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.

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.

496 words

Conceptual Framework
437 words

Literature Review
(three sections)
1356 words

593 words

Site Description
408 words

396 words

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

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.


  1. Great suggestion! I found this was really helpful when I started working on academic articles

  2. Just like your blog professionalism! Keep up the good work.

  3. Thanks for the positive feedback. I got this advice years ago, and have been using it ever since!

  4. Hello Tanya, Glad to be here. Warm greetings from Georgia. I am still thinking to visit KU again. After KU I am the doctoral student in Georgia, Ilia State University and just now I am struggling with my article.
    I think that your link will be useful and it has appeared in time for me.
    Nino Chachanidze, KU alumna
    Georgia, Ila State UNiversity

  5. this is a fantastic idea that help any person for their work.