Guest Post: On Publishing Journal Articles

Update: The Junto is sorry to report that C. Dallett Hemphill passed away on Friday, 3 July, after a brief illness. Hemphill received her BA from Princeton, and her PhD in American Civilization from Brandeis University. Through her own scholarly work, contributions to the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and her position as Editor of Early American Studies, she was a big supporter of junior scholars. She is remembered both for her contributions to the field and profession and as a warm and generous scholar. This was her recent guest post for The Junto, in which she offered advice to junior scholars on publishing journal articles.

Guest Poster C. Dallett Hemphill is Professor of History at Ursinus College. She is also Editor of Early American Studies, which is published by the University of Pennsylvania Press for the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.

275_dallettI’m grateful to The Junto blog for inviting me to discuss how to publish a journal article. Although the views that follow are my own and the details of the process vary somewhat from journal to journal, I know from conversations with other editors that there is consensus on the essentials.

First things first. It is important to understand that, as editors, our main goal is to help people produce good scholarship, and then to get it out there. We do not view ourselves primarily as gatekeepers—people who simply say yes or no to your work. There’s much more to it than that. Once I determine that a submission is appropriate for the journal in terms of subject matter, then the goal is to help the author make the most out of the research so that the article is a clear and significant contribution to the ongoing scholarly conversation. I think many would be surprised by how much revision and improvement almost every piece requires and gets—even work by senior scholars.

What makes for a successful submission?

Authors can expedite and guide the process by keeping certain things in mind when drafting the article. A conference paper is not an article. A dissertation chapter is not an article. Nor is a draft book chapter an article, although all three of these things can make excellent bases for articles. (I often encourage folks writing books to develop an article that will announce your work on a subject while the book is in process. It can also serve as a classroom alternative down the road for instructors who would like to assign your work but don’t have space on the syllabus for the whole book.) But an article is different from these other pieces of your work in that it must stand alone. The most important question I ask when reviewing a submission is whether it offers something new and significant. This means that both your specific argument and its implications must be clear from the start. Don’t be coy! Lay out your claims up front and explain how they add to or modify existing literature(s).

This is where the peer review process is invaluable. While I can determine whether an argument is clear, I rely on experts in the field to tell me whether the findings are original and important. The more clearly you lay out your contentions and their historiographic context, the more you help me pick the right reviewers. Of course I won’t ask someone whose work you are directly challenging, but your grounding of your argument against what others have claimed is the best way to steer me towards appropriate evaluators. If I read a submission and cannot think who should review the piece, this signals that the author has not fully addressed that pesky “so what?” question. This also makes it harder for readers of different disciplines (increasingly the case for early American journals) to know what to make of a piece.

All that said, if you have questions about some other sort of submission beyond the traditional journal article—a discussion of a primary source, a teaching exercise, a more purely historiographic piece, something on public history, historical fiction etc., don’t hesitate to query the editor as to whether such a submission would be welcome. Many of us like experimenting with new formats, goals, and audiences. In addition, we are increasingly trying out new web-based capabilities to complement regular journal offerings, and welcome suggestions in that vein.

Obviously, whatever you hope to offer, you need not only to be clear but also to be persuasive. You have to have done thorough research and you need to support every claim with properly-cited (generally primary) evidence. Your endnotes should be complete, but succinct. Avoid too many discursive footnotes. If a point or example is essential, put it in the text; otherwise, delete it.

Just as we tell our students, you should be mindful of everything that contributes to a smooth read. Your organizational scheme should be obvious and follow your argument. Your writing should be clear and engaging and accessible. Be creative. Write with vigor. Kill the jargon. And don’t forget to proofread! Nothing is more off-putting to an evaluator than typos, missing words, spelling errors, grammatical hiccups, etc. In addition, be sure to follow the journal’s submission guidelines for proper formatting in terms of citations, font, margins, spacing etc.

What happens next?

There is some variation between journals on next steps. Generally, whether your piece is accepted pending revision or you are invited to revise and resubmit, you can expect the editor to give you guidance in responding to peer reviewers’ suggestions, especially if the reports conflict. Editors may also make their own suggestions for revision at any stage. Be aware that, given the peer review and revision steps (as well as possible backlog in the pipeline), time from submission to publication can vary a great deal.

The production process also differs from journal to journal, but here are some common issues. Once an article is accepted, it is up to the author to secure images and permission to reproduce them. You’ll need to sign and return the publisher’s agreement (request the waiver if your institution has an open access policy). Respond promptly to copy editor queries and make any final changes and corrections at the copy-editing stage. Corrections to page proofs are costly and should be confined to printer’s errors as much as possible. Once all these reviews are complete, however, all you have to do is wait for the satisfaction of seeing your work in print!

5 responses

  1. Pingback: The Week in Early American History « The Junto

  2. Pingback: Remembering C. Dallett Hemphill « The Junto

  3. Pingback: Keep Calm and R&R « The Junto


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