What to Expect When Publishing Your Research
Name: Matthew McCormack
Title: Professor of History and editor of Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Institution: University of Northampton
When you are starting out as an academic, publishing your work can seem a daunting business. The good news is that the process is more straightforward than it might initially appear and that, at best, it can be a very useful and rewarding thing to do.
I edit Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies and I am always happy to receive submissions from early career scholars. Many scholars in the field made their publishing debut in JECS – indeed, my first ever article was published in the journal back in 2003. The piece was a spinoff from my PhD project, which I did not have room to develop in the thesis, but lent itself to a self-contained article.
This brings me to my first bit of advice, on choosing what to publish. It is fairly common to publish a section of a PhD thesis as an article, but there are things to bear in mind here. In the humanities, it is common for the PhD thesis to be converted into a first book, so you should be wary of publishing too much of it as chunks beforehand if this is what you intend to do. Also, a section of a thesis will often need quite a bit of work if it is to succeed as a standalone article. Referees often comment that an article feels like it is taken from a larger project, and therefore lacks coherence in isolation.
“…a section of a thesis will often need quite a bit of work if it is to succeed as a standalone article..[it can] lack coherence in isolation.”
It is also important to think carefully about what journal to send your piece to. As well as checking practicalities like word limits and presentational styles journal websites you need to make sure that the journal is the right place for your work. Where is it likely to be accepted, and where will it reach the audience that you want? It is worth discussing this with supervisors or colleagues, or dropping a line to an editor to sound them out.
For example, JECS publishes work from any discipline concerned with the eighteenth century. Given the diversity of our readership, we particularly like to publish articles that are interdisciplinary in nature. If your article speaks to the concerns of a particular discipline, it might be more appropriate for a more specific journal.
When you submit your article to a journal, the editor will read your work and will decide how to proceed with it. Some articles are rejected straightaway: this is not necessarily a reflection of its quality, but often because it is unsuitable for the journal for one reason or another, and the editor may make suggestions here about where to send it instead.
If the editor is interested in the article, it is sent to peer-reviewers. These will be experts in your article’s field: they will give feedback about whether the article is publishable and will offer advice about how to revise it. Possibly because of its anonymity, the peer review system can seem mysterious and intimidating, and academics like to share horror stories about referee reports. I would urge ECRs not to pay too much attention to this though. As an editor, I am consistently heartened by the amount of time and care that referees put into this task, which they do out of generosity and genuine interest (not for payment or recognition).
Even if the outcome of the referee process is rejection, it is still a useful thing to have done. I forward both reports to authors, and authors often reply to say how useful the feedback has been to them. Getting detailed feedback from experts in your field is extremely valuable, and it is best to take the criticism in a constructive spirit, and try again. The reasons for rejection vary. Sometimes it relates to the nature of the research or methodology, the organisation of the argument or the quality of written expression. Probably the most common reason is the significance of the article: does it have something new to say and will it be of wide interest?
“Getting detailed feedback from experts in your field is extremely valuable, and it is best to take the criticism in a constructive spirit, and try again.”
If the referee reports are positive, then they editor may invite you to revise and resubmit your article. At this point I would advise authors to take the feedback on board and engage with it as constructively as you can. You usually have an opportunity to provide a rationale for the changes you have made, and you can disagree with referees here if you wish – but it is not advisable to ignore them or to try to defend the indefensible. Sometimes the revised piece will go back to the same referees for checking, and once the editor and referees are happy then the piece can be accepted for publication.
It may be some time before the article appears in print. First it has to go through copyediting and type-setting, and you will liaise with production staff to check the proofs. Once the proof is signed off, it may appear online in an ‘early view’ format, while it is waiting to be assigned to an online or print issue. When the issue containing your article finally arrives, it is an exciting moment – I still enjoy seeing my work in print – and hopefully you will feel that the process was worth it!