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Klaus Dodds – Publishing in Academic Journals: Part 1

Today we present part 1 of the second RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum Annual Conference Training Symposium (PGF-ACTS) follow up pieces. In this post Professor Klaus Dodds looks at getting published in academic journals. Klaus is Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London. Klaus is also Editor of the Geographical Journal.

For the vast majority of people undertaking a doctorate, getting their work published either during the research period or in the aftermath of the defence is a priority. The focus on journal publication is, more often than not, shaped by a number of factors; journal publications are highly regarded when it comes to future employment in academic and academic-related circles, journal articles are more manageable in the short-term compared to a potential monograph, articles are more likely to get read by non-academic audiences, and importantly publication whether in a journal or not fulfils a general desire to witness one’s scholarly work published online/print.

We target journals, therefore, for a variety of reasons including to secure that first academic post, after graduation. My comments reflect very much my own experience in the discipline of geography alongside publishing elsewhere in historical, political science, policy orientated and regional studies journals. I am also the editor of The Geographical Journal, and serve on the editorial boards of six other journals. Finally, multiple conversations with doctoral students I supervised in the past, and increasingly in the present, were sources of inspiration.

The point about disciplinary background is not inconsequential. My degrees are in geography and political science, and my professional career is rooted in the experience of two geography departments at the University of Edinburgh and Royal Holloway, University of London. The quantity and the nature of the journals targeted will depend on intra-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary expectations and demands. For example, my colleagues who specialise in physical geography have a very clear sense of their target journals, and all would aspire (if they have not done so already) to publish in Nature.  If you are seeking advice on target journals then clearly your supervisor(s) should be the first port of call, as should other colleagues and mentors working in complementary areas.

In the British context, the existence of Research Assessment Exercises and now the Research Excellence Framework (2008-2013) is noteworthy. Colleagues aspiring to join the profession, even as early career researchers, will rapidly discover that your chances of hire are strongly determined by your publication portfolio – both in press and likely to be press by December 2013. You are unlikely to be employed, however interesting your research might be, if you lack scholarly publications, including journal articles. So targeting journals and getting published is vitally important if you wish to make that transition from graduate student to university lecturer, especially if you are targeting strong research-led departments. This is not to diminish in any way other departments and universities because all are deeply interested in your capacity to publish high quality outputs.

In thinking about publishing in academic journals – five distinct stages are noteworthy – producing a manuscript, obtaining informal feedback, submitting to a journal, dealing with peer review, and finally publishing. These five stages could easily take 12-18 months depending on the alacrity of you and others. It does sometimes feel like the running equivalent of a marathon so you do need to be willing to persist, and maintain good spirits. A point I shall return to at the end.

Manuscript Production

Writing is a creative process and you don’t need me to reaffirm that it can be both intensely rewarding and frustrating in quick succession. However experienced you are (or think you are) in writing articles, it is never an entirely straightforward experience. As you embark this process, you need to believe that you are producing a manuscript, which is likely to be well received by others because it offers something genuinely insightful.  So a degree of self-confidence is important, as is a willingness not to be pre-occupied with what other graduate students or colleagues are achieving or not.

When it comes to writing my own view is that you should set realistic writing targets and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail to write a certain number of words in a day. You need to tackle a common obstacle to writing and that is perfectionism – writing is a process and the chances are that your manuscript will go through three to four versions. So don’t tie yourself up in knots worrying about producing a perfect first draft. Do concentrate on writing well, however. As you work through your doctoral studies, your writing style will develop and will do through practice, advice and feedback on specific pieces of writing. I always encourage my own students to read widely including novels to develop ideas about how one might write clearly and succinctly.

Finally, as you write always keep a notebook and file to hand. Keep copies of past drafts and note any supplementary thoughts/references/suggestions.

Informal feedback

Never send a manuscript to a journal without first seeking some informal feedback from friendly critics such as supervisors and/or fellow graduate students. Ask them to be constructively critical – what would they think of this paper if they were asked to formally review it? Deal with any criticism positively and don’t brood about anything that might appear critical per se. Academic life is underwritten by peer review and critique, and can be brutal in later stages of the writing/submitting/publishing cycle.

Respond to the informal feedback positively and once you are satisfied with the revised paper considering submitting.

(Tomorrow, in part two, Klaus looks at the process from submission onwards)

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