Submitting to an academic journal can be daunting if you have not done it before – or even if you have!
There are of course many other outlets for your work, including blogs, debates, conference panels and social media. But a journal with a good reputation is a recognized vehicle for research and will have a network of scholars around it (and you can still make use of other outlets if you choose this option).
This blog will focus on how to publish a journal article, and things to consider along the way…
1. Think about why you are doing it
Publishing a journal article can be a lot of work, so it’s a good idea to think first about why you are doing it. So why publish? Well, it enables you to stake your claim to your ideas and the importance of your work. This could be important for your future career. It’s also a way to join a conversation with other scholars in your field and to give others across the globe a chance to encounter your ideas.
2. Consider what you have to say
Think about your ideas and what you want to focus on. Do you have something new and original to say? Is it potentially useful? If the answer to one or both of these is yes, then it’s likely to be of interest to other scholars! If, on the other hand, you are already yawning as you set pen to paper, please rethink: remember, you could be working on this for quite some time, and you will have a hard time getting others engaged in your ideas if you are already boring yourself stiff as you write…
3. Choose the right journal
I’d recommend choosing your journal in the early stages. Check its reputation with your peers and your supervisor or mentor. Speak to people who have published in the journal – what has their experience been? Check that it has a robust peer review policy, too, as this is a key indicator of quality.
If in doubt, you can use Think. Check. Submit., a set of tools to help you check that you are submitting your article to a respected journal from a reputable publisher.
Overall, ask yourself: is this journal a good fit for your research, and will it help you reach your target audience?
4. Do your homework
Now it’s time to read some back issues, to familiarize yourself with the scope of the journal as well as points of style. This is in no way to dilute your own individual voice and perspective, but simply to ensure that your paper will be ‘in scope’ and to save yourself time re-formatting it further down the line.
All journals have an ‘aims & scope’ statement and an ‘instructions for authors’ or ‘instructions for contributors’ page. Do read these carefully to be sure you understand the remit of the journal and all the nitty gritty, such as word limits! For all Taylor & Francis journals, you can navigate to these pages from the journal homepage:
5. Keep the end goal in mind
Once you have chosen your journal and done your homework, it’s time to bring it back to the bigger picture again. What is your overall purpose for publishing? Who are you writing for? Keeping your audience in mind – whether that’s researchers, practitioners or the general public – will help you to stay focused and tailor your approach.
You may be reworking an existing piece of work, such as a blog post, a conference paper or a PhD chapter. Make sure you adapt your piece in terms of style, methodology and length as needed – don’t just copy and paste! A PhD chapter could be 15-20,000 words, whereas a typical journal article might be 8-10,000 words – that’s a lot of cutting down. If you are planning on adapting a chapter from your PhD thesis, be sure to check your institution’s guidelines first.
6. Check your author ethics
Always reference your own work (as well as anyone else’s work) if you have referred to it in your paper. The paper itself should not be a verbatim reproduction of something you have already published – it needs to be a piece of original writing.
Don’t send your paper to more than one journal at a time, as this could mean that several referees review the same paper needlessly, or it could even go through the publication process at two different publishers.
And, if you’re using any material owned by a third party, such as images or screengrabs, check whether you need to obtain written permission to use it, and if you do then get that done before you submit your paper. If in doubt, the journal editor and the publisher should be able to advise you.
Peer review is a collaborative process whereby authors can get constructive feedback from independent experts. The role of these experts – known as referees, reviewers or readers – is to check methodology, provide polite feedback and, ultimately, improve the quality of the published paper. As mentioned by James Chapman in his blog, “Publish or be Damned,” the process can take time so patience is key!
When you get the feedback on your paper, remember it is normal for revisions to be requested. Do allow some time to do further work on your paper at this stage. Try not to take feedback personally, but instead see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. If you do disagree with particular points then be sure to discuss it with the journal editor – but be specific and assertive (not defensive or aggressive!)
That being said, try to accept the suggested revisions where possible and to return your paper on time. Being gracious and professional will pay dividends in the long run.
8. Congratulations, you’re published!
Hopefully, your article will then be accepted and it will move into production, where you’ll proof your article and it will be typeset and copyedited and made ready for online and print publication.
After your article is published, you can promote it by posting a link to it on your departmental website or your accounts on social media and academic networking sites.
Taylor & Francis also offers 50 free eprints to every author, including co-authors (different publishers have different policies on this). More and more authors are posting links to this on social media or in their email signatures and this is a highly effective way of driving people to your article.
Emma Grylls is the Managing Editor for the History journals at Routledge, Taylor & Francis. She has a Master’s in Comparative Literature from UCL and a Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) in French-to-English translation.
Please see the PDF below for Emma’s PowerPoint presentation on ‘Publishing in academic journals: Tips to help you succeed’, which she delivered during the ‘Publishing Workshop’ at the biennial IAMHIST Conference, ‘Media and History: Crime, Violence and Justice’, University of Paris 2, July 10-13 2017:
A journal editor’s top ten tips for getting your research published in academic film and media journals
We take it for granted that as academics we all need to publish our research – and that articles in peer reviewed journals carry a certain degree of intellectual kudos that’s important when it comes to applying for jobs or securing tenure. And that’s not to mention the best reason for publishing – to disseminate your research to your peers and colleagues within the field.
That said, however, there are right ways and wrong ways of going about it.
This blog is intended to offer some informal guidance to publishing your work in film and media journals. It’s particularly focused on the HJFRT – though the same general principles will also apply to other journals too. The following ‘top ten tips’ are intended particularly for doctoral students and early career researchers, though some more established scholars might also want to take a peek.
1. Research your journal
This is one of the most important factors in getting published, and it’s surprising how few people actually bother to do it.
Whatever your subject and approach, you should give careful consideration to the most appropriate journals in which to place your work. A good rule of thumb is to look at the journals you consult most often for your own research. There’s little point in submitting your work on electronic or new media to a journal specialising solely in film studies, or sending a piece of purely formal analysis to a journal that prioritises archive-based research. Around four out of every five submissions to the HJFRT are turned down without being sent to readers. This is not because they are no good but rather because their subject or methodology does not fit the journal’s remit.
In the case of the HJFRT what we’re interested in is:
Historical research based on primary, and especially unpublished archival, sources.
Social, economic, technological and cultural histories of the media industries.
Case studies of production and/or reception.
Historical studies of institutions and/or individuals and/or groups.
Histories of film/radio/television criticism and theory.
Representations of the historical past in film, radio and television.
What we’re not so interested in is:
Articles that do not focus on the audio-visual media
Narrative and/or textual analysis unsupported by any historical contextualisation or archival research.
Abstract theoretical approaches without any empirical or archival basis.
In other words don’t waste your time writing an article on Deleuzian aesthetics for the HJFRT!
An article written specifically for a particular journal will almost always stand a better chance of publication than a generic submission for AOJ (that’s editorspeak for Any Other Journal).
2. Consult your colleagues
As with so many things in academia, taking advice from your peers and colleagues is essential. If you’re a doctoral student, for example, consult your supervisor or advisor before submitting an article for consideration to a journal – e.g. is this something that’s integral to your research (in which case you might want to save it for your thesis and think about publishing it later) or is it something that stands alone in its own right? Always bear in mind that a journal article needs to be self-standing in its own right – we are not interested in publishing chapter 4 of your thesis.
Also talk to fellow students. Have they published, and in which journals? What were their experiences? Your peers might well have useful advice of potential pitfalls to avoid.
3. Peer review is the Gold Standard
There are dozens of film and media journals out there. On the one hand this means that there are plenty of publishing opportunities. On the other hand it also means there are some journals that might be less good than others …
For academia, peer-reviewed journals are the gold standard. Peer review means that your work has been deemed suitable for publication by recognised experts in your field. It is a measure of quality control. It ensures that high academic standards are maintained. All submissions are subject to peer review – whether you’re a PhD student or a tenured professor. The HJFRT usually operates ‘double blind’ peer review meaning that articles are sent separately to two readers and the readers will not know the identity of the author. (It helps the editor if your submission does not include your name and institutional affiliation: you can provide these in a separate document.)
Of course excellent research can be published anywhere: in journals, in edited collections, in print or online. But the peer review process helps to ensure that journals such as the HJFRT publish only the very best work in their field.
Sometimes readers will recommend publishing an article as it stands, but more often than not they’ll suggest some revisions: there might be areas where some clarification is needed or where the argument could be strengthened. Readers may have come across other sources that will complement your research. All articles benefit from the process of peer review: it has turned many good articles into excellent articles and can turn an excellent one into a great article.
Publication of the article is usually conditional upon making the revisions or amendments suggested by readers – the journal editor will advise you which revisions are required and which are advisory.
4. First Contact can be a good idea
It’s perfectly okay to email a journal editor to enquire whether they would be interested in an article on Topic A (Ernst Lubitsch reference!). Occasionally it happens that the journal has recently accepted an article on Topic A and can’t therefore publish another that’s too close. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often. But it can be useful making that ‘first contact’ before you spend six weeks writing the article with that journal in mind.
5. No round robins please
Put yourself in the place of a journal editor. You’ve been sent an article that you’re interested in and that fits your remit. You find peer reviewers (perhaps calling in a favour or two to get them) and people take the time and effort to offer constructive advice on how the article might be improved. You email the author to tell them the good news that subject to a few revisions you’d like to publish their article – only for the author to reply that they’re publishing it elsewhere.
This is why most journals require that the article should not be under consideration elsewhere when you submit it.
It’s one of those things you can probably get away with once over the course of an academic career. But as soon as you have a reputation for doing it, don’t be too surprised if editors decline your next submission without sending it for review.
And always bear in mind that journal editors speak to each other …
6. And no generic submissions either
When submitting your article, bear in mind that nothing shouts ‘here is a generic submission that I am sending to multiple journals’ more loudly than an email addressed to ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Editor’ and which makes reference to ‘your journal’ or even (sometimes) ‘your most illustrious journal’. In these cases I’m probably not even going to bother reading the abstract before declining your article. And the same goes for the email that begins ‘Dear Professor Chapman’ in one font and then switches to another font for the rest of the generic text …
A brief covering email summarising the content, sources and approach is a good idea, including a line or two to explain why you think it’s suitable for the HJFRT. In other words show the editor that you’re familiar with the journal and the sort of material it publishes.
Show the editor that you know the journal, and the editor will already be on your side.
7. House style rules
I once heard a story about a scholar who refused to format his work according to the house style of journals on the grounds that they were all different and it took up too much of his precious time to change from, say, Chicago Manual of Style to Modern Humanities Research Association.
The same scholar also wondered why he wasn’t getting any articles published!
Our journal doesn’t need to publish your research – we have enough submissions to fill the journal for years to come – so if you can’t be bothered to follow the house style, why should we even consider your piece?
An article that doesn’t follow our house style suggests that you haven’t even bothered to look at past issues of the journal.
8. Your article is not a special case
I once received ‘an offer too good to refuse’ from a would-be author, who offered me three articles (arising from the author’s PhD thesis) at between 15,000-20,000 words each: it wasn’t going to be possible to make them any shorter because of the unique and special nature of his research, and the subject demanded the additional length because it was so important …
Oddly enough, I did not take the author up on his generous offer.
Journals have minimum and maximum word lengths for a number of reasons: all journals have an annual page budget per volume agreed with the publisher and we want to publish X number of articles across a range of topics. The HJFRT publishes around 30 research articles per year and the usual length is between 6,000 and 10,000 words: the upper limit is generous and allows plenty of space for nuanced arguments, detailed evidence and full scholarly citations.
9. Patience is a virtue
It can take time to get an article published: 12 months is about the shortest you can expect from submission to publication, and for the leading journals in the field it might well be around two years. Even the wait from submission to acceptance might take six months or longer.
Why does it take so long? There are numerous reasons:
The editor has to find peer reviewers for your article: good readers do not grow on trees and are often very busy (i.e. reading your article might be the most important thing in the world to you but might be only the twelfth most urgent thing they have to do this week). Around three months or even more for receipt of peer review comments is not at all unusual.
If your article is in a particularly niche or specialist area, the previous point applies several times over.
Peer reviewing is unpaid: editors depend on the good will of colleagues to do it – and so our ability to chivvy them along is limited. (Ask yourself – have you ever agreed to write a book review and have been months late in delivering it? The same applies to reading articles for journals – it takes up people’s time and sometimes gets bumped by more urgent matters.)
Sometimes two readers can come to different assessments of a particular piece – in which case the editor will need to seek a third opinion (back to stage one above).
And when your article is accepted, bear in mind that any decent journal might well have a backlog of more than a year (HJFRT – like a lot of journals these days – uses the ‘Online First’ platform whereby articles are published online before they are assigned to a print issue: this counts as the official Version of Record and can be used for citations, in job and grant applications, etc.)
Good journals are not short of material to publish – while we would very much like to publish your article, we probably don’t actually need it and we can afford to wait until we publish it. If you can’t wait, then perhaps try a journal with less of a backlog – though bear in mind that a journal which offers to publish your article this year obviously doesn’t have much of a backlog and you might want to ask why that is.
Bear in mind that editors have lives too. There’s little point in submitting your article two days before Christmas and expecting a reply before the New Year – and in any event it’s not going to be sent for peer review for several weeks.
It’s perfectly okay to send a polite enquiry to the editor if you haven’t heard back after, say, three months. But if you badger them with weekly demands to know what the state of play is, don’t be too surprised if your article slips to the bottom of the editor’s priority list.
Look at it this way:
YOUR priority is the publication of your article that you need to build up your CV, for your promotion application, or for the next Research Excellence Framework or equivalent exercise. MY priority is maintaining the scholarly integrity and reputation of the journal, ensuring quality and consistency, and thinking about the balance of topics and periods: your article is just one of around maybe two dozen that I am dealing with at various stages at any one time.
10. Rejection is nothing personal
Rejection is always disappointing – but it’s something we all have to learn to deal with. In fact there are very few cases where I have had to reject an article on the grounds of quality. More often I decline submissions because they do not fall within the remit of the HJFRT either in terms of their subject matter or their methodology. In such cases I will usually try to suggest other journals that might be a better forum for your research.
And there have been numerous cases where I declined an article but where the author had another piece of research that was more appropriate for the journal and we published it.
(There are very occasionally cases where rejection really is final … I once had an article that I didn’t think was very good but which in any case was not the right subject matter for the HJFRT. I suggested a couple of other journals that the author might consider. He emailed straight back to say that he’d already sent it to those journals before sending it to the HJFRT – could I suggest any others? So I did so – by this time falling back on my standard list of the second- and third-division journals in the field. It turned out they’d all rejected him too – what would I recommend? At this point I had to suggest: ‘Try doing something else.’)
If there’s one point I would make in conclusion, it’s that the relationship between a journal and authors is mutually dependent. Authors need journals in order to publish their research – and at the same time journals need good-quality submissions to ensure steady copy flow and so that the journal may prosper and thrive. So editors want to receive submissions (preferably high-quality submissions of outstanding excellence, of course!). Do not be deterred from submitting your work to the leading journals in the field – but make sure you follow the basic ‘do’s and don’ts’ I’ve outlined here to maximise your chances of success.
James Chapman is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester, UK, and has been editor of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television since 2011. He is a member of the IAMHIST Council. He first published in the journal in 1995 on ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) Reconsidered’ (HJFRT, 15: 1).