Publish your academic writing

getting your academic work into print - and on line

If you want to get ahead in the world of colleges and universities, there are no two ways about it – you will have to face the challenges of academic publishing. It might be articles, reports, or the results of a research project. It could be chapters from a thesis, or the whole work itself – re-drafted into book form.

Quite apart from your subject, there are two important things to keep in mind. The first is that your work will be scrutinised not only by the publisher, but by specialist reader(s) who are experts in your subject. They will be looking at the quality of your work in terms of commonly accepted academic standards; and they will checking to see that you have demonstrated that you are up to date with the latest research in your field of study.

If they give your work the thumbs up, the publisher will them be making sure that you have presented your work in compliance with their own house style guides. Publishers are increasingly demanding these days : they use economic arguments to transfer a lot of the work of compositors and editors back onto authors.

Writing for Academic Journals
Rowena Murray is an experienced writer on the subject of academic writing. She is author of How to Write a Thesis and How to Survive Your Viva. What she says in this guide should be encouraging for people in ‘new’ universities, people in disciplines which have only recently been considered academic, and those in professions such as the NHS which are under pressure to become more academic.

She deals with the important issue of getting to know your target publications. There’s really no way round this: you need to know what they’re looking for, and how they want it presented. For those who might not have written a scholarly paper before, she shows you how to analyse one and uncover its basic structure and arguments – with a view of course to constructing your own.

The next part of the book deals with how to find a topic and develop an argument. You can do this by mining your reading notes, expanding a brief presentation, or maybe adapting a chapter from your dissertation or thesis.

There’s also lots of sound advice on planning, outlining, and the art of writing abstracts. She also shows you how to draft your text and create the appropriate style. This is followed by the process of revision and editing,

Although it is aimed at those writing for publication, this book will in fact be useful for anyone who wishes to sharpen their academic writing skills and understand something about the process of preparing a text for its public launching.


Getting Published
Jerry Wellington starts by looking at the variety of positive reasons why people write and publish – as well as the numerous fears which might prevent others from doing so. He argues largely in favour of publishing in established, printed journals on the grounds that they offer the author more credence and protection. Next comes advice in taking account of the publication in which your writing will appear. You need to take into account its readership, and most crucially the type of article or review and how it will best fit the editor’s requirements.

He then goes through the process of submitting an article for publication – both from the writer’s and publisher’s point of view. Much of this is taken up with the pros and cons of the peer review process. Then comes the case of publishing in book form. After warning quite rightly that you shouldn’t write a word until you have a contract, he then shows you how to prepare a publication proposal in great detail. Finally he looks at future possible trends in publishing – which focus largely on electronic journals and what’s called ‘self-archiving’ – which is covered next.


Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads
This is a review of the arguments for and against electronic publishing of academic writing – largely the work of Stephen Harnad. His argument is that scholars working in what he calls the ‘esoteric’ fields of narrow specialisms (particularly the sciences) do not need to publish on paper; they merely wish to be read by their peers.

And since they don’t expect to be paid for what they make public, why shouldn’t they put their work straight onto the Net in preprint form. Once their work is on the Web, they can invite comment, make whatever revisions they feel warranted, then archive the finished article in digital form. By following this procedure, peer review is maintained, but the system works more rapidly and less expensively. Most importantly, they can avoid the dinosaur procedures and high costs of traditional print journals. As he puts it himself
(in characteristically succinct form):

“What scholars…need is electronic journals that provide (1) rapid, expert peer-review, (2) rapid copy-editing, proofing and publication of accepted articles, (3) rapid, interactive, peer commentary, and (4) a permanent, universally accessible, searchable and retrievable electronic archive.”

The more books one reads on electronic publication, Hypertext, and digital technology, the more one realises how convenient, comfortable, portable, and aesthetically pleasing the printed book remains – produced by what Nicholas Negroponte describes as “squeezing ink onto dead trees”. But this does not invalidate Harnad’s proposal: if a text is urgent, hot, and written for a minority – we’ll read it on-screen, add comments, and send it back within the hour, rather than wait for the Dinosaur Publishing methods (and timescale) of ‘getting it onto paper’.

This is a book for specialists, but it encompasses issues which are part of the profound effect of the forces of digitisation and the Internet. The vested interests of commercial publishers and academic institutions may take some time to shift, but their fault lines are remorselessly exposed here. Harnad’s vision and his debate with contemporaries gives us a view of a world which is breaking apart, in the very process of being overtaken by the forces of New Technology.


Academic publishing Towards Electronic Journals
Carol Tenopir takes a similar view and considers it more-or-less inevitable that print production costs will push academic writing towards digitised publication. The Web was actually created so that academic researchers could share their findings across the Internet – doing so quickly and free from any commercial restrictions.

If you write a paper on rocket science, you can put the results directly onto a web site and announce the fact to special interest groups. That way, you can invite feedback, critical comment, and peer review – and receive it fairly quickly, instead of having to wait up to two years as you would if the paper was put into the slow-moving production methods of commercial publishers.

Scholarly journals take a long time to produce; they are very expensive; and very few people read them. Why bother then, when the same results can be made available fast, free of charge, and to a much wider audience? How much does it cost? What are the trends in scholarly article authorship and readership? What are the overall implications of electronic journals to publishers, libraries, scientists, and their funders? These are some of the fundamental issues underpinning this book.

The argument on costs is overwhelming. Electronic publishing saves on printing costs, re-printing costs, storage costs, archiving, and inter-library loan costs. And all the other arguments return again and again to the obvious advantages of electronic publication.

They point out that readers both inside and outside universities will continue to demand materials in printed form. Which is true. It’s amazing how many people continue to print out documents – for the sake of convenience, and habit. But to quote Nicholas Negroponte again, the future is digital.

This is a study which is aimed at researchers, librarians, publishers, and anyone interested in electronic publication, and they go out of their way to provide hard evidence for decision-makers.

If you are interested in one of the lesser-known but burgeoning forms of electronic publishing – then you should find this a rich source of hard facts for the debate.

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© Roy Johnson 2009

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