Publishing Your First Academic Article – A Roadmap

by Didem Uca, Ph.D., co-chair of CSGSH, Assistant Professor of German Studies, Emory University

So you want to publish your first academic article––but where do you start? This roadmap outlines the key stages and steps of this process, beginning with selecting a piece you have already written as part of your graduate studies through working through revisions.

  1. Identify potential piece(s) of writing you already have produced to develop for publication, as well as potential publication venues. Sometimes you just *know* something has potential, which is great, but if you don’t:
  • Discuss with professors/mentors (e.g. if you got very positive feedback on a seminar paper, ask your professor if they think it would be a good piece to develop, get advice on venues and revision suggestions). If you presented the paper at a conference and got a good reception, ask your fellow presenters or the convener/respondent of the conference panel for more feedback.
  • Notice what kinds of research different journals in your field are publishing. This isn’t so that you tailor your piece to the venue, but rather so that you choose a venue based on what piece you want to publish.
  • Think about how this project fits in with your overall research agenda (is it part of dissertation/thesis or an important subfield not in your diss/thesis?)
  1. After getting feedback from a few different mentors/colleagues, create a revision plan that answers the following questions (among others):
  • RESEARCH: What additional research needs to be done and how will I manage this (Will this require archival work? → need a summer grant? part of regular dissertation workload or a different project? → time management/balance)
  • BACKWARD-DESIGNED TIMELINE: What is my desired date of publication? For most journals, it takes a minimum of 1 year from the date of submission to the date of publication, and that’s with a very smooth process and minimal revisions. So, consider: Do you want this to come out before you go on the job market or by graduation? Or by another particular milestone? Figure out the ideal date of publication and work backwards from there to outline when you will need to complete the various research, writing, and revision steps.
  • WRITING/REWRITING/REVISING: What content still needs to be added? How many new words do you need for your argument? Be sure to consult the journal’s word count min. and max. before you start adding or subtracting words. What stylistic issues do I need to fix? These may include typos, writing style, flow, organization/structure, and adhering to the journal’s style sheet.
  1. Get writing support! (Listed as #3 but you should do this throughout the process!)
  • Organize or join a writing group with your department mates or even with people you don’t know personally. (Side note: virtual writing groups saved my pandemic sanity.)
  • Find an accountability partner (whether this is a colleague or mentor), share your timeline with them, and have them help you stick to your goals (and vice versa).
  1. Get it as close to perfect as you can––and then press send!
  • Most journals won’t even read your work if you don’t follow the style sheet or submission guidelines, so follow these closely as you’re preparing your submission.
  • Once you’ve done that, the worst thing that can happen is an outright rejection, but this can still provide helpful feedback for next time.
  1. Learn how to approach revisions and editors/reviewers to make your piece shine:
  • If you pass through the initial stage of review, you will be asked to do one or more rounds of revisions before the journal can commit to publishing your article. This is an absolutely ROUTINE part of the process and will result in a stronger piece you will be proud of in the long term, so try not to feel personally attacked by feedback.
  • Sometimes you feel like the reviewers/editors are asking for the moon but maybe it’s not *that* bad and you’re just feeling attacked, tired, or frustrated. Take a beat to try to write a list of the most pertinent suggestions and prioritize them. Or if you’re truly at a loss, share the reader reports with a colleague or mentor to help sort out the most salient points.
  • Sometimes the editors or reviewers will ask you to make changes you don’t agree with or that you feel veer away from your original argument. Have an open conversation with the editor to clarify what is required and then choose your battles (and don’t back down if the changes will detract from your vision of your work). Most importantly, make your argument coherent, clear, and bullet proof, so that you can be confident in your contribution.
  • Keep a running list of anything you do to improve and revise your submission (even if you’re using track changes). You will need to write a revision letter detailing the changes that will be sent to the editors/reviewers as part of the revisions process that needs to demonstrate that you have seriously engaged with and addressed (most of) the feedback.
  • In general (though there are certainly unfortunate exceptions), reviewers/editors are on your side and acting in good faith. They are engaging with your work to help you improve it, which is actually a really cool thing!

Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error, but if you follow this roadmap, I have no doubt that you will find success in placing your work in a great venue. Good luck!