Top Tips from Journal Editors

I've invited a number of journal editors to share their tips for writing in their journals. If you are a journal editor and are interested in submitting please e-mail me.

Professor Wendi Arant-Kaspar
Joint Editor Journal of Academic Librarianship

Professor Arant-Kaspar visited NUI Maynooth and spoke at the seminar on Advancing Academic Writing among Librarians in January 2014.  She kindly agreed to do a guest post for this blog.

I have been reading the comments from other editors with interest – and I could keep this post incredibly short by saying “Ditto” but there a few specifics that I can highlight with regard to JAL:

·         Forest hits the nail on the head - Check the guidelines for authors and follow them.  It makes for a smoother editorial and review process.  I would add to be attentive to removing the identifying information – it helps maintain the integrity of the blind review process.

·         Readability is crucial: Miller is correct in advising a proofreader of having a colleague review it – or even co-author, if writing isn’t your strength.

·         Partridge advises to pay attention to feedback.  If a paper is heavily marked up, know that the “red ink” translates into personalized time and attention from the editor or reviewer.  They saw the potential of your submission and invested in it with thoughtful attention and advice.

·         I wholeheartedly agree Fagan and Rempel discussing doing a literature search.  To add on, don’t just pay attention to the library literature either: there are many topics that can be informed by other disciplines – management, assessment, research methods, etc.

Lastly, I would also like to consider aspects of “ownership” around submissions.  There have been situations that have raised questions, offering an opportunity to open a dialogue:

·         If you have presented or published (even informally) the majority of the information in the submission, please inform the editor in your cover letter.  The exception is, of course, institutional repositories and government-funded research – which many journals, JAL among, make accommodation for.

·         Many editorial systems run the paper through a citation system, which may catch a previous version (as in the above example) or raise other questions.  In some instances, the reviewers may also catch it and inquire.  I know of several editors that have seen the same submission come the journal they edit and another journal for which they review, at the same time.

·         It may be that an author is citing themselves – from a previous different publication. In this case, they can rightly cite that other published article.  While self-citation is somewhat looked down upon, it makes absolute sense that an author would build on their previous research.  However, recycling a lot of text from a previous publication should be avoided. 

There are many other situations around co-authorship, citation, acknowledgement and collaborative projects – too numerous to cover here.

Margaret Forrest

Associate Editor, New Review of AcademicLibrarianship (NRAL)

·         Read some articles from recent issues of the journal in which you would like to publish. This will help you get a feel for the style of writing and the subject coverage of the journal.
·         Write to the Editor or Associate Editor with an abstract of your proposed article to ask if this would be of interest. If you are not given a copydate, make one up! Copydates can help keep you on track.
·         Look for the journal’s “Guidelines for authors” and be sure to follow any instructions, e.g. for the length of article.
·         If you submit your article to a peer reviewed journal, it will usually be sent out blind (without the name or address of the author/s) to two reviewers. The reviewers for NRAL are asked a number of questions which can help focus their reviews. For example:
·         How informative is the title?
·         Is there an abstract (of around 200 words) and an up to date bibliography conforming to the journal’s referencing style?
·         Are the objectives of the paper stated?
·         Are the methods of the study and the results clearly described?
·         Does the discussion link theory and practice?
·         Does the paper provide something new?
·         Are the ideas of interest and practical relevance to academic libraries

·         Reviewers are then asked to make a recommendation on whether or not the paper should be published and how the paper could be improved. This feedback can be the most valuable part of the writing process and it’s worth submitting your article to a peer reviewed journal just for this guidance. You may not always agree with the reviewers, but it will encourage you to think more critically about your writing and hone those skills!

Sigrid Kelsey, General Editor, Catholic Library World

 Choosing a topic
Choosing a compelling and original topic can be one of the most challenging and most important aspects of writing an article that will be accepted into a journal. Articles should contribute something new to professional literature and inspire readers in their professional work and research. Authors should search the literature before embarking on a writing topic to make sure their topics are covering something new.
Calls for submissions are an excellent way to find appropriate and sought-after topics to write on. Professional blogs, email lists, social media sites, and websites often post calls for papers and submissions with suggested topics. Querying an editor is another way to learn what a journal editor is seeking. Some editors are in search authors to write on various topics that their readers have requested. When choosing a topic, an author also should be qualified to write on it.

Journal guidelines
Authors should consult journal websites for instructions to authors. These provide guidelines for topics, appropriate length and style, directions on submissions, and information about how the submission process works.  

Writing style
After writing an article, authors should reread their articles keeping in mind grammar, style and readability. Here are some tips to avoid common stylistic mistakes:

·         Each paragraph should contain a topic sentence, with each sentence relating to it.

·         Second person should be avoided at all times, and over-use of first person should be avoided.

·         Sentence structure should be varied for interest.

·         Sentences should avoid ambiguity, with pronouns clearly referring to specific nouns.

·         Articles submitted to peer reviewed journals should be written in a formal business style, avoiding the casual style often seen on blogs.

·         Proper citation styles should be adhered to, and plagiarism should be avoided.

·         Opinions should be backed up by research.

Peer reviews
Peer reviews are meant to be constructive, and responding to suggestions by peers before publication leads to better quality articles and advances scholarship in the field.

Book reviews
Book reviews are an excellent way to start writing. Catholic Library World publishes 100 book reviews per issue and has more than 200 reviewers dedicated to reviewing books on many topics. Book reviews serve an important function in the library science profession, and they are an excellent way to become familiar with both the literature one reviews, and with the writing and submission process.

Authors should feel free to email me about writing for Catholic Library World

Dr William Miller
co-editor of The Reference Librarian
Not surprisingly, articles submitted for The Reference Librarian must have some connection to the reference function.  It helps greatly if you have a thesis, and focus on it, rather than wandering into interesting but irrelevant byways.  Regarding how long an article should be, it should be long enough to say, fully, what you have to say, but without any padding or unnecessary content.  Please check your spelling and grammar; if you are not highly proficient or experienced at writing, have your work reviewed and corrected by someone who is before submitting it.  Our journal uses the APA style manual;   please actually look at it, and follow it when you do the references.  If possible, avoid writing “how I did it good” pieces.  Be aware of what has been done already, and build on it, rather than assuming that you are the first one ever to have pursued this topic.  If you are basing conclusions on numbers you have collected, don’t make more of the numbers than they can actually support—in other words, be aware of rudimentary social science research methods, adequate sample size, etc.  Make sure that your conclusions are warranted by the evidence you have amassed; make sure that your conclusions are relevant to the content and argument of your article!  Avoid pseudo-scientific words:  “utilize” and “use” mean the same thing.  Avoid the word “patron” if at all possible; prefer “people,”  “person/s,” or “user/s.”  Use active voice:  “I did it” is much more effective than “it was done by me.”  Above all, remember that you are writing for readers, not for yourself; the topic should be interesting, and worth the reader’s time.

Helen Partridge

Getting published: editor’s tips!
In 2009 I had the pleasure of being the interim editor of the Australian Library Journal. This experience provided me a unique insight into the world of publishing. If you are looking to submit your work to a journal than I offer these tips. Get familiar with the journal. Read some of the recent articles. Consider whether your article is a good ‘fit’ for the journal. Many journals will have details on focus and scope available on their website, take the time to review this. If you are still not sure contact the editor, they will soon let you know if your article is appropriate for the journal. The editor might also be able to suggest an alternative place for you to publish your work.  Make sure you read the author guidelines; make note of the word limit, the referencing style and the formatting requirements.  Present your article professionally; make sure it is free of errors and that all the sections have been included.  Ask a colleague to review your work before you submit. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to make revisions.  The feedback provided by the editor (or the reviewers) is there to help you to improve the quality of your writing. Don’t take their feedback personally.  If you have questions or need clarification than contact the editor. They will be happy to discuss your work. Stick to the deadlines; return your revised article by the date requested.  Finally - have a go! Writing an article and having it publishing is fun, plus it allows you to contribute to your profession in a unique and powerful way.

   Valerie Stevenson

I have been a member of two editorial boards, The Law Librarian/Legal Information Management  and SCONUL Focus, stepping down as editor of Focus at the end of 2013. I learned a great deal about the role of the editor from the more experienced members of these groups, particularly Christine Miskin and Antony Brewerton who held the Chair’s role of each publication when I joined. An editor’s dream is to receive an informative, engaging, clear, well structured and accurate piece of writing with no typos or grammatical errors, free of jargon and with perfect references. This does happen, but rarely, and the editor’s role combines the qualities of the strictest English teacher, eagle-eyed fact-checker and supportive mentor to ensure the writer’s message reaches the journal readership in the best possible format.
Both the journals I have been involved with were largely practice-based and encouraged first-time authors to write up interesting projects or service developments in academic libraries that other practitioners would find useful. I would advise anyone wanting to start writing to contact a member of the editorial board of the journal to test their idea and work with them to refine it – experienced editors will enthusiastically respond to  anything innovative but will also know if the topic has already been covered in depth and may be able to identify a new angle or put authors in touch with each other to collaborate on a joint article.
All journals have either a guide for potential authors or a template to fill in when submitting a draft. It is really important to tailor your writing for a particular journal, write the article with these guidelines in mind, and read previous issues to get a feel for the style, language and format. Submitting an early draft for comment can be invaluable and the editorial process can then become more of a dialogue between editor and author if time permits. I am not a great advocate of  rigid “house style” but I believe the editor’s role is to help the author present their work in their own voice as clearly and accurately as possible within the conventions of the journal. Reading the memoirs of successful writers, journalists an editors can be very revealing – many of the people we consider instinctive geniuses either found the process of writing and revision difficult or had a great deal of help from their editors to refine their first drafts. New writers may be a bit intimidated by the blank page and apprehensive about seeing their work in the public domain, but a good editor will help you through that process and all the hard work will be worthwhile when you see your name in print for the first time.

Jody Condit Fagan, Editor
Journal of Web Librarianship

Hannah Gascho Rempel, Associate Editor,

Top Tips for Publishing in The Journal of Web Librarianship

1.      Few of us are perfect - Consider working with a co-author. Even if you did a research project on your own, having a second (or third!) person helping with the writing and editing is an enormous benefit.

2.      Find outside readers - If you have access to a Writing Center, consider consulting them (whether or not you have a co-author). Or run your paper past several colleagues who weren’t involved in the study to get a less biased opinion.

3.      What else is out there? - Do at least a basic review of the literature before starting your research with an eye to improving your research questions, design, and methods. Clearly demonstrate in your written literature review what gaps or new questions your study addresses.

4.      Learn from other writers about writing – Look back at several journal articles you really enjoyed reading and pay attention to what made those authors good communicators.  While reading, ask yourself: how did they set the tone for their articles? How do they organize their ideas? How do they transition from their own ideas to those of other researchers?

5.      Consider your audience - Think about which aspects of your work will be most relevant to or usable by other libraries and be sure that's what you focus on the most.

6.      Ask us! - Send a query letter to editors of journals you think might be interested to get their "take" on your research idea.  You might get suggestions about where the most interesting, unexplored ideas still are in the literature. Or you may just get affirmation that you are headed in the right direction!

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