During my tenure as editor of the Armed Forces & Society journal, I have observed common mistakes or missteps among new authors. I consider myself an easy-going person, but sometimes, I get insulted or depressed by a newly submitted manuscript. The last thing a new author wants to do is unwittingly insult the editor. So this blog post provides a few tips for publishing in journals that reside in the middle of the JCI.
Is the manuscript a good fit?
Take a simple forest and trees example. The editor is responsible for the forest; the author is busy constructing the finest tree he can. Many authors are so involved with writing their journal article they miss the larger perspective. (Tweet this quote.)
In journals with healthy submission rates, most editor’s desk reject (do not send out for review) 35 to 60% of their submissions. I desk reject about 40%. Most of the manuscripts are rejected because they are a poor fit for the journal. (Tweet this quote.) It is like putting a palm tree in an alpine forest. Why plant it? In the case of Armed Forces & Society, I would desk reject a manuscript dealing with military strategy or tactics. These are military matters; they do not bridge military and society. Some manuscripts seem like a military report filled with acronyms and jargon. Their audience is obviously the military leadership of a particular country. My audience is international and interdisciplinary and mostly academics. This does not make the manuscripts weak or poor. They just do not meet the mission of the journal.
How to recognize a good fit
There is an easy way to recognize a good fit. Find articles from the journal you are submitting to. Make sure the tone and content of your manuscript is at least somewhat similar to that of the journal.
A journal like Armed Forces & Society has an existing community of scholars engaging in conversations about topics they care about. We observe this dialogue in the articles the journal produces. A new scholar generally has a “good fit” if their work contributes to the conversation. Thus, if a scholar is reading and using articles from a journal, he is at least listening to the conversation and positioning himself to enter it.
If an author is not using articles from the journal – what reason does she have for thinking the paper is a good fit? This is a serious question. There could be good reasons, and these reasons should somehow be articulated in the manuscript or at least in the letter to the editor. On the other hand, perhaps the author has just not done the homework and has overlooked articles in that particular journal.
I get frustrated and sad when I see a new manuscript dealing with what I consider a bread and butter topic, and cannot find one reference to Armed Forces & Society. Most likely this is a new scholar who is eagerly learning the ropes.
Write a Strong Abstract
A weak abstract is a great way to turn off a reviewer. (Tweet this quote.) One reviewer recently commented that if he could not understand the abstract, he did not read any further. In his experience, confusing articles always followed confusing abstracts. This might not always be true, but a weak abstract does not invite a reader to go further and investigate the article. As the editor, I am responsible for the journal and strong journals have robust readership and strong impact factors. A poor abstract reduces the likelihood of both. An ethical editor, who is a good steward of the journal, has to take things like the impact factor and readership into account.
If the paper is an empirical study, an abstract should include the paper’s purpose, the method used to achieve the purpose, and the findings. The reader should leave with something – like a key finding. An abstract that is cut and pasted from the introduction and vaguely discusses the topic drives me crazy and is useless.
Write a Strong Introduction
Introductions are important. A good first impression opens the door to eventual acceptance. An introduction should make the case that this manuscript covers an important topic. It should make the reader want to go further. It should make the purpose of the manuscript clear and provide a kind of roadmap for the material to come.
Introductions can be a problem for the writer. They are a perfect place to get stuck. How can you write a great introduction to a paper you have not yet written? This makes sense. If the introduction is becoming something that is blocking progress in writing: write it last. But be sure and give it the attention it deserves. The introduction should be filled with an author’s strongest and most precise writing. Edit and reedit the introduction while keeping in mind the reader may know very little about the subject.
I hope the readers of this blog post find these four tips useful. I often give presentations at conferences about this topic. In March of 2014 I presented on this subject to the PhD summit at the American Society for Public national conference in Washington DC. My PowerPoint presentation on this topic can be found here. The PowerPoint contains additional tips. Cheers!
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.