makes for a smoother editorial and review process.  I would add to be attentive to removing the identifying information – it helps maintain the integrity of the blind review process.

·         Readability is crucial: Miller is correct in advising a proofreader of having a colleague review it – or even co-author, if writing isn’t your strength.

·         Partridge advises to pay attention to feedback.  If a paper is heavily marked up, know that the “red ink” translates into personalized time and attention from the editor or reviewer.  They saw the potential of your submission and invested in it with thoughtful attention and advice.

·         I wholeheartedly agree Fagan and Rempel discussing doing a literature search.  To add on, don’t just pay attention to the library literature either: there are many topics that can be informed by other disciplines – management, assessment, research methods, etc.

Lastly, I would also like to consider aspects of “ownership” around submissions.  There have been situations that have raised questions, offering an opportunity to open a dialogue:

·         If you have presented or published (even informally) the majority of the information in the submission, please inform the editor in your cover letter.  The exception is, of course, institutional repositories and government-funded research – which many journals, JAL among, make accommodation for.

·         Many editorial systems run the paper through a citation system, which may catch a previous version (as in the above example) or raise other questions.  In some instances, the reviewers may also catch it and inquire.  I know of several editors that have seen the same submission come the journal they edit and another journal for which they review, at the same time.

·         It may be that an author is citing themselves – from a previous different publication. In this case, they can rightly cite that other published article.  While self-citation is somewhat looked down upon, it makes absolute sense that an author would build on their previous research.  However, recycling a lot of text from a previous publication should be avoided. 

There are many other situations around co-authorship, citation, acknowledgement and collaborative projects – too numerous to cover here.

 Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed open access Journal of Information Literacy

After several years of peer reviewing and two years of editor-in-chiefing, I’ve managed to boil down what I’m looking for in a journal article to five bullet points:
  • An original contribution to the field
  • A research-informed and evidence-based approach
  • Designed around an arguable research question
  • Contextualised with reference to previous and current advances in IL thinking
  • Methodologically robust with a demonstrable research design
So at JIL we’re looking for research that helps readers understand a new development in information literacy, or understand existing thinking more deeply; that builds on evidence from other literature to back up its arguments; and that shows that the writer did some thinking and planning about what they wanted the research to achieve before they went ahead and did it.

Don’t be scared by the M word - methodology. It brings a lot of people out in hives, but having a clear and well applied method is simultaneously essential for a research article and not as terrifying as it’s often made to sound. The simplest way to think about it is to remember that a research article is about investigation, not description. JIL has a separate section for sharing good practice, where you can tell us about your teaching practice and resource design, but to be published in the peer-reviewed research articles section, your paper needs to not just describe what you did, but also say:
  •      why it needed to be done to start with
  •         why you went about it the way you did
  •         how you made sure the process wasn’t full of assumptions, errors, biases and holes

If you look at a few papers in your field, especially ones from the journal you’d like to publish in, you’ll see how this investigative approach translates into a written article. You can also use a handout I made, based on xkcd’s ‘Thing Explainer’, that describes the structure of a journal article in simple language. You can see it on my blog or download a copy.
It’s a brave thing to release your writing into the wild. Showing other people what you’ve written can make you feel vulnerable; receiving even the most kindly framed criticism might make you feel (temporarily) homicidal. There’s a brilliant Storify on dealing with reviewer comments, and you should also engrave the following principles on your heart:
  •  Journals have a specific scope and remit
  • If your article doesn’t fit, maybe the container is the wrong shape. Try a different journal: your work has something to say to somebody.
  • ‘Resubmit’ doesn’t mean ‘Reject’. It’s been known for authors to react as though they’re the same thing. If you’ve been invited to resubmit your work for further review, it means they like it
  • Reviewers and editors are writers too
and we know it sucks to have your writing criticised. At JIL we make a point of giving authors constructive, practical, workable suggestions for how you could improve your paper. We aim to not only be humane, but objective and evidence-based: the same principles that apply to all scholarly communication. 

Rebecca Donlan, Florida Gulf Coast University Library
As an editor of two rather different journals (one more theoretical, the other more practice-oriented), I have always been happy to work with authors who have something interesting to add to the scholarly conversation.  In my nine years as an editor-in-chief, I have received only two papers that needed little, if any, editing. (I ended up drafting the author of one of those papers to be my co-editor.)   I have also received plenty of papers that were completely out of a journal’s scope, or so tortuously written that I could make little sense of them.  The truth is that most papers need some work.  Librarians, as readers and researchers, have the foundation required for successful authorship.  I always find myself coming back to Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science. 
Books are for use Read current issues of the journal to which you plan to submit your manuscripts so you know the topics currently under discussion.  You certainly aren’t limited to them, but be sure you do not submit a manuscript that is completely out of the journal’s scope, or has already been covered in depth.  Get a feel for the average length of an article. 
Every reader his (or her) book Conduct a thorough and broad literature search.  Even a practice-based article needs grounding in the literature.  Maintain the citation list as you go, in the format required by your journal.  Using citation management software like EndNote or RefWorks makes it easy to change styles, in case you are not yet sure where you’ll submit. 
Every book its reader Once you have completed the literature review and identified the gaps your work will address, it’s fine to send off a query to an editor to find out if they are interested in your work.   The editor may have more ideas for you to consider, or know others in the field you might want to talk to about your work.  As you write your first draft, write to be understood.  I would far rather read a conversational first draft than wade through a tortured attempt at a formal tone.  If you have experienced colleagues, ask them to read your draft and listen to their feedback.    
Save the time of the reader Read the guidelines for authors before you contact the editor or submit your paper.  Editors are not favorably impressed by questions that didn’t need to be asked because the instructions were online.  Follow all the formatting guidelines--use the requested type font, size, and line spacing indicated (usually Times New Roman 12-point, double-spaced).   Submit illustrations, tables, and appendices as instructed.  If you don’t understand a requirement, ask the editor; we’d rather explain than re-format. 
The library is a growing organism
Writing is hard.  Getting that first draft out there can be daunting, but if you are willing to do the work and take constructive criticism, you will be a published author.   Editors do what they do because they want to add to the literature of our profession, and most of us will bend over backwards to help authors with something to say.   The thrill of seeing your first article in print is worth all the work!

Margaret Forrest

Associate Editor, New Review of AcademicLibrarianship (NRAL)

·         Read some articles from recent issues of the journal in which you would like to publish. This will help you get a feel for the style of writing and the subject coverage of the journal.
·         Write to the Editor or Associate Editor with an abstract of your proposed article to ask if this would be of interest. If you are not given a copydate, make one up! Copydates can help keep you on track.
·         Look for the journal’s “Guidelines for authors” and be sure to follow any instructions, e.g. for the length of article.
·         If you submit your article to a peer reviewed journal, it will usually be sent out blind (without the name or address of the author/s) to two reviewers. The reviewers for NRAL are asked a number of questions which can help focus their reviews. For example:
·         How informative is the title?
·         Is there an abstract (of around 200 words) and an up to date bibliography conforming to the journal’s referencing style?
·         Are the objectives of the paper stated?
·         Are the methods of the study and the results clearly described?
·         Does the discussion link theory and practice?
·         Does the paper provide something new?
·         Are the ideas of interest and practical relevance to academic libraries

·         Reviewers are then asked to make a recommendation on whether or not the paper should be published and how the paper could be improved. This feedback can be the most valuable part of the writing process and it’s worth submitting your article to a peer reviewed journal just for this guidance. You may not always agree with the reviewers, but it will encourage you to think more critically about your writing and hone those skills!

Sigrid Kelsey, General Editor, Catholic Library World

 Choosing a topic
Choosing a compelling and original topic can be one of the most challenging and most important aspects of writing an article that will be accepted into a journal. Articles should contribute something new to professional literature and inspire readers in their professional work and research. Authors should search the literature before embarking on a writing topic to make sure their topics are covering something new.
Calls for submissions are an excellent way to find appropriate and sought-after topics to write on. Professional blogs, email lists, social media sites, and websites often post calls for papers and submissions with suggested topics. Querying an editor is another way to learn what a journal editor is seeking. Some editors are in search authors to write on various topics that their readers have requested. When choosing a topic, an author also should be qualified to write on it.

Journal guidelines
Authors should consult journal websites for instructions to authors. These provide guidelines for topics, appropriate length and style, directions on submissions, and information about how the submission process works.  

Writing style
After writing an article, authors should reread their articles keeping in mind grammar, style and readability. Here are some tips to avoid common stylistic mistakes:

·         Each paragraph should contain a topic sentence, with each sentence relating to it.

·         Second person should be avoided at all times, and over-use of first person should be avoided.

·         Sentence structure should be varied for interest.

·         Sentences should avoid ambiguity, with pronouns clearly referring to specific nouns.

·         Articles submitted to peer reviewed journals should be written in a formal business style, avoiding the casual style often seen on blogs.

·         Proper citation styles should be adhered to, and plagiarism should be avoided.

·         Opinions should be backed up by research.

Peer reviews
Peer reviews are meant to be constructive, and responding to suggestions by peers before publication leads to better quality articles and advances scholarship in the field.

Book reviews
Book reviews are an excellent way to start writing. Catholic Library World publishes 100 book reviews per issue and has more than 200 reviewers dedicated to reviewing books on many topics. Book reviews serve an important function in the library science profession, and they are an excellent way to become familiar with both the literature one reviews, and with the writing and submission process.

Authors should feel free to email me about writing for Catholic Library World

Dr William Miller
co-editor of The Reference Librarian

Not surprisingly, articles submitted for The Reference Librarian must have some connection to the reference function.  It helps greatly if you have a thesis, and focus on it, rather than wandering into interesting but irrelevant byways.  Regarding how long an article should be, it should be long enough to say, fully, what you have to say, but without any padding or unnecessary content.  Please check your spelling and grammar; if you are not highly proficient or experienced at writing, have your work reviewed and corrected by someone who is before submitting it.  Our journal uses the APA style manual;   please actually look at it, and follow it when you do the references.  If possible, avoid writing “how I did it good” pieces.  Be aware of what has been done already, and build on it, rather than assuming that you are the first one ever to have pursued this topic.  If you are basing conclusions on numbers you have collected, don’t make more of the numbers than they can actually support—in other words, be aware of rudimentary social science research methods, adequate sample size, etc.  Make sure that your conclusions are warranted by the evidence you have amassed; make sure that your conclusions are relevant to the content and argument of your article!  Avoid pseudo-scientific words:  “utilize” and “use” mean the same thing.  Avoid the word “patron” if at all possible; prefer “people,”  “person/s,” or “user/s.”  Use active voice:  “I did it” is much more effective than “it was done by me.”  Above all, remember that you are writing for readers, not for yourself; the topic should be interesting, and worth the reader’s time.

Eleanor Mitchell and  Sarah Barbara Watstein

As co-editors of Reference Services Review (RSR), we hope that authors will enjoy the authoring and publication experience; the following tips and aha’s promise to make the academic writing journey a fulfilling one!

  1. Why Write? Why Publish? Before you begin, think about why you want to write and publish. Do you want to demonstrate or share expertise? Advance in your position or career? Obtain funding? Develop/build community? Enhance the visibility of your institution/library/program? Do writing and publication bring you professional or personal satisfaction? Reflecting on why you want to write and publish at the head end of your work ensures both focus and momentum.
  2. Journal Options: Identify and assess journal options (publishing options/outlets). Review the journal purpose, editorial objectives, availability, intended audience, guidance for potential authors, colleague-mentoring opportunities.
  3. The Right Fit: Select the appropriate journal for your topic, your style and approach, your preferred audience, your time-frame.  If you have an off -hand, editorial style of writing, and use an informal tone, make sure the journal you are considering publishes this sort of writing.  However, sometimes, in our journal (Reference Services Review) we will include an opinion piece or an interview or a point-counterpoint style article if the topic seems provocative and relevant. Similarly, sometimes a submission may seem tangential or almost off-topic for our areas of focus; with additional work and refocusing, articles of this sort have become among the most highly downloaded by our readers.  If your topic and perspective are compelling, take a chance.
  4. Making Contact: If you have questions about whether or not a journal is “the right fit,” contact the editor or co-editor, attend conferences or events and stop by the publisher’s booth(s), reach out to members of the journal’s Editorial Advisory Board, or track down published authors.
  5. Author Guidelines: Adhere to manuscript requirements (format; tables, figures and illustrations; references”) and follow manuscript submission guidelines.
  6. Manuscript Submission: Submit your best and final work: don’t send something half-baked or clearly unedited. However, RSR has a long editorial tradition, established by our long time founding editor and legend Ilene Rockman, of working closely with authors, particularly first time authors, to help them at different points in the process. Whether it is sharpening the thesis, clarifying the arguments, or bringing additional sources or perspectives to bear, our reviewers and editors often provide essential guidance. Frequently authors will correspond with us outside the submission process to jump start their writing process.
  7. The Editorial Process: Familiarize yourself with the manuscript review and revision process for the journal you’ve selected.
  8. The Revising Process – Do’s and Don’ts: Do read the reviews carefully. Decide whether to revise or not. As you revise, take care to respond to the reviewer’s/reviewers’ comments. And, take care to complete your revisions in a timely manner. When in doubt, check in with the journal editor. Remember not to internalize or personalize the reviewer’s/reviewers’ comments.
  9. Copyright, Permissions and Access: Familiarize yourself with the copyright and permissions policies of the journal, including guidance on published article reuse by authors and others. Some journals/publishers assist authors in fulfilling funder open access mandates by depositing the accepted version of their article in a designated public repository within the required time period.
  10. If Your Article is Rejected: Read the reviews carefully. Consider the reasons provided. Either plan to rewrite/resubmit or plan to resubmit elsewhere.

Helen Partridge

Getting published: editor’s tips!
In 2009 I had the pleasure of being the interim editor of the Australian Library Journal. This experience provided me a unique insight into the world of publishing. If you are looking to submit your work to a journal than I offer these tips. Get familiar with the journal. Read some of the recent articles. Consider whether your article is a good ‘fit’ for the journal. Many journals will have details on focus and scope available on their website, take the time to review this. If you are still not sure contact the editor, they will soon let you know if your article is appropriate for the journal. The editor might also be able to suggest an alternative place for you to publish your work.  Make sure you read the author guidelines; make note of the word limit, the referencing style and the formatting requirements.  Present your article professionally; make sure it is free of errors and that all the sections have been included.  Ask a colleague to review your work before you submit. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to make revisions.  The feedback provided by the editor (or the reviewers) is there to help you to improve the quality of your writing. Don’t take their feedback personally.  If you have questions or need clarification than contact the editor. They will be happy to discuss your work. Stick to the deadlines; return your revised article by the date requested.  Finally - have a go! Writing an article and having it publishing is fun, plus it allows you to contribute to your profession in a unique and powerful way.


Jody Condit Fagan, Editor
Journal of Web Librarianship

Hannah Gascho Rempel, Associate Editor,

Top Tips for Publishing in The Journal of Web Librarianship

1.      Few of us are perfect - Consider working with a co-author. Even if you did a research project on your own, having a second (or third!) person helping with the writing and editing is an enormous benefit.

2.      Find outside readers - If you have access to a Writing Center, consider consulting them (whether or not you have a co-author). Or run your paper past several colleagues who weren’t involved in the study to get a less biased opinion.

3.      What else is out there? - Do at least a basic review of the literature before starting your research with an eye to improving your research questions, design, and methods. Clearly demonstrate in your written literature review what gaps or new questions your study addresses.

4.      Learn from other writers about writing – Look back at several journal articles you really enjoyed reading and pay attention to what made those authors good communicators.  While reading, ask yourself: how did they set the tone for their articles? How do they organize their ideas? How do they transition from their own ideas to those of other researchers?

5.      Consider your audience - Think about which aspects of your work will be most relevant to or usable by other libraries and be sure that's what you focus on the most.

6.      Ask us! - Send a query letter to editors of journals you think might be interested to get their "take" on your research idea.  You might get suggestions about where the most interesting, unexplored ideas still are in the literature. Or you may just get affirmation that you are headed in the right direction!

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