In an earlier blog I began to provide a few tips for publishing. As noted earlier, I have edited a journal since 2001. This is a continuation of that blog (https://newforums.com/editors-perspective-tips-publishing/ ). The journal I edit, Armed Forces & Society is in the middle of the Journal Citation Index – just the sort of journal a new assistant professor or close-to-finished Ph.D. student should understand.
In the earlier Blog I emphasized four points:
- The manuscript should be a Good Fit for the journal
- Ways to recognize a Good Fit
- Importance of a Strong Abstract
- Importance of a Strong Introduction
This blog post adds to the list with comments on the literature review, the importance of article coherence and a strong methodology section. The final tips move the focus away from the manuscript to the author. They stress the importance of dealing with rejection and developing a cadre of fellow scholars.
5. Strong and Savvy use of the Scholarly Literature
A weak or inadequate command of the literature is a common reviewer complaint. I am not sure there is a magic number but if the literature review section contains less than ten sources, reviewers almost always rate the use of literature as poor. Notice that the recommendation did not say literature review, rather use of the literature. The literature is important in establishing the research question, developing the theory, choice of methods, and interpreting findings. Authors should demonstrate that they know where their piece fits in the larger scholarly literature. Thus they can refer to a classic piece and move into the most recent articles on the subject.
The literature should also help the author establish that something is missing and this article fills a gap. The literature is important in building a case for hypotheses. Note that causation depends on an established correlation and a strong argument or reason that a relationship exists. So reference to studies that show there is a statistical relationship between variables are important, but it is also important to establish the reason the two are connected. When reviewers comment that a paper is weak in theory, it is usually because the arguments or reasons underlying a hypothesis are missing or unconvincing. These reasons should be in the literature – if they are not, contribute by providing them.
One of the first things I do when a manuscript arrives is to check the reference list. I do this to see what kinds of sources the author drew on. If the paper is pretty central to our Journal’s core mission, I check to see if there are references to Armed Forces & Society articles. If so, the authors of these articles are often asked to review the paper. I am confident that these scholars understand the mission and quality requirements of the Journal and know the field. If there are no references to the Journal, the key words direct the editor towards these people. This is yet another reason to know the related literature in the journal you are aiming for.
6. Check for Manuscript Coherence
What is article coherence? When an article is coherent there is a clear connection between the research purpose, theory, method and findings. Consider explanatory studies that use deductive reasoning. One of the first things I look for is the manuscript’s research purpose or question (usually found in the first 3-4 paragraphs). Then I check to see if the hypotheses they develop and test are connected to the purpose. I look to see if the variables in the methods section measure the concepts presented in the hypotheses.
Next, do the results clearly demonstrate whether evidence supports or fails to support the hypotheses? Do the findings connect to the stated purpose? It is just amazing how often authors lose sight of these simple connections. In these cases, one of the easiest ways to undermine coherence is to present an unwieldy, difficult (or impossible to test) hypothesis.
Sound hypotheses are 1) declarative sentences; 2) identify a relationship; and 3) are specific (Brains et al., 2011). Much of chapter 3 of the Playbook for Research Methods is devoted to the specifics of hypothesis development and testing. If the study is interpretive or theoretical rather than explanatory, coherence is still important. Include a clear purpose statement and be sure every section of the paper supports the overall purpose in some way (that is articulated). Why include anything that does not support the purpose. Of course the purpose should not be constructed so narrowly that surprising and interesting findings cannot be included in a coherent manner.
7. Clear Comprehensive Methodology Section
Clear and comprehensive methodology sections allow for article transparency. I want the sophisticated scholar-reader to feel confident that the findings have integrity. I use this rule of thumb when evaluating a methodology section: Is there enough information about the methodology that an interested scholar could at least understand how to replicate the study? This question helps to see what might be missing regardless of whether the study is quantitative, qualitative, inductive or deductive. Referring back to the coherence issue – methods sections should make clear how the hypotheses are operationalized. The reader can then judge the validity and reliability of the measure. Aside from transparency, it is useful to have a robust sample size. My experience is that reviewers are quick to eliminate a manuscript with a problematic sample size.
8. Don’t Take Rejection Personally
I have known faculty who stopped submitting manuscripts because they received a harsh rejection letter. All successful academics have had to deal with manuscript rejection. I always remember one particularly harsh review I received. It almost stopped me in my tracks. Then I realized that the reviewer was rude and inconsiderate. For some reason humor is helpful – I was happy this person, whoever they were, was not a permanent part of my life (thank goodness I was not married to this jerk!). Then I reread the comments looking for things that were useful. What could I learn from this review? Even jerks can have useful comments; it is time to move on.
9. Be Part of a Community of Inquiry
Scholarship is a social enterprise. The bibliographies of articles are filled with people that are professional colleagues. They are interested in the same topics and read and comment on each other’s work. While writing may seem like a solitary affair, successful scholars recognize and take advantage of the camaraderie and ideas of their fellow researchers. Even scholars who consistently publish single author works are usually part of a group of scholars who help each other behind the scenes.
Young scholars should cultivate such a group. Attending and presenting at conferences is one key way to do this. Conferences are where ideas are exchanged and relationships formed. Conference papers provide intermediate deadlines that force a scholar to complete a manuscript. Conferences are a place to be seen and to establish oneself as a serious scholar. They are also generally a lot of fun. Conferences are expensive and they should be looked at as an investment. I am certain that the contacts I made while presenting at conferences and the behind the scenes debates, discussions and socializing were instrumental to my success as a scholar. These expenses yielded returns in promotions and merit raises.
About two thirds of the manuscripts submitted to Armed Forces & Society are written by multiple authors. Co-authors bring a variety of strengths to the process of writing a scholarly article. The person who is strong in statistics might pair up with another who is good at writing and theorizing. Co-authors can encourage each other and take advantage of multiple minds working on the same research problem. Further, in the world of promotion and tenure, there is little down side to multiple-authorship. An article written by 3 or 4 people counts toward tenure and promotion for each of them.
Active scholars tend to cite their own work and that of their colleagues. If an article has four active scholars, the potential for citations is much greater than a single-authored piece. Each of the authors and their active scholar-friends make up a large network of people who are likely to cite the piece in the future. It is wise to have at least some multiple authored papers as one is seeking promotion and tenure. As the above points show, scholarship is not a solo enterprise. Being part of a community of inquiry is wise and fun on many fronts.
This concludes the blogs on an editor’s perspective on getting published. I hope these insights provide current and prospective scholars with tips to avoid pitfalls in their scholarly journey.
Brians, C., Willnat, L., Manheim, J., & Rich, R. (2011). Empirical political analysis: Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Patricia M. Shields is a Professor of Political Science at Texas State University. She has a Master of Economics(1975) and PhD (1977) in Public Administration from The Ohio State University. Her research interests include pragmatism and public administration, peace and conflict resolution, research methods, women in public administration, and civil military relations. She has published over 60 articles and book chapters in journals. Meet Patricia.