The Society for Research into Higher Education

Ian Kinchin

Getting published – hot tips

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By Ian Kinchin

The following tips were used for discussion at a recent seminar. They might be of interest:

  • Have something to say.Be clear about what it is that you are adding to the literature. Answer the ‘so what?’ question before a reviewer asks it. What’s the novel spin? 
  • Target a journal from the outsetYou need to know the style, preferred length, favoured topics and methodologies of the target journal. Do your homework on this. Read the guidance for authors. Look closely at the scope of the journal – they may have different categories of papers (research papers, reviews, opinion pieces etc.). Be clear what you are submitting. Read some recent issues. 
  • Target a sensible journal.Look up their acceptance rate. If it is only 5%, it might not be a good venue for your first attempt at publishing. 
  • A clear title.Clear and succinct. Also, focus on the idea or concept that you are covering and not the discipline or the location. For example, geographical location in the title suggests limited international appeal. 
  • Select key words.These are increasingly important for online searches and should not repeat the words in the title. Think what people might be looking for. 
  • It is important and must be clear and self-contained. Some reviewers never get past the abstract if it is poor. Ensure it fits with the journal style (look at the current volume) as some are structured and some are free-form. 
  • Cite the journal you are targeting.Make it explicit to the editor that this is of interest to his/her readership. 
  • Give an up-to-date reference list. “Recent research (Smith, 1948) has shown…” 
  • Reference the methods.Don’t assume the reviewer will always be familiar with a particular methodology. If there is a ‘classic’ reference, cite it. If there are contemporary references, cite them too so show it still has currency. 
  • Reference style – (accuracy and consistency).This causes editors more problems than anything else. Ensure you have adopted the correct style, and you will have to reformat them if you then resubmit somewhere else. Some journals will reject on this alone. It may vary for journals, books and web sites. (even just replacing : with , takes time). 
  • Use clear English.Avoid flowery sentences and explain any peculiar terms. Short sentences are usually better than long convoluted sentences. 
  • Figures must add something to the story you are telling.You don’t need a pie chart to say 50% of the cohort were female! 
  • Be upfront about weaknesses and explain them.Few papers are perfect, so show the referees that you are aware that there could be improvements. If you don’t, they will. 
  • Don’t make unjustified claims.“This proves that….” is rarely true. More likely to be ‘consistent with’ or ‘indicative’. 
  • Check grammar and spellingIf you want to irritate a reviewer, give him/her lots of spelling mistakes to grumble about. Get someone to proof read your document as after a while you only tend to read what you think is on the page. 
  • This should do more than repeat the results and should revisit the underpinning theory to help evaluate your paper. 
  • Learn to cope with rejection!We all get “Dear John” letters. Sometimes reviewers have a point and you can learn from their comments. Sometimes they don’t, and you just have to move on – not necessarily to a lower-ranked journal. But if you never get rejected – you are not aiming high enough. 
  • You don’t have to agree!Depending on the nature of the reviewers’ comments, you don’t always have to roll-over and submit. Sometimes it may be necessary to disagree with a reviewer on a particular point. They are not Gods. However, often an editor will agree with a reviewer so there’s no point in contesting everything. 
  • There’s always another journal, see:


Professor Ian Kinchin is Head of the Department of Higher Education at the University of Surrey, and is also a member of the SRHE Governing Council. 

This post was first published on Ian’s personal blog, and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

Author: SRHE News Blog

An international learned society, concerned with supporting research and researchers into Higher Education

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