“This year I want to publish a journal paper! More than that – I need to! I have to! This is it!” Is publishing a paper one of your new year’s resolutions? If you want to get a paper written, submitted and accepted over the next 365 days, you should read through our 5 tips to make it happen. We’ll help you to the finish-line so you can get this paper out this year!
The beginning of the year usually brings with it a lot of energy, enthusiasm and also a whole bundle of great resolutions and goals. It’s a good feeling, the end of the year far in the distance and it can be encouraging to have plans for the new year. If not now, when?
Unfortunately, resolutions for the new year are sometimes just the unresolved tasks from the last year. Are you also thinking “Last year, I planned to write this one journal paper. The research was basically done and I had so many good ideas and intentions for the paper. I was really intent on finishing and it would have been so cool if I had followed through, but …?”
First, we should say there is nothing wrong with setting plans and goals, and it’s only human that we don’t reach all of them. However, it does matter sometimes whether we reach a particular goal or not. Suppose you are conducting a PhD study and you have to write three papers to finish your degree. If you haven’t published a single one from your work yet, it does matter if you manage get one done this year! Otherwise, you will not be able to finish and this will delay anything else you had planned to do in life after your PhD (yes, there is one!). You can find more tips on how to complete your PhD in our SMART ACADEMICS blog post #2: “So you want to finish your PhD on time?”
Or, let’s imagine you are working at an institute on a temporary contract, which is expiring at the end of the year. Getting a paper published might be an essential part of getting an extension, applying for a permanent in-house post, or even to snagging a position at another institute. If you don’t finish and get the paper out this year, these options might disappear altogether. Then you’ll have little to convince your boss to extend your post, your CV to apply for a permanent position hasn’t improved and you definitely didn’t increase your chances of getting a job somewhere else.
Or, imagine you want to apply for a research project. You will not be the only one applying for the available funds. There, a selection committee will make a decision based on the proposal you hand in and on the qualification of the submitting consortium, who you belong to. Any paper that you can add to your list that documents your expertise in the field will increase your chances of gaining funding.
We could list many more reasons why it is good to have one, or another, your next, or your first journal paper published by the end of the year. Yes, it is work to get through the paper processes of writing, submitting and certainly peer-review. But it’s worth it and if you need more information on the pros of writing a journal paper, please have a look at our post #13: “Writing journal papers: Pros and cons.”
Ok, let’s simply reiterate your intention: You want to have a paper accepted in a journal by the end of the year.
In January, you may be thinking, “Oh the year is long, let’s worry about the paper a bit later.” Not this time I’m afraid, it’s time to face the paper challenge now. To help you get closer to realising your goal for this year, we’ve identified 5 tips that we think are essential to achieving it. There are more good tips and tricks you could follow, but they won’t bring you to the goal if you ignore the 5 listed below:
1. Plan your writing and block time for it
The #1 excuse that we hear in our TRESS ACADEMIC paper writing courses for not writing papers is: “I would love to write a paper but I simply have no time to do it.” If you have this attitude, you will probably never write, submit or publish a paper. You don’t really think that one day there will suddenly appear a whole bunch of free weeks, if not months, where you can spend all your time writing papers, do you?
Now, as much as we would all like to have a big block of free time, we know, it’s not coming. Therefore, make time. Plan your writing in blocks using your calendar, and commit to when you will be sitting down and working on your paper. Otherwise, the paper will not materialise.
Think about the different steps that you would need to take to get this paper done. We’re assuming that your research has progressed far enough so that you actually have some questions and material to write on. Without anything in hand, it might be difficult. But, you don’t have to wait until your research is totally completed in order to get started with the paper.
If you are unfamiliar with planning the different stages of writing, editing and submitting a paper, please download our free worksheet “Planning the time for my next paper”. It will help you jump-start the process and give you an overview of the variety of steps that will come over the next couple of weeks and months. It will also give you an idea about the demand on your time that you have to plan for. You will be able to estimate the time needed from the beginning of preparing the paper to writing, editing, submitting and even clue you into the time needed for peer-review and the overall production of the paper. By the end, you’ll discover how realistic your goal is to have a paper accepted by the end of the year. Then you can go to your calendar and plan out the time when you will be working on the paper.
2. Look for a relevant topic you can write about
Your paper will be about your research, of course, but what exactly will it discuss? When reviewing papers for journals, we found it always a bit dull when we had papers to read where the authors simply wrote “what they did” in their research projects. Is this what you’re planning your paper around? Your project?
Try to see your paper from the perspective of the consumer, the reader, or a colleague in your field. They don’t need to know all the little details of your specific project set up. Most academics look for answers or input on relevant research questions when reading other papers.
Sit down and think for a while, what research aspect of yours is of great peer interest and relevance? Who are these peers reading your paper and how can you appeal to them? Think about what they know already and what you could illuminate for them.
Very often, papers are only about a single aspect of a research project and one specific question. This is enough as long as you make sure the question you present is of relevance to other researchers.
Make sure to pick a topic you can actually write about, i.e. you have done some research on. It is more compelling to read about stuff that people have done and found out than if you merely theorise around ongoing issues.
The paper topic will have to catch the interest of the reader, and before it gets that far, it has to appeal to the journal editor and reviewers. If they think don’t think your work is relevant (and don’t forget they are from your field), they will not consider your paper for publication.
3. Quit with excuses, get started and write regularly
By now, you know what you are going to write about and you have a rough idea of the steps and the time needed. All that’s left to do is: start!
Of course, you might think, but … isn’t there that one email that you have to answer first? Wouldn’t it be good to clear your desk of all the things that have hung around there from your last project before you start with something new? Wasn’t there a sign-up sheet from your graduate school you haven’t responded to? And didn’t your colleague ask you to review his/her draft of a conference poster before they leave for the conference next week? And also … yes, yes, yes, there was!
Wasn’t there also somebody who wanted to get a paper accepted by the end of the year? Was it you? If you want to stick to this goal, stop giving excuses for why you can’t just start working on your paper now. Take our advice: Just get started!
It’s a common misconception that you have to give up doing all your other work because you are writing a paper. Instead, work regularly in short sessions on it. You’ll see, it will still bring you ahead day by day and you can still help your colleagues and attend to other duties.
For more inspiration on how to get started, have a look at our blog post #5: “How to get started with writing papers?”
4. Look for a journal with a quick turn-around
If the timeline of your paper publication is really tight and critical for you, you should do one more thing: Look for a journal that has a quick turn-around on papers. It doesn’t help too much if you put all your energy into getting the paper written and submitted as quickly as possible, if you then submit to a journal where the peer-review process takes months before you hear a word from them. This would be frustrating and endanger your goal.
So what should you do? Two things: First, don’t wait to decide on a journal until after your paper is finished. Browse possible journals long before, preferably from the start. Then you can write the paper in a way that it actually fits to the journal’s requirements. Second, if you have, let’s say, a shortlist of 2-4 journals where you think your paper could be submitted, try to find out how efficiently these journals work. How long does it take them on average to process papers, get them through peer-review, online and in press? Some journals publish this information on their website, others you have to ask the journal, or even better, ask your colleagues what their experience was with these journals.
Watch out, you may be exposing yourself to a threat here: Predatory journals. These are journals that apply poor academic standards and practices in their editorial and peer-review processes. They lure researchers in with short time-lines for publication and relatively low publication costs, but your reputation as a good researcher may be harmed by publishing there. Find out how to identify predatory journals in our blog post #17: “Predatory journals: How to identify them?”
5. Respond in a timely manner to requests from co-authors, editors, reviewers, and publishers
As experienced co-authors, reviewers and journal editors, we’ve experienced that authors themselves are often a key factor in publication delay. If you want to have a paper accepted by the end of the year, you’ll need to do everything you can on your side to move the process along quickly.
This starts with good correspondence between your co-authors: Should you have several co-authors on your paper, don’t forget that your paper is probably not a high priority for them. They’ve got many other things on their plate. Therefore you should contact them regularly and be explicit in your requests. What do you want from them? What do they need to do? Until when? You might eventually have to face the challenge of passive co-authors, i.e. authors who do not really contribute a lot. Don’t let this behaviour spoil your time plan. Check the recommendations in our blog post #23: “What to do if my co-authors don’t contribute?” and learn what you can do to get more active input from co-authors.
Accordingly, don’t delay the paper cooperation on your end. If they need help from you, get back to them quickly.
The same applies to any request that you receive from the journal’s side. Editors and reviewers will most likely require changes to your paper after it has passed the first round of peer-review. Don’t stretch the deadline they provide, but get back to them in a timely manner, preferably before the deadline. Again, it will help to get your paper to the finish-line quicker.
Once accepted, you can also speed up your publication by responding immediately to any request from the journal’s publisher.
We really admire your resolution of getting a paper accepted by the end of this year. It is an ambitious but achievable goal if you have done the research you want to write about. We know of course that it is not always easy to stick to New Year’s resolutions, but if you manage to do so in this case, you will be rewarded with having a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal! Then you can be really proud of what you have achieved this year. The 5 tips we suggest above will for sure help you to get closer to this goal. We’re keeping our finger’s crossed for you and it would be so kind if you’d let us know by the end of the year if you made it!
- Worksheet “Planning the time for my next paper”
- SMART ACADEMICS blog post #2: “So you want to finish your PhD on time?”
- SMART ACADEMICS blog post #5: “How to get started with writing papers?”
- SMART ACADEMICS blog post #13: “Writing journal papers: Pros and cons.”
- SMART ACADEMICS blog post #17: “Predatory journals: How to identify them?”
- SMART ACADEMICS blog post #23: “What to do if my co-authors don’t contribute?”
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