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Academic publishing query letters: should you bother? by Joanna Hare
D-41-notes

Joanna Hare is currently a Subject Librarian at City University of Hong Kong. As a research-practitioner, Joanna’s interests include information and digital literacy, research support for Humanities and the Arts, and innovative models of customer service. She continues Dave Hare’s series blog posts in the AcWriMo 2016 series.

dave_3_1As a librarian, I often attend presentations by representatives of academic publishers about ‘how to get published.’ These usually cover broad, basic advice like checking the journal’s scope before making a submission and using the correct academic style. One thing that is mentioned is to ‘pitch’ your article to the editor directly via a query letter. Book authors use query letters and academics can use them too. These letters typically include a brief (usually one to two paragraphs) synopsis of your academic writing, which is then sent to the journal’s editor asking if it is something they might publish. You can see a sample here.

Query letters are work. Thinking about them prompted me to reflect on whether they are actually worth the effort and if the letters actually do lead to higher publication rates. To find out, I contacted the editors of a few of the highest ranked Communication journals according to the Scimago Journal Rankings (SJR) and asked them about their thoughts on query letters:  

Steve Jones, editor of New Media and Society, does not mind receiving query letters. However, he makes it clear that he ‘cannot “pre-review” manuscripts on the basis of a query, which is something writers often seem to want’. Jones adds that ‘there is no advantage to sending a query letter, ultimately, unless an author is truly uncertain about whether a manuscript’s topic is or isn’t a fit with the journal.’

Jonathon Hess, editor of Communication Education, is ‘happy to get letters from people who are familiar with the journal… and are asking about specifics that couldn’t be answered by looking online.  But general emails pitching papers for which it’s clear the author has no familiarity with the journal aren’t a good use of my time.’ Hess goes on to say that if after reading the journal’s scope statement the author is still unsure if their work is suitable, he would ‘prefer that she or he just submit the article rather than sending an inquiry.  It’s much easier for me to see the paper and offer a clear response than to try to guess based on a description. I screen most submissions within a week, so authors will find out promptly if the paper doesn’t fit or isn’t strong enough for review.’

Tuen A. van Dijk, editor of Discourse Studies, says he does not receive query letters that often, which is perhaps due to his journal’s practice of pre-review: ‘prospective authors get an automatic reply when they submit a paper, in which they are asked to pre-review their own paper on the basis of very detailed criteria of the journals… so they already know what kinds of paper we publish or not.’

Rasmus Nielsen, editor of The International Journal of Press/Politics (IJPP), says ‘the majority of the query letters I receive are not very helpful, because they either (a) reflect that the author has not actually read the journal, or just consulted our aim and scope or (b) is trying to flog a sub-standard manuscript. A minority of query letters are interesting and useful for me, but in that case almost always reflect the fact that the author already knows that a given manuscript may not be a good fit for IJPP.’ ’

So, what should you do?

It is clear from these responses that if you only do one thing before reaching out to an editor prior to submitting your article it is:

Read the journal’s aims and scope first!

An editor’s receptiveness to a query letter has a lot to do with personal preference, with most stating that they do not mind receiving letters. However, it is critical that you demonstrate that you have an understanding of what the journal is about. You can make this clear in your letter (for example, ‘I have read your journal’s aims and scope and my work fits these guidelines for reasons A, B and C’).

If you are not already very familiar with the journal you are submitting to, I would recommend going further than reading the aims and scope to reading several of the articles published in the journal. This will give you an idea of the writing style and topics covered, and how your article would fit in an overall volume. Referring to specific articles in your email to the editor is also evidence that you are familiar with the journal and committed to publishing with them.

A caveat: in my experience it can be worth reaching out to the editor for advice on writing an article if they are producing a ‘special edition’ of the journal, such as a special topic or an edition dedicated to a recent conference. The scope and type of article accepted for special editions may be slightly different and the editor might be able to guide you in a direction that is more likely to lead to publication. But of course, check the website to make sure this information isn’t already easily available!

Thank you to the editors who provided valuable advice for this post.

dave_3_2

A simple start to a publishing strategy: journal lists by Dave Hare
D-41-notes

Dave Hare is currently a part-time lecturer at City University of Hong Kong. His research work concerns film studies, specifically contemporary cinema stereoscopy. This is his second blog post in the AcWriMo 2016 series.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14594792869/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14594792869/

So, following last week’s post, you’ve decided to use AcWriMo to finalise and submit your work to a journal. The next thing to do, according to almost every academic blog ever, is to create a ‘publishing strategy’ or ‘publishing agenda’. You can read about strategies and agendas here, here, here, here, here and here, and also here (and basically everywhere else*).

Publishing strategies don’t always come about in the prescribed way. For me, it was made clear in a job rejection email that I wasn’t being considered for a position because I didn’t have enough Arts & Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI) and Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) publications. I knew that I needed more work published, but I applied for the job anyway and (Surprise) got rejected. The upside of that downside was that I got specific feedback on how to shape my publishing strategy: to look to journal ranking lists, which university departments obviously use to gauge job candidates (as well as a bunch of other stuff, as in exchange knowledge, apply for funding grants, evaluate staff performance, build careers etc.).

There are issues, however, with this type of publication strategy. Tseen Khoo, one half of The Research Whisperer blog team, discussed a few of these issues in a post back in 2014. She concluded the post with the thought that ‘you may still end up “publishing to appease” every so often, but don’t let it be your life’; which is to say there are particular times to focus your attention on journals that others favour. For me, given the response to my job application, the time is now.

For the uninitiated, journal ranking lists are LONG. The A&HCI, for example, is almost 200 titles across multiple fields of study. So, you need to start by filtering out irrelevant titles. A friendly academic librarian can help you with this task; I know, because one helped me. Here is a summary of that librarian’s advice:

  • Step one: Create a spreadsheet to list the journal titles you are going to target for your publications. The spreadsheet should include all the relevant information about the journals you plan to target, such as the name, links to the Aims and Scope, recommended article word counts and a ‘Notes/Comments’ column for any extra details about the vibe of the journal.
  • Step two: Skim the title lists to identify titles relevant to your field. My field is contemporary cinematic stereoscopy, so keeping my outlook broad I selected any titles that seemed to be about film or media studies, as my work spans both aesthetic and industrial aspects of contemporary cinematic stereoscopy.
  • Step three: As you find a title that seems relevant, visit the journal website and find their ‘Aims and Scopeinformation. This should tell you if your work will fit in the existing scope of the journal. Add any titles that seem promising to your spreadsheet. At this stage be prepared to be both disappointed and surprised: you may find that the well-regarded journal you were hoping to publish in is actually not ideal, while the scope of journals you are less familiar with might end up being the perfect fit.
  • Step four (optional): Email the editor/s of the journal/s and ask if your work sounds appropriate for their publication (more on query letters in the coming weeks). Suffice to say this email should be short and to the point, with a brief description of your work. A typical response to this email will (1) note that your work is interesting and (2) that you should submit it for consideration, providing that (3) you have followed the journal’s style guide. It may not provide too much information, but it might just help you decide which journal you’ll submit to first.

After following these steps, my list included about 25 relevant journals, five of which stood out as being clear targets. In addition to these, I also included journals that might be useful for future research. Now, I am ready to get on with the task of editing, re-writing, and proofreading. A quick note for those AcWriMo-journal-writing peeps that already have a publishing strategy: Your target journals may have posted a recent call for papers, redefined their aims or have a new editorial board. A quick check to see if journals have changed is a good idea before settling down to write.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3903230097/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3903230097/

Forming a publishing strategy (or agenda), conducting research into a journal index, and creating lists, all count toward your AcWriMo success as well as the goal of journal article publication. If you’re doing these tasks, please share your experiences on Twitter and Facebook using the AcWriMo hashtag.

*because the interwebs is loaded with academic blogs talking about strategies … including this one.

Storify for Dec 11 #AcWri chat hosted by Dr Jeremy Segrott
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The Pros and Cons of Procrastination by Vivian Lam
infinity clock


infinity clockVivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.

Here are some common conceptions about the negative impact of procrastination:
1.Decrease in productivity: Obviously, procrastination means avoiding serious or pressing tasks. When we procrastinate, we basically stop achieving anything constructive. It delays our work progress, creating much bigger problems down the line when that chapter is due.
2.Decrease in motivation: The longer you drag your feet on the task, the less motivated you become to start working on it at all, resulting in lower quality work overall.
3.A decrease in self-discipline: When we start giving ourselves reasons to believe we have all the time in the world to finish a task, we become more and more disorganised and our lack of work discipline can lapse into other areas.

However, a quick trip to the mysterious realm called ‘the internet’ reveals some benefits of procrastination:
1.Stress relief: If a current task is difficult enough to make us want to stop for a while, it usually means we are too stressed up by it. Taking a break from it can relax our mind.
2.Boosting creativity: A lot of people, especially creative writers, believe coming back from procrastination gives them a fresh perspective, and thus stimulates creative thinking. Personally, I am a firm believer in this point. In fact, as a student, the best grade I ever received from my assignments came from a sudden outburst of ideas right after a bad case of procrastination.
3.Sense of control: When we force ourselves to turn off the internet, ignore all the WhatsApp messages, and simply write, write, and write, it feels like we are letting our work control our life. The realization is both unpleasant and counterproductive. We need passion to get a job done well and right now all we’ve got is a deep sense of loathing. Procrastination gives the sense of control back to us. It might be a waste of time, but at least it would be your choice to waste that time, and when we start working again, we may have a new-found appreciation of what we are doing when we cease wasting time.
4.Getting the overlooked tasks done We accomplish a lot of other tasks when avoiding the main one (This is basically the idea of “structured procrastination” I talked about before. Some people procrastinate by completing less important, but also pending, tasks. Some do it by cleaning up their desks. All these, while less important, are still productive tasks. When we procrastinate, we actually have the chance to work on the responsibilities we normally ignore.

Apparently, even procrastination can have its moment if we look at it from the right angle. Some psychologists are brushing it off as people trying to reduce the cognitive dissonance in the act of procrastination. However, if you find yourselves trapped in a procrastination period, don’t panic. Remember, you are not alone!

Storify for Oct 23 #acwri chat hosted by Pat Thomson

Storify for June 11 #acwri chat
Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter K
Boxes

BoxesKeywords. Every discipline has its jargon, as well as its most significant keywords that are used frequently by scholars and others. Yet meanings shift over time, and certainly change from one discipline to another. Your use of these keywords includes all of the possibly connotations and interpretations by scholars who come before you. It is up to you to define your keywords specific to your usage and context. Those definitions can offer clarity, and can also indicate new directions in your research and findings.

 

Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter J
Boxes

BoxesMake a junk drawer. In a recent class discussion, a student mentioned the junk drawer in her kitchen, and most of us nodded enthusiastically as she explained it’s not really “junk” but objects that have no place or category. Ticket stubs from favorite concerts or train trips, a doodle on a napkin, the paper umbrella toothpick from a party drink…the junk drawer contains a good number of objects that have emotional resonance. Objects we can’t seem to throw away.

Do you have a writer’s junk drawer? Your digital junk drawer might include paragraphs you deleted from an essay, quotes you planned to include but discarded, notes on project ideas, or even inspirational tidbits. You may retrieve items from your junk drawer, especially in the revision process or when working on a new piece that revisits some of the scholarship you cite often in your areas of research expertise. The junk drawer can also be a good place to visit when you’re looking for a new idea or a way to get your ideas flowing when you begin writing.

Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter I
Boxes

BoxesBe inspired. This may seem like an impossible request for those of us who struggle to come to the page and begin writing. However, where inspiration appears difficult, it can be made simple. Imagine your positive outcomes. Imagine your success. Imagine yourself deeply engaged in the flow of writing and thinking, and how satisfying that feeling can be. Some of us are inspired by process, others by product. Figure out what works for you and imagine yourself in a space where your goals are easily achieved. It may seem far-fetched, but it can also be inspiring.

Weekly Wishdom: Brought to you by the Letter H
Boxes

BoxesIt’s going to be hard. If writing and research were easy, would we value our publishing successes so much? There is quite a lot of advice across the Internet (and certainly plenty here at PhD2Published) about how we might make these processes easier. But the work might begin best by acknowledging that it is hard. Perhaps that can minimize the frustrations that arise when what feels like it should flow ends up stalling, and when it is hard to find the place to start.

 

Storify of March #acwri Twitter chat
Weekly Wisdom: Brought you by the Letter F
Boxes

BoxesFinish. Consider finish as both a verb and a noun. Many Western cultures lack good means for coming to closure, whether in telephone conversations or in wrapping up a writing project. The old adage “nothing inspires like deadlines” is as much about creating a terminus as it is about expediting one’s work on the page. Set a date to finish your writing project, and stick to it. When you meet your deadline, celebrate it.

Looking at finish as a noun is also to look at final, as in final chapters. A wise scholar once suggested that beginning your reading with the final chapter of a scholarly book will demonstrate whether the book is useful for your research. The finish line of a good monograph reviews all of the arguments, the conclusions, and the shortcomings of the preceding text. Start at the finish and save yourself some research and reading time.

 

Weekly Wisdom: Brought you by the letter E
Boxes

BoxesExhale. For many readers in the Northern spheres, it’s the season for Spring Break. While a good number of students use the week off for time at the beach, the park, or other leisure activities, faculty might use the week to catch up on projects, cram to meet deadlines, or take care of outstanding teaching responsibilities. If you have time off, make sure you take time to exhale. Take a deep breath, put up your feet, sleep in an extra hour. Relaxation can be a prime remedy for preventing burnout.

 

Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter C
Boxes

BoxesCraft and care. It’s sometimes difficult to find the best word to describe what we do when we’re engaged in academic endeavors. Terms like “craft” seem to fall into the domain of creative work, with responsible ownership by the poets and novelists of the world. “Writing” and “research” lack the aspects of craft, care, and concern that academic authors bring to what they create. It’s more than “work” too: that word evokes a kind of drudgery that falls short of embracing the deep immersion, the discovery, and the pleasures that academic craft can bring about. Would it be revolutionary to think of ourselves as academic craftspeople? A different term might bring a different perspective–not only for others, but also for ourselves.

Weekly Wisdom: brought to you by the Letter B
Boxes

BoxesBe bold. Look back through your draft and see how frequently you use hedging language. How often does the word “seems” appear? Is there a good bit of “maybe” and “might”? If you have invested substantial time, intellect, and creativity in developing your argument and arriving at your conclusions, be bold in reporting your results. If you seem doubtful or skeptical, your readers will be as well.