Writing for academic journals is highly competitive. Even if you overcome the first hurdle and generate a valuable idea or piece of research – how do you then sum it up in a way that will capture the interest of reviewers?

There’s no simple formula for getting published – editors’ expectations can vary both between and within subject areas. But there are some challenges that will confront all academic writers regardless of their discipline. How should you respond to reviewer feedback? Is there a correct way to structure a paper? And should you always bother revising and resubmitting? We asked journal editors from a range of backgrounds for their tips on getting published.

The writing stage

1) Focus on a story that progresses logically, rather than chronologically

Take some time before even writing your paper to think about the logic of the presentation. When writing, focus on a story that progresses logically, rather than the chronological order of the experiments that you did.
Deborah Sweet, editor of Cell Stem Cell and publishing director at Cell Press

2) Don’t try to write and edit at the same time

Open a file on the PC and put in all your headings and sub-headings and then fill in under any of the headings where you have the ideas to do so. If you reach your daily target (mine is 500 words) put any other ideas down as bullet points and stop writing; then use those bullet points to make a start the next day.

If you are writing and can’t think of the right word (eg for elephant) don’t worry – write (big animal long nose) and move on – come back later and get the correct term. Write don’t edit; otherwise you lose flow.
Roger Watson, editor-in-chief, Journal of Advanced Nursing

3) Don’t bury your argument like a needle in a haystack

If someone asked you on the bus to quickly explain your paper, could you do so in clear, everyday language? This clear argument should appear in your abstract and in the very first paragraph (even the first line) of your paper. Don’t make us hunt for your argument as for a needle in a haystack. If it is hidden on page seven that will just make us annoyed. Oh, and make sure your argument runs all the way through the different sections of the paper and ties together the theory and empirical material.
Fiona Macaulay, editorial board, Journal of Latin American Studies

4) Ask a colleague to check your work 

One of the problems that journal editors face is badly written papers. It might be that the writer’s first language isn’t English and they haven’t gone the extra mile to get it proofread. It can be very hard to work out what is going on in an article if the language and syntax are poor.
Brian Lucey, editor, International Review of Financial Analysis

5) Get published by writing a review or a response 

Writing reviews is a good way to get published – especially for people who are in the early stages of their career. It’s a chance to practice at writing a piece for publication, and get a free copy of a book that you want. We publish more reviews than papers so we’re constantly looking for reviewers.

Some journals, including ours, publish replies to papers that have been published in the same journal. Editors quite like to publish replies to previous papers because it stimulates discussion.
Yujin Nagasawa, co-editor and review editor of the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion, philosophy of religion editor of Philosophy Compass

6) Don’t forget about international readers

We get people who write from America who assume everyone knows the American system – and the same happens with UK writers. Because we’re an international journal, we need writers to include that international context.
Hugh McLaughlin, editor in chief, Social Work Education – the International Journal

7) Don’t try to cram your PhD into a 6,000 word paper

Sometimes people want to throw everything in at once and hit too many objectives. We get people who try to tell us their whole PhD in 6,000 words and it just doesn’t work. More experienced writers will write two or three papers from one project, using a specific aspect of their research as a hook.
Hugh McLaughlin, editor in chief, Social Work Education – the International Journal

Submitting your work

8) Pick the right journal: it’s a bad sign if you don’t recognise any of the editorial board

Check that your article is within the scope of the journal that you are submitting to. This seems so obvious but it’s surprising how many articles are submitted to journals that are completely inappropriate. It is a bad sign if you do not recognise the names of any members of the editorial board. Ideally look through a number of recent issues to ensure that it is publishing articles on the same topic and that are of similar quality and impact.
Ian Russell, editorial director for science at Oxford University Press

9) Always follow the correct submissions procedures

Often authors don’t spend the 10 minutes it takes to read the instructions to authors which wastes enormous quantities of time for both the author and the editor and stretches the process when it does not need to
Tangali Sudarshan, editor, Surface Engineering

10) Don’t repeat your abstract in the cover letter
We look to the cover letter for an indication from you about what you think is most interesting and significant about the paper, and why you think it is a good fit for the journal. There is no need to repeat the abstract or go through the content of the paper in detail – we will read the paper itself to find out what it says. The cover letter is a place for a bigger picture outline, plus any other information that you would like us to have.
Deborah Sweet, editor of Cell Stem Cell and publishing director at Cell Press

11) A common reason for rejections is lack of context

Make sure that it is clear where your research sits within the wider scholarly landscape, and which gaps in knowledge it’s addressing. A common reason for articles being rejected after peer review is this lack of context or lack of clarity about why the research is important.
Jane Winters, executive editor of the Institute of Historical Research’s journal, Historical
 Research and associate editor of Frontiers in Digital Humanities: Digital History

12) Don’t over-state your methodology

Ethnography seems to be the trendy method of the moment, so lots of articles submitted claim to be based on it. However, closer inspection reveals quite limited and standard interview data. A couple of interviews in a café do not constitute ethnography. Be clear – early on – about the nature and scope of your data collection. The same goes for the use of theory. If a theoretical insight is useful to your analysis, use it consistently throughout your argument and text.
Fiona Macaulay, editorial board, Journal of Latin American Studies

Dealing with feedback

13) Respond directly (and calmly) to reviewer comments

When resubmitting a paper following revisions, include a detailed document summarising all the changes suggested by the reviewers, and how you have changed your manuscript in light of them. Stick to the facts, and don’t rant. Don’t respond to reviewer feedback as soon as you get it. Read it, think about it for several days, discuss it with others, and then draft a response.
Helen Ball, editorial board, Journal of Human Lactation 

14) Revise and resubmit: don’t give up after getting through all the major hurdles

You’d be surprised how many authors who receive the standard “revise and resubmit” letter never actually do so. But it is worth doing – some authors who get asked to do major revisions persevere and end up getting their work published, yet others, who had far less to do, never resubmit. It seems silly to get through the major hurdles of writing the article, getting it past the editors and back from peer review only to then give up.
Fiona Macaulay, editorial board, Journal of Latin American Studies

15) It is acceptable to challenge reviewers, with good justification

It is acceptable to decline a reviewer’s suggestion to change a component of your article if you have a good justification, or can (politely) argue why the reviewer is wrong. A rational explanation will be accepted by editors, especially if it is clear you have considered all the feedback received and accepted some of it.
Helen Ball, editorial board of Journal of Human Lactation

16) Think about how quickly you want to see your paper published

Some journals rank more highly than others and so your risk of rejection is going to be greater. People need to think about whether or not they need to see their work published quickly – because certain journals will take longer. Some journals, like ours, also do advance access so once the article is accepted it appears on the journal website. This is important if you’re preparing for a job interview and need to show that you are publishable.
Hugh McLaughlin, editor in chief, Social Work Education – the International Journal

17) Remember: when you read published papers you only see the finished article

Publishing in top journals is a challenge for everyone, but it may seem easier for other people. When you read published papers you see the finished article, not the first draft, nor the first revise and resubmit, nor any of the intermediate versions – and you never see the failures.
Philip Powell, managing editor of the Information Systems Journal




1) Have a strategy, make a plan

Why do you want to write for journals? What is your purpose? Are you writing for research assessment? Or to make a difference? Are you writing to have an impact factor or to have an impact? Do you want to develop a profile in a specific area? Will this determine which journals you write for? Have you taken their impact factors into account?

Have you researched other researchers in your field – where have they published recently? Which group or conversation can you see yourself joining? Some people write the paper first and then look for a ‘home’ for it, but since everything in your article – content, focus, structure, style – will be shaped for a specific journal, save yourself time by deciding on your target journal and work out how to write in a way that suits that journal.

Having a writing strategy means making sure you have both external drivers – such as scoring points in research assessment or climbing the promotion ladder – and internal drivers – which means working out why writing for academic journals matters to you. This will help you maintain the motivation you’ll need to write and publish over the long term. Since the time between submission and publication can be up to two years (though in some fields it’s much less) you need to be clear about your motivation.

2) Analyse writing in journals in your field

Take a couple of journals in your field that you will target now or soon. Scan all the abstracts over the past few issues. Analyse them: look closely at all first and last sentences. The first sentence (usually) gives the rationale for the research, and the last asserts a ‘contribution to knowledge’. But the word ‘contribution’ may not be there – it’s associated with the doctorate. So which words are used? What constitutes new knowledge in this journal at this time? How can you construct a similar form of contribution from the work you did? What two sentences will you write to start and end your abstract for that journal?

Scan other sections of the articles: how are they structured? What are the components of the argument? Highlight all the topic sentences – the first sentences of every paragraph – to show the stages in the argument. Can you see an emerging taxonomy of writing genres in this journal? Can you define the different types of paper, different structures and decide which one will work best in your paper? Select two types of paper: one that’s the type of paper you can use as a model for yours, and one that you can cite in your paper, thereby joining the research conversation that is ongoing in that journal.

3) Do an outline and just write

Which type of writer are you: do you always do an outline before you write, or do you just dive in and start writing? Or do you do a bit of both? Both outlining and just writing are useful, and it is therefore a good idea to use both. However, make your outline very detailed: outline the main sections and calibrate these with your target journal.

What types of headings are normally used there? How long are the sections usually? Set word limits for your sections, sub-sections and, if need be, for sub-sub-sections. This involves deciding about content that you want to include, so it may take time, and feedback would help at this stage.

When you sit down to write, what exactly are you doing:using writing to develop your ideas or writing to document your work? Are you using your outline as an agenda for writing sections of your article? Define your writing task by thinking about verbs – they define purpose: to summarise, overview, critique, define, introduce, conclude etc.

4) Get feedback from start to finish

Even at the earliest stages, discuss your idea for a paper with four or five people, get feedback on your draft abstract. It will only take them a couple of minutes to read it and respond. Do multiple revisions before you submit your article to the journal.

5) Set specific writing goals and sub-goals

Making your writing goals specific means defining the content, verb and word length for the section. This means not having a writing goal like, ‘I plan to have this article written by the end of the year’ but ‘My next writing goal is to summarise and critique twelve articles for the literature review section in 800 words on Tuesday between 9am and 10.30′. Some people see this as too mechanical for academic writing, but it is a way of forcing yourself to make decisions about content, sequence and proportion for your article.

6) Write with others

While most people see writing as a solitary activity, communal writing – writing with others who are writing – can help to develop confidence, fluency and focus. It can help you develop the discipline of regular writing. Doing your academic writing in groups or at writing retreats are ways of working on your own writing, but – if you unplug from email, internet and all other devices – also developing the concentration needed for regular, high-level academic writing.

At some point – ideally at regular intervals – you can get a lot more done if you just focus on writing. If this seems like common sense, it isn’t common practice. Most people do several things at once, but this won’t always work for regular journal article writing. At some point, it pays to privilege writing over all other tasks, for a defined period, such as 90 minutes, which is long enough to get something done on your paper, but not so long that it’s impossible to find the time.

7) Do a warm up before you write

While you are deciding what you want to write about, an initial warm up that works is to write for five minutes, in sentences, in answer to the question: ‘What writing for publication have you done [or the closest thing to it], and what do you want to do in the long, medium and short term?’

Once you have started writing your article, use a variation on this question as a warm up – what writing for this project have you done, and what do you want to do in the long, medium and short term? Top tip: end each session of writing with a ‘writing instruction’ for yourself to use in your next session, for example, ‘on Monday from 9 to 10am, I will draft the conclusion section in 500 words’.

As discussed, if there are no numbers, there are no goals. Goals that work need to be specific, and you need to monitor the extent to which you achieve them. This is how you learn to set realistic targets.

8) Analyse reviewers’ feedback on your submission

What exactly are they asking you to do? Work out whether they want you to add or cut something. How much? Where? Write out a list of revision actions. When you resubmit your article include this in your report to the journal, specifying how you have responded to the reviewers’ feedback. If your article was rejected, it is still useful to analyse feedback, work out why and revise it for somewhere else.

Most feedback will help you improve your paper and, perhaps, your journal article writing, but sometimes it may seem overheated, personalised or even vindictive. Some of it may even seem unprofessional. Discuss reviewers’ feedback – see what others think of it. You may find that other people – even eminent researchers – still get rejections and negative reviews; any non-rejection is a cause for celebration. Revise and resubmit as soon as you can.

9) Be persistent, thick-skinned and resilient

These are qualities that you may develop over time – or you may already have them. It may be easier to develop them in discussion with others who are writing for journals.

10) Take care of yourself

Writing for academic journals is highly competitive. It can be extremely stressful. Even making time to write can be stressful. And there are health risks in sitting for long periods, so try not to sit writing for more than an hour at a time. Finally, be sure to celebrate thoroughly when your article is accepted. Remind yourself that writing for academic journals is what you want to do – that your writing will make a difference in some way.

These points are taken from the 3rd edition of Writing for Academic Journals.





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Sri hardyastutie, A, D.W.Soeatmadji, Fatchiyah Fatah, and Aulanni’am. Relation of Elevated Serum Lipase to Indonesian Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Progression.Biomedical Research 2015; 26 (2): 293-298

Fatchiyah Fatchiyah, SJ Raharjo, FRP Dewi. Virtual Selectivity Peptides of Csn1s2 Protein of Local Goat Ethawah Breeds Milk Modulate Biological Mechanism Of Calmodulin. Int J Pharm Bio Sci 2015 April;; 6(2): (B) 707 – 718

Choirunil Chotimah, Gatot Ciptadi, Bambang SetiawanFatchiyah Fatchiyah. CSN1S2 protein of goat milk inhibits the decrease of viability and increases the proliferation of MC3T3E1 pre-osteoblast cell in methyl  glyoxal exposure. Elsevier – Asian Pacific J Tropical Disease 2015; 5(3): 219-223