Five Article-Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them – Guest Post

By Jane Jones, Ph.D.

Jane Jones, PhD is the founder of Up In Consulting, an editing and consulting business. She works with academic writers as well as writers of serious nonfiction to develop systems to sustain effective writing routines and habits. In her capacity as an editor, she provides developmental editing services to writers of articles, book proposals, and book manuscripts.Jane earned her PhD in Sociology from New York University in 2010. She worked as a tenure-track assistant professor for three years, then was a fellow at the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). She started her business in 2014.

Jane is spearheading our new Art of the Article program, along with TPII Productivity Coach Kel Weinhold. AoA is our new 10-week course designed to walk you step-by-step through a full draft of an academic article. See the links at the bottom of this post to learn more, and register for the free webinar Jane and Kel are offering March 21, 1 PM EST.

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When preparing an article for submission, there’s much to think about. From selecting a journal to writing the article to actually submitting the article, there are a lot of steps in the process. Unfortunately, many authors tend to ignore or rush through some of these steps, hurting their chances of a successful submission (which in most cases is a revise and resubmit).

In this post, I’m going to discuss some of the mistakes that authors commonly make when writing and submitting their articles. Although these errors are common, they’re completely avoidable. With good planning and research, you can avoid these mistakes and take some of the guesswork out of the submission process.

Here are five mistakes that most authors make:

You don’t put thought into where you’re submitting.

Many writers submit their article to a journal because their advisor told them to, or because it’s a journal they “have to” submit to in order to land a job, get promoted, etc. To be sure, there are plenty of factors that can influence your choice of journal. What that doesn’t give you permission to do, however, is skip out on your due diligence in researching the journal. When I say due diligence, I mean things like:

  • Reading recently published articles (“recently” meaning under the current editor)
  • Talking to colleagues or peers who have published in the journal
  • Checking to see if the editor has posted any information about their preferences for the journal (You’ll sometimes see editors posting on social media about their journals. They also write articles in outlets such as the Chronicle or even in their own journals!).

The good news is that researching a journal is easy. All you have to do is read, and you’re already an expert at reading!

You don’t review the guidelines

This is one of the easiest ways to frustrate an editor. Imagine being an editor, sifting through hundreds of articles, and coming across an article by an author who, in your estimation, couldn’t even be bothered to read your guidelines. Or, you receive a manuscript a few thousand words longer than it should be. You’d likely be irritated, right? It’s not the best first impression.

Formatting and word count might seem like minor, annoying requirements to you, but editors are constrained. It’s easy to forget that length is important because we read everything online, but journals normally have total page counts they must abide by. These aren’t negotiable. Following the guidelines makes the editor’s job easier and also makes your life easier, in that if you do make it through peer review, you’ll have less to fix later on in the process.

You don’t give yourself enough time to write your manuscript.

Good writing takes time, but in our publish or perish culture time isn’t always on our side. Unfortunately, writing and submitting quickly doesn’t give us an advantage. If anything, writing too fast leads to underdeveloped ideas and careless mistakes – neither of which makes our manuscript a strong candidate for publication.

I’ve worked with many clients who have told me, for instance, that they must submit at least 4 articles a year for publication if they hope to have a chance at getting tenure. What they don’t do, however, is make a writing plan to figure out if it’s realistic for them to achieve that goal. This normally has one of two consequences. First, they submit something they’re not proud of. Second, they spend so much longer than they planned on the article that they get discouraged, lose momentum, and let the manuscript languish on their desk with no end in sight. They end up with a headache instead of a submission. Sound familiar?

You don’t seek adequate feedback pre-submission.

It’s easy to get lost in your head while writing and believe that your manuscript makes perfect sense. Combine that with being pressed for time and you might believe that you either don’t need feedback or can’t afford to wait for it. In addition, you might believe your colleagues don’t have time to read your work. No matter the reason, the end result is you writing in isolation, without the type of critical feedback necessary to sharpen your writing.

It’s imperative to seek feedback on your writing before you submit. The journal reviewers should not be the first people to see your manuscript. Whether you present your ideas at a workshop, ask a colleague to read your draft, or work with an editor, a thoughtful, objective review of your work is essential and invaluable.

You don’t have a plan B.

The harsh truth of academic publishing is that rejection is common. Whether it’s a desk rejection or a rejection after you’ve spent time responding to peer-reviewers, knowing that you have to start over again can be awful. You might feel like there’s little hope for your article to ever get published.

Just because your article was rejected somewhere doesn’t mean it will be rejected everywhere. Peer-review is subjective and your article may not have been a good fit for that journal (especially if you made the first mistake I discussed!). Or, your article may not be ready for publication. In these cases, it really pays to have a backup plan.

Making a backup plan before you submit your article puts you in a strong position. If you do get a rejection, you’ll already have some of your next steps planned, and you won’t have to make tough decisions when you’re feeling the emotional toll of a rejection. You’ll be able to get your article under review at a second journal much faster.

In closing, the mistakes I discuss here are common, but also completely avoidable. But in order to avoid them, you must remember one thing: there’s more to a successful journal article than just writing.

Want to learn more? Join me, along with TPII productivity coach Kel Weinhold, for a Free Webinar on the Art of the Academic Article, March 21st at 1 p.m. Eastern. Register here.

Can’t make the time? No problem. Everyone who registers will get a recording of the webinar. Register here.

Want to learn more about Art of the Article, our new 10-week course designed to walk you step-by-step through a full draft of an academic article? Read more about Art of the Article here.

About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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