Tuesday, November 15, 2016

On writing my first peer-reviewed article - My tips for success

Paula, David and Pablo

Acta academica

Writing my first peer-reviewed academic journal article was a very good learning experience, taking me right back to academic writing assignments and was a very useful exercise in developing a clear writing style and saying exactly what I wanted in a very few words.  What is my advice to anyone about to write an academic journal article?
Read everything you can find – no, more than that.  The best ideas often get drawn out from taking a new look at something buried deep within the most disparate and unlikely looking articles. 
Write down your main arguments as soon as they come to you and before you forget them.
Understand that writing is a creative act – your best thoughts will be those that come from creating new knowledge arising from relating different ideas from different sources. 
Follow the narrative - this is not an annotated bibliography but a story reinterpreting and finding new meaning in the existing research in light of both your new look at what has gone before and your new evidence.
Structure everything.  Bring everything that is similar together and separate those things that are different into different groups.  If you find literature being cited anywhere other than the literature review, go back and restructure again.  As you structure things better, you will find you have repeated yourself.  Check you have actually repeated yourself, move a few citations to the one version you are keeping, then cut away the duplicates. 
Return to the beginning - what was it you wanted this paper to say?  Have you said it or do you need to restructure it so that the structure follows the story you just set out.
Use short, simple words in short, simple sentences.  Simplicity needs the right structure.  You will be amazed how short something is when you finally write it well.  This is how get your paper under the unforgiving word limit without cutting content and give your messages as much impact as possible.
Allow more time than you think reasonable.  It will take longer than you imagine possible.
Hide.  Hide away from distractions, people asking questions, people bringing you other work…
Enlist brilliantly critical proof readers; one is never enough.  Make sure they are looking for every conceivable blunder: sentences that trail off midway, spelling errors, use of the wrong words, grammar, syntax, morphology, style, overlong sentences and paragraphs, and anything else they can find to criticise. 
Finally, unless like me you were lucky enough to have your abstract accepted before you started writing, my understanding of the academic press is that publishing is a lot like dating.  There are plenty of good journals out there and just because one or more rejects your advances does not mean that your article will never find reviewers that love it.
This blog post is the author’s own work and opinion and may differ from that of his employer.

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