A Basic Guide to Publishing in Academic Journals

      In the world of academics, the name of the game is ‘publish or perish.’ Generating the work is only half the battle. Getting it out there is just as important – and that means publishing your work. To make the process as speedy and hassle-free as possible, there are simple rules to follow to avoid outright rejection and prevent time-consuming re-working if it’s accepted but not quite up to standards.

Choosing the Destination Journal

      If you can, decide which journal you intend to send your article to before you write. Decide what category your article fits into. Is it a short research report or a full-length article? Not all journals publish short papers and almost all have limits on longer papers, typically 7-8,000 words. For longer papers check which journals accept articles of 10,000 words or more.

      Consider the subject of your work. If it’s mainly of local interest, send it to a local journal. If it will be of interest to an international readership, pick a journal accordingly.  If you believe your work is of major academic interest and high quality then try one of the big-name journals, bearing in mind that these may have longer waiting times for publication. It’s worth looking up a journal’s impact factor (calculated partly by the number of citations its articles receive) on an online website.

      Read the journal’s mission statement, which sets out the kind of papers it gives priority to. Also, check out who’s on the editorial board of your chosen journal. It would be wonderful if academia was all about the selfless pursuit of knowledge. In reality, it can be riddled with rivalries. If there are people on the board whose work you identify with then that’s a good sign that your work might be a good fit for the journal. Similarly, see if the journal regularly accepts articles dealing with similar subject matter to your own.

      Some other things to consider include whether the journal appears both in print and online, or online only. Online-only journals may have quicker turnaround times for publication, and sometimes are less hamstrung by constraints of length, including the number and type of images they are prepared to publish. Does your work include images that need to be in color? On cost grounds, it’s common for print journals to only accept grayscale images, but they will publish full-color illustrations in their online editions.

      Another matter to consider is copyright. An important decision concerns whether you want your work to be Open Access (OA) – in other words, available free of charge to researchers. This is ideal for reaching a wider readership and the dissemination of your ideas, but often you will have to pay for this option. Be aware that some open access journals are known as ‘predatory journals.’ Not only are they typically not intellectually respectable, but they are often a money-making enterprise. You’ll pay for OA publication and won’t get the expert editorial guidance and support that good quality mainstream journals offer.

Writing Your Article

      Most journals specify in detail on their website what they’re looking for in a manuscript, under ‘instructions for authors.’  The quality of the ideas and arguments is obviously crucial, but it doesn’t end there. Clarity of presentation is important. That usually includes a concise abstract, well-chosen keywords, an introduction that clearly sets out the scope and direction of the article, and a conclusion that suitably sums up the findings and contributions of the work. Appropriate subheadings are worth attending to, because large blocks of text are off-putting to readers. It should go without saying that multiple typos or spelling errors create an instant bad impression.

      The journal’s instructions for authors will set out the style and formatting rules. It’s a whole lot easier to tailor your piece to meet the requirements from the outset, rather than having to convert it all later or correct errors and departures from the rules. It may even cost you money, or worse, lead to the article’s rejection outright. Make sure you use the specified font, spacing and other specified formats. That includes whether you save the final product as a word-processing document, PDF file, or other type of document.


      Perhaps the most important thing to get right is the referencing. Under-referencing of ideas in the text and bibliography can amount to plagiarism, and no reputable journal will touch such submissions. Sticking to the word count is important. If the editor points out that you have missing references you may find that when you’ve added them you’ve gone over the word limit and have to precise your text to cut it down to size. It’s tedious and time-consuming to do it down the line and easily avoided if you are thorough to start with.

      Referencing or citation styles are just as important to get right. Journals will clearly specify which one they use. Different disciplines often have their own system. The system endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA) is widely used in the social sciences. MLA, or Modern Language Association Style, is used primarily in the humanities. Chicago / Turabian style is generally used in the fields of business, history, and fine arts. The Harvard referencing style is similar to APA, but used more commonly in the UK and Australia. The Vancouver system is widely used in medicine and other science fields. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) style is often required for technical fields, such as computer science. The conventions of each style will also cover the use of footnotes and endnotes in your manuscript. Many referencing systems use in-text citations with the author, date, and (for direct quotations) page numbers in parentheses. As a general rule, footnotes are best avoided and endnotes, if unavoidable, should be brief and kept to a minimum.

Images and Graphics

      Journals usually require graphics to be submitted at a specified resolution: high enough to look good when printed, but not too high. This can be a nightmare for the uninitiated. High-resolution images also print out larger, and some journals will require graphics to be submitted at the right size from the beginning. Free and user-friendly pixel resizing software is easy to find on the internet or you can let us to the technical work for you during editing.

Acknowledgements and Permissions

      Most academic publications owe something to others, and they should be suitably acknowledged, as should the research funders or institutions who have enabled the research. For students, it is appropriate to acknowledge colleagues or supervisors who may have advised on or facilitated the research. For copyright reasons, the sources or creators of graphics and photographs also require acknowledgement, as does permission to reproduce images that are not your own. You may require written permission to reproduce such materials, so the journal that publishes your work isn’t left open to a lawsuit.

Polishing and Submission

      Submitting a clean manuscript will go some way to having your work accepted for publication. When your manuscript is first submitted to a journal it is critically examined before being peer reviewed. Elsevier, one of the world’s leading publishing companies (420,000 articles published annually in 2,500 journals), estimates that approximately 30 to 50 percent of submissions are rejected before ever reaching the peer review stage, and “poor language” is one of the top reasons for rejection. This is why it’s a good idea to at least have someone else look your manuscript over for errors that you may have missed. Hiring a professional editor can maximize your chances of publication. A manuscript that is free of language and grammar errors is not only professional, but it also ensures that your ideas are communicated clearly and effectively.

      Send it with a concise letter addressed to the appropriate person. It’s not usually necessary to include proof of publication permissions at this stage. If the journal permits you to make suggestions regarding referees, don’t pass up the opportunity to recommend people who you think are conversant with your field and who will be fair reviewers (even if they don’t agree with everything you might be saying).

Final Steps

      With luck, your hard work will soon be rewarded with a letter saying that your paper has been accepted, typically with the proviso that you attend to points raised by the reviewers or the journal’s editorial staff. Referee’s reports can be trying, but it’s rare to not have to make some changes, so don’t be discouraged.  On rare occasions they can be biased or downright hostile, but most criticism can be useful. The thing to remember is that if a reviewer picks up on a problem or issue in your article, other readers probably will too. If you disagree with a point raised or something that the reviewer recommends be revised, you can choose to ignore it as long as you justify your decision. However, generally speaking, it’s probably worth attending to. Perhaps you need to motivate a point better in the text or make it clearer. Maybe you need to modify your position slightly. It’s not worth getting annoyed, and it’s certainly not worth a war of words with the editor. Compromise where you can, and be open to constructive criticism. This is a good opportunity for insight as to how your work appears to eyes other than your own.

      The more work you’ve put into preparing your manuscript to start with, the less likely it is that you’ll be faced with loads of revisions that you may be given only a couple of weeks to attend to. It’s important to get it right early on and the sooner it will be that you will have the satisfaction of seeing your ideas in print. Submitting a manuscript that’s been professionally polished and edited is a great way to save yourself trouble and give yourself the best possible chances of acceptance. The very last step will be signing the copyright and permission form authorizing the journal to publish your work. This can be a minefield, and you should read it through rather than just signing it in good faith. If needed, our academic consultants can help with translation, or simply explain the contract in further details to help you understand.

      If you have any questions, just contact us. We can help with every step along the way. Getting published can be difficult, but it can also be a smooth process, leading to the reward of being a published academic with a growing Curriculum Vitae.

~APEs FIX Team

Next Steps:

Call or Text