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Publish Academic Essays

Getting your first academic paper published can be a challenge. Kevin O'Gorman, professor of management and business history at Heriot-Watt University, offers his top tips on breaking into the world of journals.

It is too long

Really, it’s far too long. You have slaved over your thesis for three years and you know and love every word in it – they all matter to you and that is perfectly understandable. However, it’s now far too long! 

Your thesis could be anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 words and you are writing a journal paper (depending on the discipline) of normally between 6,000 and 12,000 words.

Think of the paper as a new work in its own right, not just a cut-down version of your thesis. 

Don’t be offended

Develop a thick skin for criticism and try not to take anything personally.  Yes, I know that is a lot easier said than done, and criticism will be painful; but forewarned is forearmed.

Other people know more than you

You may have grown to either love or hate your supervisors during the PhD process; that is normal. However, ask them for help with publishing, as they have been in the same boat.

Depending on how your viva went, examiners are also good people to approach for advice. They certainly now know your work and they are normally experts in the field.

Finally, academics in your department/faculty/school/college are often willing to help too; you do not have to do this alone.

Agree the order of authorship

This can be an awkward conversation to have at the start of any collaborative paper, however, just imagine how difficult it would be if you left it to the end and you were all tired, fed up and at the point of submission to the journal.

Normally, in business and management, if it is your PhD you should go first. But that might vary in the other disciplines; be guided by norms and convention.

There is a rather famous paper from 1973 where a footnote states that the author order was determined by a 25-game croquet tournament. If all else fails, rock, paper, scissors is as good a method as any.

Clearly articulate your contribution

If you want to hit a top-ranked journal, then you need a clearly articulated theoretical gap, whatever the subject of your research.

It’s not your thing, it is your theory what matters! You should also be thinking about why these abstract academic chatterings should be of significant applied interest to the relevant industry professionals.

Research that ultimately offers practical suggestions for managers distinguishes itself from the rest by demonstrating the critical self-awareness that most claim but few enact. 

Be disciplined and clear in your method

Your method needs to be very clear. You should clearly articulate and justify your philosophical underpinnings, data collection and analysis techniques in a manner that allows your study to be replicated in the future.

Know the journal and editor

Journals are not just waiting for your paper, nor do they just publish whatever comes their way, regardless of quality.

For example, the highly ranked and cited business management journals can have up to a 98 per cent rejection rate, so you need to be on top of your game.

The journal is normally seen as a conversation; you need to embed your work within it. Make sure that you have read any editorials on the nature and scope of the journal. Often editors when taking over a journal wish to take it in a particular direction; make sure your paper fits within that plan. If in doubt, a short, courteous email to the editor never hurts.

Consider the reviewers

If you get a revise and resubmit, welcome it, and get on with it. 

The reviewers do not have some predestined malefactors here to frustrate you and your desire to publish. They are (normally) all unpaid volunteers who are there at the service of the academic community at large, and, if your paper is published you will be joining their ranks. 

They are all published in your area and in that journal; honestly, they want you to publish the best paper possible.

Watch for the deadlines

Everyone is under time pressure: the editor, the reviewer, not just you. If you undertake the "revise and resubmit", reply to the editor and get on with it. Good things do not, normally, come to those who wait.

You are not a first-year undergraduate; don’t leave it so late that you need to ask for an extension.

A rejection is often the first step to an acceptance

I know that might sound silly, however, it is true…there are (many) other journals out there. 

Read, reflect and act on feedback from the reviewers and editors, use it to write a better version of the paper, and submit it to another journal: begin the process all over again.

Kevin O’Gorman is professor of management and business history at Heriot-Watt University. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on It’s Not you, It’s Your Data, a collaborative blog on the PhD journey.

Summer is over, and that means that millions of students are heading back to Universities around the world.  Professors are preparing their syllabi and lectures, and students are getting ready for classes (read: spending hundreds of dollars on books).

Over the next eight months there will be hundreds of millions of essays written by university students, and graded by professors and teaching assistants (TAs).  What does that mean for student publishing? Well, not much. For the most part,  students do not publish their work, which makes the professors and TAs the sole readers of hundreds of millions of essays.  

What if these essays were published online for all to read and evaluate?  What if even 1/100th of them were published? This is not a rhetorical question for us, it is something that we wish to find out.  Something that we think should happen, and hope to help make happen. 

“Aren’t you worried about publishing student essays? Won’t many be bad?”

Arguably some of the essays are not so great, but that is true for all scholars, including distinguished professors.  Indeed, in 2004 Pinker wrote that academic writing is known to use “prose that is turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand,” and recently we’ve seen that even the underlying research is not as reliable as we would like. These problems are certainly not due to students. 

“Why publish student essays”

There are various reasons we think students should publish their essays with us. First, the limitations on scholarly publishing should never be monetary.  However, that is the case with many publishers, especially in the life sciences.  Sure, many journals may offer waivers, but it is an imperfect system that frankly discourages people from even trying to publish.  In various cases students are granted a partial or full waiver from publishers, but a waiver of even 50% may leave a student with a bill of 1,000+ dollars.  Libraries have been great for backing students publishing, but in order to get library funding you must show that your publication has been accepted and in order to get accepted you must agree to pay the publication fees before undergoing review.  Not to mention, libraries can’t afford to pay for thousands of students to publish under the current model. The whole system is complicated and a big hurdle to student publishing that basically keeps students, and their ideas, away from publishing.  We’ve eliminated that unnecessary hurdle by shifting review to an open post-publication model.

The second reason for encouraging students to publish their essays, and more importantly providing them a platform to do so, is that it is best to learn open practices early.  Learn to publish and review openly, and this will become the norm as the students become the next leaders.  This will foster the next generation of open scholars, which will collectively benefit the community and ensure more robust practices.

The third is that we need new ideas and viewpoints in science.  Historically many ideas have come from the young or people changing disciplines.  Why? Because looking at a problem in a different way after years and years of research often times can be very difficult, if not impossible.  A person can talk themselves out of new/different ideas because they know better.  Student’s may not know any better in many things and that's okay, in fact that may be quite beneficial.

How are we going to do it?

We are already doing it.  This fall a variety of professors from around the world plan to use The Winnower in their classrooms for student publishing. Here's what their syllabi read:

From Virginia Tech BIOL5854G:

“the paper is expected to be of publishable quality. As a new experiment in this course, students will be given the choice to publish their essays on The Winnower”

From Simon Fraser PUB401:

“You must submit your essay in the form of a post/publication on any website of your choosing. This may be your own blog, someone else’s blog, this site (email instructor for an account), The Winnower, or any other web-accessible location. Submit the URL to your essay on Canvas [a course management system].  The only condition for submissions is that they should be made available under a Creative Commons License.”

From Louisiana State University MC4971:

"The objective of these assignments is to produce publishable work. For each of the 7 assignments, the top (winning) article/essay will be submitted by Paige Jarreau (with your permission) to The Winnower, where it will receive a DOI and be archived as a permanent published essay!"

We hope that other professors/instructors will follow these classes lead and begin to encourage their own students to publish.  And students, don’t wait! Start publishing!

Questions? Just ask us!