«The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research Gordon Rugg Marian Petre THE UNWRITTEN RULES OF PHD RESEARCH THE UNWRITTEN RULES OF PHD RESEARCH Gordon Rugg and ...»
The focus of the journal is important. Journals have to focus, because of the sheer volume of research being published – even very specialist journals have to reject a high proportion of good papers because of space limitations. (Journal editors work to a page budget each year, which limits how much they can publish.) You therefore need to make sure that your article is relevant to the journal you are submitting to. If in doubt, contact the editor (politely) and ask.
Journal editors are normally serious players in their research ﬁeld, unlike commercial editors, so the editor will be the person who makes the decision about how relevant your paper is. If you are skilful and/or lucky, the editor may like the idea behind your paper and may give you some suggestions on how to present it (e.g. which themes to stress and which to play down). This advice is important, and should be treated seriously (though remember that following it does not guarantee acceptance).
What your submission should look like Your submission should contain a covering letter, the relevant number of hard copies of your article, a soft copy if required and anything else speciﬁed in the guidelines to contributors. The letter should be polite and brief; it should make it clear which author is handling the correspondence (if there is more than one) and should give full contact details for that author. The article itself should follow the guidelines for contributors. The next few paragraphs describe the guidelines and explain why they matter.
The word length issue is important because of the page budget. The editor may have to choose between publishing one longish article and squeezing in two short articles, and will certainly be keeping an eye on the page budget.
Tricks like using a small font or wide margins will not be well received. The page budget in the journal will be calculated from the number of words in your article (including tables and ﬁgures), not from the number of pages in your manuscript, so small fonts or wide margins won’t deceive the editor for long.
Once your article has got through this initial check, the editor will send out copies to reviewers, who will give their opinion on it. Procedures vary between journals. Most prefer to send hard copies to the reviewers, since reviewers like to scribble on hard copies and don’t like having to print off papers from soft copy which may be in an inscrutable format or font. Editors will therefore ask contributors to send enough hard copies for each reviewer, plus one for the editor’s ﬁles. If there are two reviewers, you will be asked to send three hard copies; one journal which we know used to ask for eight hard copies. If you send too few hard copies, then the editorial team will have to make some WRITING 87 copies themselves. Editorial teams have better things to do with their time than photocopying your manuscript, so it is a good idea to send the right number of copies. Some journals ask for electronic submission. The editorial team of these journals are unlikely to take kindly to your submitting a soft copy written in Grunt2004 or some other format which their system has never heard of, and will probably not be interested in your assertion that this is a technically superior format to what everyone else uses. Similarly, if you submit soft copy to a journal which asks for hard copy submissions, then the editorial team are unlikely to add you to their Christmas card list – soft copy submissions are a wonderful idea in principle, but reality is rather different.
Some journals use double-blind reviewing; others don’t. In double-blind reviewing, the reviewers don’t know who you are and you don’t know who the reviewers are. For this purpose, the submission guidelines may ask you to put your name and contact details on a separate sheet from the rest of the paper, so they can be detached before the papers are sent to the reviewers.
Editors of such journals will not want to spend part of their morning applying correction ﬂuid over extraneous authors’ names.
Reviewers may or may not scribble on your manuscript; copy-editors certainly will. A small proportion of contributors submit copy so clean (i.e.
manuscripts so free of errors) that they are remembered by the editorial team for this fact alone. Most, however, require a noticeable amount of copyediting, often involving mistakes with references (e.g. a paper described in the main text as having been published in one year, and described in the references as having been published in a different year). For this purpose, copy-editors and reviewers need double-spaced text so they can note what needs doing. Submitting a single-spaced manuscript is a sign that you are an amateur and probably clueless.
The guidelines will specify that the article has not been submitted for publication elsewhere. If you submit the same article to two or more journals simultaneously and are caught doing it (you probably will be, because the number of available reviewers for a given area is usually small), then you will be blackballed from the relevant journals (i.e. banned from publishing in them). This is because multiple submissions waste the time of everyone involved, and because there are legal implications involving copyright if two editors publish the same article. Editors are no keener on legal hassles than anyone else. Submitting different papers, describing different aspects of the same topic is usually admissible, but you need to be careful about the degree of similarity – if the two papers are very similar, the relevant editors are likely to take a dim view.
What happens next After you have submitted the article, you will receive a letter of acknowledgement from the editor at some point. Editors are busy people, and the acknowledgement may take a few weeks. The paper will then go out to review
88 THE UNWRITTEN RULES OF PhD RESEARCHand be reviewed/sat on/lost by reviewers for weeks or months. At some point after this, the editor will make a decision about what to do with your paper. If you are lucky, the editor will accept it subject to neatly speciﬁed changes.
If you are unlucky, it will be accepted subject to satisfying the requirements of the reviewers, which will be enclosed with the editor’s letter, and will contain confused, vague, verbose and mutually contradictory requirements. If you are moderately unlucky, your paper will be rejected. You should aim to have a reasonable proportion of your papers rejected; if they are all accepted, you are probably aiming too low and should go for a more prestigious venue. (Increasing your rejection rate by writing worse papers is not a good strategy...) The wise thing to do with corrections is to take the initiative. Draw up a list of the required changes, work through them systematically and write a covering letter listing the changes and saying clearly and speciﬁcally how you have made them and where. This makes life much easier for the editor, who may well give you the beneﬁt of the doubt and accept the revisions without passing them back to the reviewers. If you’re unlucky, you may need to go through another round of slugging it out with the reviewers. Taking advice from experienced and wise colleagues is a good idea at this point.
The process of publication Acceptance When and if you get through to this stage, you will receive a letter or email from the editor informing you that your paper has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Nude Mice Studies, or whatever the venue is called.
You may be asked to send some more hard copies and/or soft copies of the accepted version of your paper.
Copy-editing At some point after this, you will hear from the copy-editor, who is sublimely unconcerned with the academic content of your work but who is very interested indeed in its presentation. The copy-editor’s job is to ensure that your article is presented with proper spelling, grammar, punctuation etc. and also to ensure that things like dates and ﬁgures are internally consistent. The copy-editor will ﬁnd inconsistent references, missing references, inconsistent numbers between text and tables and so forth, and will send you a list of questions to answer. A typical question will be along the lines of: ‘Page 8, line 7 refers to Smith 1999, but the references show Smith 1998. Which is correct?’ You then have the rewarding task of trying to track down the original article again, so you can ﬁnd out what the answer is. Skilled and experienced researchers will generally reply with a complete list of answers on the same working day, and be much appreciated by the copy-editor;
WRITING 89 novices will generally not manage this, and will realize why their supervisors have placed so much emphasis on getting references exactly right. If the corrections require an excessive amount of copy-editor’s time, then you may be required to pay for that time (and copy-editors are not cheap), so there are also ﬁnancial implications in getting it right.
Tables and ﬁgures One frequent source of annoyance to all parties is tables and ﬁgures, lumped together here because the implications are pretty similar for both of them.
Many printers, for obscure technical reasons, handle tables and ﬁgures separately from text, and insert them into the text after it has been sorted out.
Others don’t. The guidelines to authors will specify what you need to do with tables and ﬁgures. For many journals, you have to put each table and ﬁgure on a separate page at the end of your manuscript, and indicate in the text where each one should go (usually via a blank line, and then a line saying ‘TABLE 1 ABOUT HERE’ at the appropriate point in the text). If you include your tables and ﬁgures in the text when you have been told not to, then the usual outcomes are either that you are asked to rewrite the article in the right form, or that the printers produce beautiful text, accompanied by ﬁgures and tables which look as if they have been dragged through mud, and which stand in hideous contrast to the crisp, professional-looking tables and ﬁgures in the other articles of that issue. You can, if you wish to make a few enemies, tell the editorial team that in an age of electronic publishing the most technically excellent solution is to work from the soft copy with embedded tables and ﬁgures; it might, however, be a good idea to ask yourself whether the editorial team are using their current procedure out of uninformed stupidity, or whether there might possibly be other factors involved which they know about and which you don’t.
Proofs The next main stage involves the proofs. These are the printer’s pre-ﬁnal version of what your article will look like when it appears in the journal.
For technical and logistical reasons, proofs appear at the last moment, and are usually sent to authors with instructions to check them for accuracy, and to reply within a speciﬁed and extremely short period, normally between 24 hours and three days. You might want to think about the implications of that, such as what happens if you are on holiday when the proofs arrive, and the proofs contain a disastrous misprint which makes you look like an idiot or a charlatan. You might also want to think about how much you know about copy-editing, and how you would indicate a misprint in a way which didn’t end in tears (for instance, with your helpful comment of ‘this should read “24” you idiot!’ reproduced in full in the published version). The proofs arrive with helpful guidelines on how to correct them, but it’s useful to practise
90 THE UNWRITTEN RULES OF PhD RESEARCHproof-correcting in a safe environment before this stage (as usual, a cup of coffee with an experienced colleague is useful here – they will probably be able to tell you which secretaries have been concealing their expertise in copyediting and proof-reading from you). It’s also a good idea to line up a colleague to keep an eye open for proofs if you are away at the critical time.
Miscellaneous points A couple of miscellaneous points: ﬁrstly, make sure that the soft copy you send with the ﬁnal version of the manuscript is the version from which the manuscript was prepared. It is incredibly irritating to the editorial team to discover that you have helpfully changed the text, so that the soft copy does not correspond to the hard copy. Secondly, don’t try to change the content of the manuscript at proof stage – only correct errors introduced by the printers.
Adding a couple of words can have a knock-on effect that extends to later pages and adds considerably to printing costs. Editors have a correction budget as well as a page budget, and will not love you if you do bad things to either of these.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that copy-editors are usually more human than they appear from their lists of questions, so if you’re lost and confused, try phoning or emailing them and discussing the situation constructively with them. (They are usually working to tight deadlines, so contacting them quickly via phone is more helpful to them than belated letters in the post.) Faxes can be a very useful way of handling some parts of the corrections – you can annotate the relevant page and fax it through to the copy-editor.
Once you’ve got through this stage, you can add the article to your CV and wait for (a) the copies of the journal to arrive in the post and (b) the journal to appear on the library shelves. Some journals send you offprints (i.e. copies of your article in splendid isolation); others send you a smaller number of copies of the entire issue of the journal where your article appears. Be miserly with these; it’s tempting to give them proudly to everyone in sight, but they’ll need to last you a long time. Most departments will want a copy of the article for their records, to be used when the next research assessment exercise (RAE) or equivalent comes along; it’s a good idea to give them an offprint rather than a hard copy of your own accepted draft, because when the time of the Great Annual Departmental Report comes along, they will need to include things like the ISBN and page number details for your article, which will not appear on your own draft but which will deﬁnitely appear in the journal, and probably appear in the offprint.
A closing point: most journals ask you to sign a copyright waiver as a condition of publication. The Society of Authors is conducting one of its quiet, polite and very efﬁcient campaigns over this issue, and some journals are already changing their policy as a result. In the meantime, there’s no need to be paranoid if you receive a copyright waiver form, but you might want to WRITING 91 contact the Society of Authors as well as the usual experienced colleague if you have questions about this. The Society is helpful about all sorts of things and offers a fascinating range of services to members (including free legal advice on publishers’ contracts); anyone who has had a book published, or a serious offer of publication for a book, is eligible for membership, and the Society’s rates are very reasonable. It is also an afﬁliated trade union, which led at one point to the situation where Prince Charles (a long-standing member) had Terry Pratchett as his union boss.
Anyway, back to the closing paragraph. The main things to remember about
journal articles are:
• most articles are rejected;
• leading researchers have developed thick skins, failed researchers haven’t;
• reviewers are only human, so don’t take it personally if they’re rude and contradict each other;
• leading researchers are leading researchers because they learn from their experiences;
• even leading researchers had to start somewhere.
That’s the end of this bit, apart from wishing you good luck.