SET UP A BLOG. Having a blog or a website as a platform for your career is a really good idea. So often these days people will just plug your name into Google and work with whatever results come up. Having your own site allows you to have more control in how you’re perceived. It’s great for job-hunting as it can be your online dossier and you can also use your blog when you teach to communicate with students and share course materials. With a blog as part of your site, you can regularly broadcast what you’re doing, including posting abstracts for conferences and papers or sharing notes for lectures you’re giving. It’s also a really good way to reflectively share the work of your peers and work out ideas for forthcoming publications.
Today’s post reflects on one of the commonly experienced–but less often discussed–aspects of academic writing: receiving a negative review of your work. The author, Virginia Yonkers, is a long term adjunct in the Communication Department at the University at Albany. She has written articles in the fields of Language, Communication, Marketing & Management, Education, and Business Ethics.
A couple of weeks ago I received a rejection of my article submission from a prominent journal. What made it especially difficult was that it did not even get to the peer review process, but rather was filtered by the editor who decided it “would not fit” the journal. That was it: “would not fit.” My first inclination was to throw the article away, crawl up in a ball, and just stop trying. Of course, I did not. But that is the natural inclination when you receive such a strongly worded rejection.
We are often taught in Phd programs how to succeed, but not how to be rejected. A very successful colleague of mine related how she had at least 15 articles completely written her first year of post-phd, which she never resubmitted until mentor encouraged her to do so. She had 7 articles in a year as a result.
So how do you get over the feeling of rejection, especially as an early career researcher? Here are some tips in getting over the barrier of rejection in journal publishing.
1) Give yourself a week before you do anything after reading a rejection. It takes some time to disassociate your emotions (rejection, anger, disappointment) from the piece you have written. It is necessary to disassociate them when you need to make decisions about your next step. After you have given yourself a week, reread your rejection letter/email for any feedback, then reread your submitted to piece. This allows you to analyze what your next step will be.
2) You have 3 choices: Rewrite and resubmit the piece; submit the piece as is to another journal; or scrap the piece for a better time.
3) If you decide to resubmit, you will need to do some additional work. You may want to email the editor to see if you can get specific direction in how to make the manuscript more acceptable. If your manuscript has made it to the peer review process, review each comment. I find having a table which addresses each point helps in your revision, but also in the follow up letter you will submit with your new manuscript. If the manuscript was rejected outright (without indication of revisions), you will need to justify how the revised manuscript is substantially different than the original. In your follow up letter you will need to address each comment made by editors/peer reviewers.
You do not have to revise everything a reviewer comments on, but you do have to address it. For example, one of the reviewers of an article I co-wrote used a different theoretical framework in his analysis of our research. We maintained our methodology and justified it in our comments (and why we DID NOT use the methodology he would prefer).
4) You may decide to submit the same article to another journal or publisher (Note of warning: you should not have the same manuscripts at two different places at the same time). One possibility is to email the journal from which you were just rejected for recommendations for other places in which your piece might be more appropriate. This does two things: 1) it insures that the other journal knows you are withdrawing your article and will be submitting it elsewhere so they will not be allowed to print it in the future; 2) you may receive some additional feedback so you can make adjustments in your next submission.
If you decide to go to a different publisher, you need to do a little more homework. Based on your rejections, try to identify a publisher by which your ideas will be accepted. My recently rejected article was in a top journal (which I did not know at the time of the submission). In reviewing the list of reviews and the authors’ names, I discovered that there were very few outside of Ivy League/top 20 international universities represented in the articles and none represented as a reviewer. My assumption is that since I was not from one of these institutions, nor a leading researcher in the field, editors filtered my article out. Often they will have 100-200 submissions a month, so this helps decrease the workload for reviewers. Now when I look for new journals to submit to, I look at readership, topics (usually they have a description on their website), reviewers, and any professional organizations they are affiliated with.
There are two areas you MUST change when you resubmit to another journal. The first is the style (most websites have a style guide). The other is your introduction. You need to always include in your introduction how your article will be of interest for the journal’s readership.
5) If you decide not to resubmit your manuscript, you should consider how you can still communicate your research. You might want to consider submitting a paper to a conference (even having it published as a conference proceeding), upload it to a public depository (such as Academia.edu or your university’s working papers depository), or blog about it. Make sure you save the article. One of my most successful articles was an update of a colleague’s article that had never been published. She gave it to me to update and the two of use worked on creating a new model based on our discussions.
As an early career researcher, an article that was not accepted is a good starting point for collaboration or new research. So do not think of the unpublished manuscript as a failure, but rather a future starting point. It is important to continue to work even if you have had numerous articles rejected. If you feel that you are not getting anywhere with publishing, work with a mentor in your field who can give you direction on places to publish, ways to make your manuscripts more marketable, and motivation to continue to submit for publication.
Make notes while reading. While seldom an advocate for multitasking, this is an instance where I would recommend decompartmentalizing: we often think of research and writing as two separate steps in a linear process, or a cyclical one. I’d like to suggest that writing while reading can have great benefits. Instead of underlining, highlighting, or marking in the margin, what if you put down the book and wrote a memo that ties your research to your writing? Focus on what inspired you to mark that passage in the first place. It’s much easier to remember why you wanted to refer back to another text when you have a meaningful prompt. And, you’ve already started writing that part of your essay/book/thesis/dissertation.
With two weeks to go it’s time to get into the nuts and bolts of fixing up this article for good! So this week is all about revising at the sentence level. I recently read George Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ and I think this gave me the perfect mind-set to tackle this huge and ominous task. Everything to this point has been what Belcher calls ‘Macrostructure Revising,’ we’ve done literature review, identifying the debate, looking closely at the overall argument and structure. As she says: ‘Macrostructure revising involves big changes.’ This week is all about ‘Microstructure Revising’: grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice.
Belcher does acknowledge that it’s normal to be sick of your article at this stage. I’ve been living with this article for ten weeks now, and I am ready to send it off into the big bad world – but it’s not quite ready for the same thing. So, we start this week’s exercises with some simple rules from (American) academic English:
- Don’t use two words when one will do
- Don’t use a noun when you can use a verb.
- Don’t use an adjective or adverb unless you have to.
- Don’t use a pronoun when a noun would be clearer.
- Don’t use a general word when you can use a specific one.
- Don’t use the passive voice unless the subject is unknown or unimportant.
(Incidentally, here are Orwell’s rules:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.)
The main part of this week is contained within Belcher’s own ‘Diagnostic Test,’ which has three main parts: ‘Words that might need to be cut,’ ‘Words that might need to be added,’ and ‘Words that might need to be changed.’ These categories are fairly self-explanatory.
Okay – here’s my weekly confession: I am a doubler. I have discovered that I double words. The very first point under Belcher’s very first Diagnostic Test and I well and truly failed. Here’s what I mean by doubling (or rather, what Belcher means): using two words with (near) identical meanings separated by the word ‘and.’ Here’s her example sentence and the fix:
‘Yang and Yu argued that emotion is necessary and essential.’
‘Yang and Yu argued that emotion is necessary.’
I don’t even need to read though my article to know that I am guilty of this. The rest of this category, which includes list making (also guilty) and run on sentences (this is something I have been very guilty of in the past and have come some way to overcoming).
This week’s workbook is worth reading, even if you’re not going to follow the whole twelve week program. I haven’t done the depth of information justice in this post. Belcher’s diagnostic test could be easily applied to any number of types of writing, and would be helpful and useful (see, still totally guilty of doubling!). Belcher gives really clear examples to illustrate each diagnostic point and provides both ‘better’ and ‘best’ revision sentences for a lot of the points, along with clear explanations of exactly why each sentence has been improved.
The basics of the diagnostic test are summed up by Blecher as: scrutinise your lists, scrutinise your verb, scrutinise your pronouns and cut unnecessary words. After coming to terms with the diagnostic test, the next thing to do is to take to your article armed with coloured pencils and start to strip (Belcher also says you can run the test using your word processor, but I wanted to break out the coloured pencils and do a proper mark-up). At the end of the day I had a pile of pages that were scribbled over in red, blue, purple, orange, green and brown (I did just use the colours suggested by Belcher). I’ll be honest, it was a little disheartening to see all those pages absolutely covered in marks. I spent the next two days diligently ploughing through the pages and happily throwing each finished page into the recycling bin. This took a little bit longer than the two hours scheduled by Belcher, and I spent around two hours on each of the two days to get through the whole article. The final day is to fix other types of sentence-level problems including looking at things like making sure your quotes are correct (in a technical sense, more than in a ‘being accurate’ sense), checking your punctuation (Belcher specifically mentions exclamation marks) and capitalisation, checking that you’ve italicised the correct types of words, that you haven’t included any non-explained acronyms, and more generally that your spelling and grammar is correct. I found this final day a lot easier, and it didn’t take the whole hour set out by the schedule.
I’m starting to feel really proud of my article now. It’s certainly a lot better than it was at the beginning. Next week’s task are all things we’ve covered before, but doing the final checks – I’m actually looking forward to seeing exactly how much better my article is!
Write a memo. Credit for this goes to Cheyanne Vanderdonckt. Sometimes an idea, a thought, an epiphany even, takes shape when you’re not in the midst of writing. Or, you are in the midst of writing but working on another idea. Those ideas can be fleeting, and may not even seem relevant or useful when they magically appear. Take a moment and take a memo. Whether in another file, on paper, or whatever method works best for you, jot down that idea. If you try to figure out how it fits in or where it goes in your document, it may slip away from you. And if it ends up not being relevant to your current project, it may be the seed of the next big idea you develop.
Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working through Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
It’s already week nine. That means there are only three more weeks to go before my article will be ready for submission, and sent off into the big, wide world to fend for itself against peer review. So, I was pleased when this week was all about getting and giving feedback.
I’m not the best at giving feedback, I think. I am highly critical of my own work but I tend to give others the benefit of the doubt (perhaps I am not a peer reviewer in the making!). Because of this lack of feedback-knowhow on my own part I was pleased that Belcher started this chapter by talking about what makes good feedback and how to give good, constructive feedback. Of course, being a PhD student I am no stranger to receiving feedback, but the process of giving feedback is somewhat alien.
The first point that Belcher makes is one that I found very surprising at first, but the more I have thought about it the more it make sense: don’t obsess over the bibliography. Sure, you can recommend texts that might provide additional proof, or suggest something that a peer reviewer would notice is missing, but don’t go overboard on it. As Belcher points out: ‘An article is not meant to be exhaustive.’ I think that’s part of the trouble switching from thesis to article writing. One is clearly meant to be exhaustive and there is an element of ‘look how much I have read!’ to the thesis that just isn’t needed (or appropriate) for an article. Her other points (don’t approach the article as a writer trying to fix it, and don’t judge the work) are clear and make a lot of sense.
Finally, this section ends with a few paragraphs on what you should be doing when giving feedback, and I found this to be the most useful, even though it goes a bit over the ground of ‘positive-sandwich’ but goes on to some very good stuff: be specific! (how often have we all got back essays that just have a tick or cross, ‘good’ or ‘needs work’ or some other vague comment and it doesn’t help you very much! I think I am particularly prone to doing this!). The most useful part of this section was the comment that you should focus on telling the other author what you understood and didn’t, what the main argument you took away was – all of this helps the author to make sure they are clearly getting across what it is that they are trying to say. Tied in to this is to focus on the bigger picture – view the article as a whole, rather than looking right down at the micro-detail.
After this, the chapter started on what to do when you are getting feedback on your own work: ask, be specific about what you want, try to ignore the emotion in the reviewer’s words, and listen to what they have to say (I am particularly bad at these final two points, both in terms of writing and in life in general!).
So, I shared my article with a good friend and scholar from Australia, and did as Belcher suggested and gave detailed instructions on what I wanted to get out of the experience, based on Belcher’s own feeback form. My instructions included: ‘please write a short abstract for this article, so I can see what you took away at the main argument,’ and ‘please comment on the flow of the article’ which is important to me because my article covers two separate topics for the majority of the length, and then brings them both together in the conclusion, so I wanted to make sure that this worked. I also gave my friend a copy of the pages with Belcher instructions, which include giving instructions of the types of feedback, but also how to go about reading the article: once without a pen, looking at the whole, on the second read you tick or mark the good parts, third time you circle the unclear parts, the you write a summary of what you think the article is about. Then you go over the marks (good and bad) with the author. Although Belcher suggests exchanging articles, we didn’t – she didn’t have anything ready to review at this stage, and we also did it all over email (which I think worked just as well, and now I have a written record of what she has said, so that’s a bonus for me).
I have only just got the feedback back from her, so I haven’t had a chance to really go through it. Her summary points out what my main point is, but I think I will need to clarify some of my sub-points which she seemed a bit confused about. Overall, the first look at the feedback (with marks and circles done on track-changes) seems to indicate that my idea is clear but sometimes my delivery is not as clear as it could be. There were a few passages that I wasn’t surprised to see big red marks around.
I’m going to go through this feedback in much more detail and make some revision to my article based on them.
Schedule a meeting (or seven). As a new year is beginning, and a new semester for many, you may be looking at your calendar for 2014 to fill in your standing meeting, appointments, and classes. Now is the time to schedule your meetings with your projects. Setting a routine meeting can be a good way to ensure you sit down to work on research and writing. The key is to block the time and lock it in: don’t let anything take precedence over the time you’ve set aside. So rather than thinking, “I want to write on Tuesday and Friday,” set a specific time of day that can’t be interrupted.
Write by hand. It might seem passé, but finding a pen that fits your hand and writing style is a valuable addition to your toolkit. You may already know the right pen, but haven’t had one around for awhile if you’re a person who does most of their writing with a keyboard. Whether you write on a napkin, the back of an envelope, or in a notebook that you’ve also added to your arsenal, writing by hand can open a new line of thought. It’s an embodied experience that draws on different creative muscles and body memory than typing. When you form those words and sentences by hand, they may take shape in unexpected ways.
Your glass is (at least) half full. During the holidays, well-meaning family and friends are likely to ask about your progress on your dissertation, book, or article. Prepare your soundbite in advance.
Focus on what you have accomplished, and what you’re looking forward to: It’s going well. I’m making good progress. I’m looking forward to having more time to work on it. It’s a good challenge. I’m working through the theories/the introduction/the second chapter.
It’s not that your loved ones think you’ll never finish. Asking about your work means they recognize that it’s important to you. Appreciate that, without ever feeling bad about what you haven’t accomplished, yet.
Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working through Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
This week was all about opening and concluding the article, and the irony of the situation is the number of times it took to start writing this blog post. I wanted to open with a joke, to emphasise the ‘good opening’ point, but I’m not very funny and I couldn’t think of anything. So instead, I will just open by saying that this week I learned that I’m good at something. Title writing! The first task this week was to revise your title, making sure it’s not too broad or too vague, that it names your subject adequately, that is at least hints to your argument, that it contains keywords that are searchable, and isn’t overly dense. It should, I learned, also include a verb. I only had to insert three words (‘an examination of’) into my title to make it conform to these rules, and so I’m pretty happy with that. I think it’s important to have a title, even a working one, that reflects what you’re doing and can keep you on track a little bit. I have written my PhD with that in mind, and I’ve already previously revised my title the week we did the argument alterations.
The next two days of tasks were all about rewriting your introduction, and that’s where my elation fell flat. My opening sentence is yawn-inducing boring. It didn’t fit into any of Belcher categories (anecdotal, subject, critical, significance, historical and argumentative) but instead was vague and said nothing. Certainly not ‘gripping,’ which is the next exercise. Needless to say my answer to ‘Could my first sentence be more gripping? If so, how could I accomplish this?’ didn’t fit into the box provided in the book. One thing my opening sentence does do is introduce basic information about my topic, which apparently a lot of young writers forget to include. So, at least the information is useful and usable. Just perhaps not right at the start.
I don’t do any of the things Belcher suggests: stating my argument (that comes around sentence eight, roughly – so well into the introduction), I don’t identify my position in relation to previous research (which is something that I need to work on in all my writing!), but I do provide something of a roadmap of my article (although this does come in the introduction, and probably doesn’t need to be right up the front for my article). So, over the next two days I did a lot of work on my introduction and fit all of these things in. My opening sentence probably still needs a little bit of work, but that can happen.
The next day’s task involved revising the abstract, related literature review and author order (only relevant to those producing multiple author papers). We have done a fair amount of work on the abstract, and I am pretty happy with how mine looks at present. The advice is to go back and repeat the week 2 revision tasks, which I did, and have updated my abstract to take in the changes I’ve made over the past few weeks. My related literature section is a constantly evolving thing so I didn’t do too much work on it.
Finally, the week concluded with the conclusion. I’m a particularly weak conclusion writer (so I have been told) and so I really took the opportunity to go back and re-read my article, making notes about my argument (which has been tightened up significantly during this process). This, I’ve discovered, is where I need to point to the significance of my article to the wider field, and so I’ve introduced that information into the conclusion. All in all, I’m not 100% happy with the conclusion, but that will come with a bit more work. I hope.
Start now. The new year is approaching, and many of us are motivated to make resolutions and set goals for 2014. Oftentimes, we find ourselves disappointed when resolutions come up short. Setting a goal is only the first step in investing in your research and writing: remember that it takes time to develop a habit. Take these two weeks before the new year begins and start developing your routine and habit for whatever you aspire to in 2014. By January 1, it will already be familiar to you.
Set tiny tasks. Put a very small task related to writing on your to do list for the day. It’s the guilt-killer: once you get the tiny thing done, you can alleviate your sense of dread that another day might pass without making progress on your writing. Even better, the sense of accomplishment for doing one small thing can compel you to do more. Once you get started, you might end up spending even more time working.
Find a writing buddy. During Academic Writing Month, many writers used the spreadsheet to check in and log their daily progress. Accountability can be a great motivator, and it doesn’t need to end now that AcWriMo is over. In fact, you can make it even better. A fellow student, a childhood friend, a sibling, a colleague: someone who has had a supportive role in your life at some point can be a writing buddy. You don’t even need to be in the same town—or country—with your writing buddy. Best if the process and commitment is mutual, but you can also check in with someone who is not currently working on a project or not even a writer at all.
If you bristle at the term “buddy” because it reminds you of having to hold someone’s hand on a fourth grade field trip, come up with your own term. It’s another fine way to take ownership of the process. And creating a personal culture around your writing process adds meaning beyond the product itself.
What quality should the buddy has ? This may gives you an insight.