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Writing a journal article: bouncing back from rejection


In my career as a writing advisor I’ve seen a fair number of doctoral students and early-career academics struggle to get their latest journal paper published. They may have been advised by their supervisor or manager to go for
the highest-ranking journals in their discipline. But several months after submitting their article, they find it rejected and have to start again. Meanwhile, their supervisor says ‘It’s all good practice. Learn from the feedback and we’ll rewrite it and submit it to a slightly lower-ranking journal.’ When this cycle is repeated, the researcher’s confidence might well be shattered. Around this time, I may get an email from this distressed staff member, postdoc or student.

By this stage there are two imperatives: boosting that person’s confidence and getting the paper published. So, where do we start? A common first step is to rekindle the individual’s passion for their research. Why is it important to them? What have they found out? What do they really want to share with other researchers or practitioners?

Next step, which are the journals in their discipline they really like? These may well not be the highest-ranking ones. Why specifically do they like them? For the third step I ask: ‘Think of the story you’re trying to tell. Which journal do you think is the best match for that story? Have you enough material? Do you have a strong case to make this a publishable paper for that journal? And who are your specific target readers anyway?’

By this stage, the person might well be visualising their ‘article-to-be’ sitting in the pages of that journal. The final step, before writing the article, is to convince their supervisor or manager. By now, they’ve had one or two rejections, so their supervisor is probably only too keen to get the work published — provided it is in a reputable journal. It is the individual’s job to persuade their supervisor that the chosen journal is the best match.

This approach depends on harnessing intrinsic motivation — the individual’s inherent interest, curiosity and passion for the research they’re doing. When working with doctoral students or staff members I’ve had good success with this tactic because tapping into their enthusiasm improves the quality and vitality of the writing. So, if you or one of your students or colleagues has faced rejection, help them harness their intrinsic motivation to get back in the saddle.

2 July 2020

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