Publishing in Academic Journals Part 1: Where Do I Begin?
Posted by Sarah-Louise Quinnell

Right, so my thesis has been completed and examined and I passed subject to minor corrections, which were dutifully done within 3 months, so now what? Well, according to my examiners the first step in my post-doc life should be publishing a paper in to a good academic journal. This seems to make perfect sense however, at the same time it raises three important questions;

1.       What parts of my thesis would make good journal articles?

2.       What constitutes a good journal and how do I choose?

3.       What do I do if  my paper gets rejected?

Over the next three weeks we will consider all these issues with guest posts from Dr Inger Mewburn who writes about Journal selection and Professor Chris Hamnett who offers advice on dealing with rejections and resubmissions. In this post I will consider the first of these questions – what parts of my thesis would make good journal articles?

There are many supervisors who routinely tell their PhD students that each chapter of their thesis should be able to be published as a paper. In fact in continental Europe, particularly Holland, the thesis is more likely to be a collection of published or publishable papers. However, in the UK the tradition for ‘big book theses’, of which mine was one, are more difficult to translate into individual journal articles. I first sought advice from my go to guide throughout my thesis: Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation by Patrick Dunleavy which said

In ‘big book’ theses the lead-in and lead-out chapters are chiefly there to frame the thesis core, and so they cannot usually be translated into stand-alone journal articles. In many theses some of the densest and most research-intensive core chapters may not be independently publishable, because they consist of very detailed case study or applications research at micro-level. In edition they are often much too long to fit within the normal paper length (8000 words or less) (Dunleavy, 2003:244).

So after further discussion with my examiners and more reading I decided that they key questions I needed to ask myself when considering what would make a journal article were:

What are the key original elements of my thesis?

What do you want this paper to achieve?

In my case my ‘originality’ lays in my approach to understanding the role of capacity-development in the implementation of international environmental governance and the methodological approach used to collect my data. That gives me two areas to consider, so now what do I want my first publication to achieve?  This could be any number of things; first step toward book contract (as that’s what this site is all about), as support / justification for post-doc research, to engage with policy and political agenda setting etc. etc.

Thus, we have boiled it down to:

Paper A which will be the overarching argument of the thesis, It will focus on evidencing the key arguments developed at the beginning of ch 8. and on setting it up showing the originality and importance of the analytical focus. This would provide the kind of proof of quality needed for developing research in post doc.

And (suggestion from other examiner) …

a nice case study or two on the individual cases outlined in Chaps 5 and/or 7  BUT you would have to omit the very ponderous step by step discursive narrative and ‘lighten it up’ in terms of the process and significance, again prefaced by a lively intro that hits some conceptual buttons regarding your approach, and ends by explaining what we learn from this, as well as pointing to the comparative analysis in another paper…

These papers will provide the justification for further post-doc research. You can see from the comments given to me by my examiners that while the ideas are there, I will need to do a substantial amount of re-working to get them ready to be submitted. Journal papers need to be written in a different style to that of the PhD. They need to be completely self-standing and independent and intelligible with no references in the style of ‘as was shown in Chapter Two’. Both of the above suggestions show the need to focus clearly on just one area, unlike a PhD chapter which often addresses a number of issues.

On reflection, I wish I had started on this road earlier, whilst completing my PhD however, it wasn’t to be. As they say better late than never so I am now set to go back to the computer and start writing again however, I am still wondering about what that good academic journal is …

Dunleavy, P (2003) Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, UK.

Sarah-Louise Quinnell. Posted by Sarah-Louise Quinnell


7 Comments Posted in Pitching & Publishing, Self Promotion, Writing
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7 Comments

  1. In terms of the ‘best journals’ argument, in a pinch for the humanities there are always the ERIH journal rankings, due to be updated in the first quarter of 2011. These are hugely controversial, of course, and there are a lot of worries about what going to this kind of metric-based assessment means for scholars and funding bodies and so forth. However, as a handy rule of thumb, I’ve found the ratings for my field (Classics) to be more or less where I’d expect them to be.

  2. Next week’s post by Dr Inger Mewburn discusses this issues in more detail

  3. This is a great approach. I am somewhat concerned, however, by your focus on where this article is going to take YOU. From the journal’s perspective, there needs to be a clear contribution to knowledge that others in your field care about. I have no doubt that there is, but that really needs to be the focus.

  4. Kelkay Asrat Dagnew(PH.D)

    what you are doing in the field of research and publication can be encouraged.
    Thank you

  5. Zafer Darkouchi

    After I had finished my thesis in English Language and Literature, the Institute of Social Sciences of the university in which I study told me that the procedures of my graduation will not be completed until I have published an article in an academic magazine. So how can I publish it? and where? Do you have an idea about this?

    Thank you

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