Sunday, September 25, 2011

Secret to Successful Academic Publishing: Finding and Using a Model Article

As I was endeavoring to publish my first academic article, one of my advisers in graduate school, Ted Mouw, suggested I select a model article and use that to structure my article. I have since used this technique repeatedly and my experience leads me to believe that this is one of the secrets to successful academic publishing. My belief was confirmed when I read that Wendy Belcher also suggests a similar strategy in her book, Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success.

In this week's post I will explain how to find and use a model article. A model article can serve as a guide for how long each section of your article should be, how many tables or interview quotes you should include, and how many citations are necessary in your field.

The Perfect Models Posing..

Where to find a model article

Your model article should come from the journal where you will submit your article. It does not have to have the same topical focus as your article, but should use similar data. If your article is based on interviews, your model article should also have interviews as the primary source of data. If your article has a complex conceptual framework, you should search for a model article that also uses a complex conceptual framework. If your article uses archival data, so should your model article.

What to do with a model article

Your model article will help you figure out both the structure and the approximate lengths of each component of your article. Once you have chosen a model article, the next step is to make an outline of the article, taking note of the length of each section of the article.

Here is an example of how to create an outline, based on an article I published in 2010:

Golash-Boza, Tanya. 2010. “Does Whitening Happen? Distinguishing between Race and Color Labels in an African-Descended Community in Peru” Social Problems.

Abstract:
This article explores how race and color labels are used to describe people in an Afro-Peruvian community. This article is based on analyses of 88 interviews and eighteen months of fieldwork in an African-descended community in Peru. The analyses of these data reveal that, if we consider race and color to be conceptually distinct, there is no “mulatto escape hatch,” no social or cultural whitening, and no continuum of racial categories in the black Peruvian community under study. This article considers the implications of drawing a conceptual distinction between race and color for research on racial classifications in Latin America.

Introduction
496 words

Conceptual Framework
437 words

Literature Review
(three sections)
1356 words

BACKGROUND AND METHODOLOGY
Background
593 words

Site Description
408 words

Methodology
396 words

RESULTS
- Eight Interview quotes
- Three thematic sections (corresponding to lit review)
6207 words

Conclusion
292 words

Implications for Future Research
391 words

As you can see, a model article can provide guidelines for common and not-so-common situations. It is a common issue for sociologists working with interview data to have to be selective about how many interview quotes to include in an article. In this article, I included eight interview quotes, which gives you a rough idea as to how many might be acceptable. A less-common situation is that you need to provide background information because of the relative unfamiliarity of the topic. As this article was based on research conducted in Peru, yet published in the United States, I included a background section on people of African descent in Peru. When searching for a model article, it is important to think about the particularities of your article and to try to find parallels in published articles.

Once you have created an outline, the next step is to match up the length of each section of your article with the sections of your model article. They don’t have to be exact, but if your model article has 1500 words in the lit review and 5000 in the results section, and your article has 3000 in the literature review and 3000 in the results section, that is an indication that you probably should present more data and condense your literature review.

You can create and use an outline based on a model article before you complete your article. In fact, having guidelines for the length of each section before you even begin can help you avoid the very common problem of writing an article that is far too long to be published.

I imagine some readers may feel as if their work is unconventional and does not fit into any mold. I understand and respect that position, but would like to gently remind readers that it is often best to learn the rules before one breaks them. Using a model article to imitate the structure (but not the content) of an article is one way to learn the unwritten rules of academic publishing.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How to Choose an Academic Journal for your Article ... and why you should choose one now!

Most academics are aware of the need to "publish or perish," and the current state of the job market makes the imperative to publish even more pressing. In this post, I discuss the first step to publishing a journal article: choosing an academic journal for your article.


I can has publication?

The past few posts this semester have dealt with learning skills that enhance your scholarly productivity, including: planning your Fall semester, making time for writing, planning your week, and writing every day.

Time management and daily writing are skills and habits you can learn by practice. For example, I learned about the skill of daily writing in a class on writing with Sherryl Kleinman in 2004. However, I did not form the habit of daily writing until I joined an online discussion forum organized by Kerry Ann Rockquemore in 2007. That discussion forum encouraged participants to develop the habit of daily writing, and it worked wonders for my productivity. If daily writing has not yet become a habit for you, check out this post for more strategies on how to make writing part of your life.

Similar to time management and daily writing, publishing is also a skill you can learn. No academic was born knowing how to publish. We all learn by doing. The more you write and submit articles, the easier it gets. For the remainder of the semester, we will focus on the nuts and bolts of writing and publishing, drawing from my own experience publishing ten journal articles and two books and reading about academic publishing in venues such as Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, by Wendy Belcher. This post is dedicated to explaining how to find a home for your academic article. However, if you do not already have Wendy Belcher's book, I suggest you order it now!

How to Choose an Academic Journal

If you do not yet have an article ready for submission, there is no need to worry. You can decide where you will submit your article before you begin to write it. However, if you are reading this blog, it is likely that you have at least one seminar paper, thesis draft, or dissertation chapter that you could transform into a publishable article. If not, with daily writing, you will have a draft in no time.

Look in your bibliography
The first place to look for an appropriate journal to publish your article is in your own bibliography. The works you have cited are the works with which you are engaging in conversation. If you are citing several articles from a particular journal, that is a good sign that journal may be an appropriate place to submit your article.

Find other journals in your area
After looking through your own citations, have a look at other journals in your field. You can do this online. However, it can also be a great experience to actually go into the library and have a look at the journals in person. You also can ask your librarian area specialist. Many colleges and universities have librarians whose job requires expertise in academic publications. They can be a great resource when considering where to submit your article.

Figure out the impact factor and journal rankings
Journal ratings are important. A journal's rating is based on a variety of metrics, which are different ways of counting how many times the articles in the journal have been cited. Articles that have been cited more often are thought to have a greater impact in the field, and thereby bring prestige to the journal in which they were published.

Because journal ratings are important, you should take them into account before making a final decision about where to submit your article. Here are three ways to find out information on the relative quality of a journal.

  1. You can use the software, Publish or Perish, to get data on the impact factor and citation rate of journals in your field.
  2. You can access Web of Knowledge through your university's library to get rankings of the journals in a particular area or discipline. For example, Web of Knowledge lists rankings within the discipline of Sociology, but also within the sub-field of Race and Ethnic Relations.
  3. You can visit the journal's website to find out information about the journal in question. When investigating a particular journal, you should try to figure out whether or not the articles in the journal are peer-reviewed, what percentage of submitted articles they accept, and whether or not the journal is accessible through major scholarly databases such as JSTOR, Elsevier, or Sage.
Once you have chosen a journal, you can begin to write or revise your article with an eye towards publication in that journal.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Seven Steps to Plan Your Week

My weeks always go better when I take the time to make a weekly plan. The process usually takes between 30 to 60 minutes, so can seem a bit cumbersome. However, I have a few years of evidence to show that the week always goes better when I make a thorough weekly plan.

A weekly planning meeting is one of the most essential tools for being productive while maintaining your sanity.



By planning your week, you can ensure that you complete your most important tasks while also leaving time for other priorities in your life such as children, relationships, hobbies, and well-being. The weekly planning meeting is a tool I learned personally from Kerry Ann Rockquemore and have passed along to others. It is also detailed in David Allen's excellent book, Getting Things Done and Julie Morgenstern's book, Time Management from the Inside Out. In short, the weekly planning meeting is a well-known and validated time management strategy. Here is how I do it.

Make a weekly planning meeting part of your life.

A weekly planning meeting allows you to pause at the end of each week and take stock of what you did and did not accomplish. It permits you to make decisions at the beginning of the week. It allows you to get all of the tasks that you know you need to do out of your head and onto paper, thereby clearing up mental space for creative tasks.

How to conduct a weekly planning meeting.


Step One: List all of the tasks you need to accomplish over the next week.

Like many academics, I often have several ongoing projects. This means that I need to pull out my list of annual or semester goals each time I do my weekly plan to make sure that I have not forgot any upcoming deadlines and am focusing my energies on the most important task.

It is often helpful to get out your calendar and look back and forward to make sure you don’t forget anything important. It is also useful to have your Semester Plan handy to ensure that you are making progress on on-going projects.


Step Two: Transform your tasks into action items

Once you have written out your tasks, you want to make sure that each of your tasks is written as an action item.  If, for example, one of your tasks is: “Make revisions on Revise and Resubmit,” it might be helpful to list the tasks involved in that project. If you don’t know what the tasks are, then your first task will be to “Make revision plan and task list for Revise and Resubmit.” If you are pretty sure you will need to do some more reading, your next task could be: “Download five relevant articles on existentialism for Revise and Resubmit.” The key is that you need tasks that are actionable, that tell you exactly what to do, and that you can be sure whether or not you have accomplished.


Step Three: Block out your commitments.

Get out your electronic or paper calendar and block out all of your meetings and commitments. If you have a faculty meeting, for example, block that out. If you teach, block time out for your classes. If you have a doctor’s appointment, block that time out as well.

Step Four: Map your tasks (from Step Two) onto your calendar.

If you think it will take you two hours to come up with a revision plan for your article revision, then block out two hours of time for that. If you need an hour to prepare for class, block out that hour. Put all of your tasks into specific time frames into your weekly calendar. Have tasks left over that don’t fit? See Step Five.

Step Five: Cut those tasks that do not fit into your calendar.

This is always hard, but it is much better to make these decisions before the week starts than to realize at the end of the week that your most important tasks never got done. As David Allen explains in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, it is helpful to think of these extra tasks as having three possible outcomes: Defer, delegate, or delete. Each task that does not fit onto your weekly calendar must either be put off (deferred), given to someone else (delegated) or not done at all (deleted).

When I make my weekly plan, I often keep a running list of tasks that will go into the next week - those are the deferred tasks. If I can figure out who to delegate to, I can change an action item from "Finish bibliography" to "Ask Research Assistant to finish bibliography." To delete items, I just highlight and delete them and keep on moving.

Step Six: Implement.

When you wake up on Monday morning (or whenever your week begins), you do not have to figure out what to do next. You just pick up your calendar, and it will tell you what to do. This is fantastic, as you can jump right into action when you begin your week instead of having to remember what you need to do.

Step Seven: Review.

The inherent value in a weekly plan is that it allows you to see what is and what is not getting done. In your next planning meeting, it is important to review the prior week and to think about what did and did not get done. This will help you to figure out how long tasks actually take, and to pick up patterns. (I definitely am guilty of letting certain tasks slide week after week. Noticing which tasks are not getting done each week allows me to develop new strategies to ensure that I make progress on all important fronts.)

Some people prefer to do their weekly review and planning meeting at the end of the work week. Assessing what did and did not get accomplished allows them to relax over the weekend, knowing that they have a clear plan for getting things done the following week. Others prefer to do this at the beginning of the work week or on Sunday evening, when their mind is clear. It is up to you to figure out what works best for your work rhythm. The important thing is that you develop and implement a plan.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ten ways you can write every day

If you've been following the posts this semester on how to have a productive semester, you have already made a plan for the Fall Semester, and blocked out time in your calendar for writing every day.

If you have been writing every day this semester, congratulations! If you haven't, ask yourself "why not?" If you need some ideas on how to actually write every day, then this post is for you!


Write every day” is fabulous advice. But, how do you actually do it? That was my question for a long time before I finally convinced myself to give it a try. Now that I have been writing every day for four years, I can share with you a few ways to make that possible, and explain to you why I do it.

Lettres de Lou

Why you need to write every day

I decided I needed to try to write every day when I found out that scholars who write daily and hold themselves accountable write nearly ten times as much as others! In Robert Boice’s book Advice for New Faculty Members, he explains the virtues of writing every day. Boice describes a study where new faculty were divided into three groups:

  • The first group did not change their writing habits, and continued to write occasionally in big blocks of time; in one year they wrote an average of 17 pages
  • The second group wrote daily and kept a record of their writing; they averaged 64 pages
  • The third group wrote daily, kept a daily record, and held themselves accountable to someone weekly; this group's average was 157 pages (Boice 1989:609). 

Once I read that, it was clear which group I wanted to be in. I was convinced I should at least try daily writing.

How to write every day

Once I decided I needed to be writing every day, my greatest challenge was to figure out what it meant to write every day. I asked myself, "What counts as daily writing?"

Over time, I came to realize that writing means a lot of things and that there are lots of ways to write every day.

Here are ten ways you can write every day:

  1. Write on a blank page
  2. Line-edit something you have already written
  3. Restructure a paper that you have been working on
  4. Pull together pieces of older documents you have written into a new paper
  5. Check references and footnotes for accuracy
  6. Outline or mind-map a new project
  7. Summarize or take notes on something you have read recently that might be relevant to present or future research projects
  8. Make a revision plan for a rejected article or a “revise and resubmit”
  9. Make tables, figures, graphs, or images to represent visually concepts or trends in a paper
  10. Create an After-the-fact or Reverse Outline
If you think of writing as only #1): Write on a blank page, it will be hard to do that every single day. However, it you are open to other kinds of writing, it will be possible to do at least one of these kinds of writing every day.

I try to do at least two kinds of writing each day, starting with the blank page in the morning. I am at my best early in the morning. I use those early, fresh moments of the day to free-write and to create new material. Once I run out of steam, I might turn to editing something I have written or to checking references. If I get stuck, I will pull out a mind map and brainstorm ideas.

My routine each weekday, then, is to begin the day with writing or writing-related tasks. On a good day, I can concentrate for two hours. Usually, however, my mind drifts after an hour, so I take a break to check email or have some coffee, and put in another hour after my break. I keep track of the time I have spent working on writing so that I can be proud of my accomplishments, and so that I know when I need to stop.

I know that many academics reject as ridiculous the idea that one could or should write every day. To them, I would gently ask if they have ever tried it. And, I would add that it is not only important to try writing every day, but to commit to trying it for at least a month to see if it works for you. It is also important to have others to whom you are accountable and with whom you can share your struggles.

If you do try writing every day, let me know how it goes! If you are a seasoned daily writer, let me know why you keep it up!