How to get published in journals

In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of article submissions to journals. The journal Comparative Political Studies’ annual submissions have increased from ~150 ten years ago to ~800 now.

It is therefore more crucial than ever you try to make your article submissions stand out from the crowd. Read some top tips, taken from the latest Alumni Careers Conversation event with Professor Ben Ansell (co-editor of Comparative Political Studies), Professor Petra Schleiter (executive editor of the British Journal of Political Science) and Geoff Evans (previously editor of Electoral Studies for 20 years).

How important is it to get published in journals?

  • You are most likely to get an academic job or a postdoc based around publications. If you are a student who doesn’t have publications yet don’t panic. You will have to submit your work eventually but don’t worry and think ‘I’ve not published anything and no-one is going to want me’. Publications aren’t a substitute for writing good quality work, they are a complement. What people want to do is hire great scholars. The transition from a working paper to a published piece can be long and arduous.

What’s the best strategy to use when approaching journals?

  • Do a split strategy – send a few different papers out. Aim some at the higher status journals but assume you will probably get knocked back.
  • Place others more quickly and efficiently, hopefully in less difficult to get into journals. There is a certain lack of transitivity between journals – you can be rejected by an obscure journal and accepted by a prestigious journal and it’s not clear why.
  • Discuss with your supervisor what might be a good journal for your research - the most impactful journal is you could pitch your research at - and what you need to do to make that pitch as good as it can be.

What factors should you consider when choosing a journal for publication?

  • Get a gradual familiarisation of the landscape and refer to Google Scholar rankings.
  • Review sub-field journals in your area.
  • Read CVs of scholars you would like to be like and where they have published.
  • Think about the nature of your theoretical, methodological and empirical contribution. The clearer you can be about that, the clearer it will be what journal you might best publish your piece in.
  • Only send a paper to one journal at a time.

How do you think about writing up the research contribution in an article?

  • It’s an art not a science - therefore there are a variety of different ways you can do it.
    The real challenge is not overclaiming or underclaiming.
  • Try and find a framing that cuts to the core of what people are going to find out and what’s at stake.

How do you construct your paper as a whole?

Use the ‘job talk’ model - start big, go small and end up big:

  • The introduction is where you try and stand with some perspective about the broader set of questions being asked and answered.
  • Most of the paper will be focussed on the narrowly-defined research question where you are analysing things.
  • At the end you should try and come back and situate the work.

What will journal editors think about when considering an article for submission?

  • Does this have original data of any kind?
  • Does it seem to be making a theoretical contribution?
  • Is the research well presented? (If it isn’t, editors may not bother to irritate their reviewers by sending it out.)
  • Is this research in the right field for the journal?

What should you do when you get rejected?

  • The majority of submitted papers are rejected in one way or another – it’s the absolute minority that get published so there is no reason to get discouraged when you get a reject.
  • Pick yourself up and move on – sometimes it’s just sheer hard luck, or the contribution was not right for this journal.