Taking the Leap: Turning Your Paper Into a Publication

By: Genia M. Bettencourt, University of Massachusetts Amherst

As I write this, it is late November in New England. The daylight hours are dwindling, the glow of exciting events like the ASHE Conference and Thanksgiving has faded, and the lure of the upcoming winter break is still too far away. Amidst the busy blend of coursework, research projects, and personal commitments associated with the end of the semester, I find a persistent presence looming over me. The ghost in question, an original research paper that I have written and presented at ASHE, nags me with reminders that our time together is growing more distant by the day. It is tired of sitting on my hard drive. It wants to see the world!

As much as I agree that it is time to give the paper a change of scenery, I find myself unsure of how to move the piece to the next level and submit it to a potential publication. How do you know when a piece is ready to be released? What steps must you take?

I have grappled with these questions since beginning the doctoral program at UMass Amherst, turning with regularity to writing experts to soak in some advice and strategies. I write “shitty first drafts” in the style of Anne Lamott (1994), relying on the revision process to hone my eventual piece. I use 15-minute blocks to tackle different chunks of writing as suggested by Goodson (2017). I have the infamous Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success by Belcher (2009) on my bookshelf. Still, I feel as though the answer to becoming a full- fledged publishing expert in the world of higher education remains elusive. If graduate work is about making the transition from consumer of research to producer, then how does one make the leap from producer to disseminator?

Questions in hand, I sought out recently graduated scholars and asked for their wisdom and experience in navigating the publication process. Thankfully, Dr. Christina Yao of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dr. Steve D. Mobley, Jr. of the University of Alabama, and Dr. Chrystal George Mwangi of the University of Massachusetts Amherst graciously agreed to share their time and expertise. In an attempt to do justice to their insight and in the spirit of many of the ASHE top tips blogs that share this space, I have distilled their advice into five key points below to help you and I master the publication process.

  1. Feeling like an imposter? Well, frankly, get over it. If you are doing important work, it does a disservice to the field, to your population, and to your participants to not share your work. After all, who else is going to tell this story if not you? If the academic imperative is not enough to sway you, try creating your own analogy in the publication process to put it into some perspective. Whether you think of the review process as dating or art collecting, there is the simple reality that not everything is going to be right for everyone based on taste and preferences. Try not to take it personally.
  1. Recruit a pit crew. Repeatedly, my successful scholars emphasized the importance of using your connections to get an article ready for publication. Find people that can read your work, give you feedback, and suggest venues. For graduate students, use your advisor or build a peer debriefing team with other students in your program. Use presentation opportunities at the annual ASHE conference to gather feedback from your discussant and audience. Reach out to folks that have similar topical areas and see if they are willing to read your work. Aim for at least two reviewers before submission, including someone who knows your work and someone who knows your topic. The more work you put in up-front to polish your paper, the less likely you are to get an up-front rejection.
  1. Do your homework. Find a way to get organized and keep track of different publication venues. Once you select your destination, write your piece in that style. Does your article match the purpose, aim, and specifics of that journal? The last thing anyone wants is for a paper to be rejected because the fit is not right. Equally important, make sure that the citation style is correct and well done. Sloppy citations may indicate that your study is not particularly rigorous, regardless of whether or not that is true.
  1. Know yourself. Everyone has a unique process, and the key is to find what works for you. You may use presentation opportunities at the ASHE conference to organically develop an idea or to develop a nearly finalized piece that you are just polishing. You may decide that the more rigorous review and typically longer turnaround time of a top journal are your aims. Alternatively, you may decide that a graduate student journal with a highly constructive process is the best route. Reflect on your needs in the process and let that be your guide.
  1. You are allowed to be sad for a week if you get a rejection. Then, send out the article again. If you get a desk rejection, send it to at least two other venues before you begin to dramatically overhaul it. If you do receive reviewer feedback, it may or may not be helpful. Indeed, it may or may not be a little mean. Remember that you have options. Just because you get feedback does not mean you have to take it. You can withdraw a piece if you feel like the criteria to revise and resubmit are incongruent with your scope and aims. Pick the feedback that makes sense for your writing, re-craft your piece, and keep trying!

Here is to vanquishing a few ghosts and getting some great ASHE grad publications out in the near future. Happy writing!

Genia M. Bettencourt is a doctoral student in Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she studies educational access and equity. She serves as a research assistant for the Center for Student Success Research.

References

Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in 12 weeks: A guide to academic publishing success. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

Goodson, P. (2017). Becoming an academic writer: 50 exercises for paced, productive, and powerful writing (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

Lamott, A. (1994). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

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