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.
Today is the day. This week has been a bit of a blur of teaching and thesis work, and all I wanted to do today was make sure that everything was ready to go for the final submission of my article. Earlier in the week I crafted, and then redrafted, and then edited, and then reedited, and then rewrote entirely my cover letter according to Belcher’s instructions. The first draft sounded altogether too needy. The second draft sounded too caviller. I was starting to think that I was completely written-out. But then, I went back and re-read Belcher’s advice from this week (and some of the advice from week four, when we drafted a query letter for the editor) and sat down and just followed her formula. It turned out to be fine – not over the top, without an undertone of ‘please, please, please publish my article!’ even though that’s exactly how I feel. I also went back and thoroughly checked over the style notes from my selected journal, and then spent two afternoons going through every single stylistic point that Belcher mentions (in a very handy table) and that was on the style notes and making sure that each of these things was correct in my article.
I have been told numerous times (and Belcher mentions as well) that making sure your article is in the correct house style is pretty important, so I wanted to make sure this was right. It probably didn’t need to take two afternoons, but I have put so much work into this article that I’m not prepared to trip at the last hurdle (if only I could put this much care into my thesis!) I don’t have any illustrations, tables, figures or similar so I didn’t really need to worry about permissions and getting good quality images, but Belcher has some great advice about this process.
This week I was a bit worried that the whole chapter would be devoted to preparing print versions of articles. Even though the edition of the book I have is from 2009, I imagine that a lot of journals are increasingly moving to online submission systems, or – at the very least – to email submissions, and the journal I have chosen has such an online system (where you upload everything via a webpage). While Belcher doesn’t specifically mention online-based applications systems I think this is pretty much covered by her electronic-version advice (there isn’t very much difference between submitting via email and an online system after all.) I wish she’d mentioned a bit more about email etiquette (for example, should you upload your cover letter as an attachment, or paste it into the body of the email?) but as it happens, it wasn’t that necessary for me in the end. I was a little bit dismayed by some of her advice in the ‘Preparing the final electronic/print version’ checklists. Namely, she very emphatically says ‘never use footnotes’ (rather you should use endnotes). This is probably sound advice for many people, but might be a bit confusing if a journal’s house style notes specifically request footnotes (she mentions that you should follow house style to the letter, but doesn’t say anything about following this style even when it conflicts with her own advice). So, it’s all done and dusted.
Final version finished, style updated, edited, rewritten, loved, hated, cried over (okay, not quite – but there were some close calls!). Cover letter ready to go. All that remains is to upload the lot of it onto the submission system and wait. And wait. And wait. I finally wanted to say a few words about how I found the programme as a whole, and the last chapter of the book (titled ‘Week X’). There were parts of this process that I found overly tedious – I noted those along the way, but specifically I found parts of week four (Selecting a Journal) and parts of week five (Reviewing the Related Literature) to be tedious and excessive. Having said that, I can understand why some people would find these tasks to be both timely and interesting. I have always been in the habit of reviewing literature as I go, and keeping on top of that as a matter of priority (in articles, conference papers, theses, essays etc.).
The week I found the most useful was Week ten (Editing Your Sentences). I think it’s worth getting this book (or checking it out from the library) for this chapter alone – looking at the microstructure of my article has improved my writing much more widely than any of the other exercises in this book. The book ends with Week X. I haven’t read though this section is great detail, but it deals with waiting for the journal’s decision, how to read the decision and how to respond – basically a ‘where to from here?’. I like the idea of including this information because the process certainly doesn’t stop once the article is submitted – there is a whole new process to go through, and Belcher’s informative (and extensive) advice on things like types of acceptances and rejections, how to go about revising or restructuring a rejected article, how to respond to reviewer’s comments will certainly be something that readers of this book will benefit from. I’m looking forward to getting to that stage, but for now – I think I’m ready to take a break from my article. Thanks for following along with these blog posts – I have learned a lot in the last twelve weeks, and I have a lot of new awareness about how I work and why I work the way I do (and I now have a much healthier writing habit!)