Publishable Scholarly Writing - From Unpublishable to Publishable - Professional Roles and Publishable Writing

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Publishable Scholarly Writing
From Unpublishable to Publishable
Professional Roles and Publishable Writing

Saad, an international doctoral student, had experience as a lecturer at a university in Saudi Arabia. During the first class meeting, he explained that he enrolled in the doctoral seminar writing for publication as an elective because, in order to retain his position and advance professionally, he would need to publish “at least a book”. To that end, he worked hard at mastering the style preferred by editors and reviewers for scholarly journals in the United States. As the class came to a close, he confided in the instructor that, in addition to the class assignments, he had revisited and revised two short articles that had been rejected previously. To his surprise, both articles were accepted for publication in respected online journals in his field—an outcome he attributed to learning the “secrets” of writing. In response, Saad’s instructor said, “We have an idiomatic expression in the U.S.—’There’s a method to my madness’—it means that, although what is being advocated or done may seem strange or counterintuitive, the recommended course of action makes sense and gets the intended result.” There are important distinctions between the typical graduate student paper and a publishable journal article.

To illustrate, journal editors commonly receive batches of manuscripts that obviously were written as a class assignment. Evidently, some misguided (and probably unpublished) professor has decided that this will be the capstone project for a group of graduate students. Unfortunately, they are not publishable because, while they may have been very good student papers, they are not journal articles. There are major differences between the two. So, what changes did Saad make to his articles that converted them from rejections to publications? He transformed them from student papers to articles by attending to the advice in Table 2.3.

Table 2.3

Making the transition from graduate student writing to published writing


Graduate student papers

Published writing


A professor (or thesis/ dissertation committee) obligated to read and willing to offer guidance

A diverse readership who are free to choose reading material and under no obligation to lend support


The author’s voice is somewhat obscured by homage to leaders in the field

An authoritative voice that presents a logical argument and advances thinking


Papers that tackle broad topics rather superficially

A precise focus on dimensions of a topic that can be treated adequately in a short manuscript


A “generic” title that describes a domain of interest

A specific title that conveys not only the content but also the purpose and audience


Page after page of unbroken text, often loosely organized

Clear organization, signaled by headings, subheadings, and visual materials that guide readers through a logical argument


Beginner’s mistakes in format and referencing style

A manuscript that follows the specific outlet’s requirements to the letter


“Wastes words” and lacks transitions when shifting topics

Revised until it is concise and flows smoothly from one section to the next

Introductions and conclusions

Absent, formulaic, or repetitive (e.g., an abstract that repeats the introduction)

Carefully crafted like “bookends” that give a satisfying sense of having come full circle

Sources: Jalongo (2002) and Jalongo (2013a, b)

As this figure suggests, there are many substantive differences between homework in graduate school and publishable work. Sometimes, students and faculty are very frustrated by this. “Why didn’t they have me write for publication, right from the start?” or “If I had written all of my class papers that way, I’d have lots of publishable material” are some common complaints. The answer is that the purpose for the writing was quite different. At first, writing is used to demonstrate that you have learned your way around your field. However, when the purpose becomes to make a contribution and advance thinking in the field, the rules change. Accept that “You can’t improve your writing unless you put out words differently from the way you put them out now” and some of these new ways are going to “feel embarrassing, terrible, or frightening.” (Elbow, 1973, p. 79, 80). Unless you have a solid history of successful publication in your field, the type of writing that served you well in the past is no longer good enough and, even if you have experienced success, each new writing challenge requires a readjustment.

Still, it may be possible, during advanced graduate study, to make what is written more like a journal article or book from the beginning (Pollard, 2005). The best course of action is to discuss it with the specific instructor and thesis or dissertation committee. Increasingly, doctoral programs are allowing students to forego the traditional dissertation and to meet that requirement through publication. A doctoral candidate might be permitted, for example, to publish three articles in peer-reviewed outlets as evidence of her or his ability to conduct independent research (Badley, 2009; European University Association, 2005; Francis, Mills, Chapman, & Birks, 2009). Even if this is not an option, professors for graduate courses often are receptive to papers written more in the format of a journal article and preparing an assignment in this way could lead to later collaboration with the instructor as well. The next section describes appropriate uses of others’ work in your writing.