My first article

This week and next a bunch of postgraduates in the School of History at the University of Kent are taking part in an intensive essay writing workshop led by Don Leggett. The idea is for each of them to have written a journal article in just two weeks! Given this bold ambition, when they asked for some reflections on my first journal writing experience I felt obliged to throw some thoughts together. So, here goes…

  • Idea. I was encouraged to write from very early on in the PhD. As a result I had a huge amount of material by the end of my second year. Some of these words would be destined for the bin (tangential context), others for refinement (too wordy), but one section I earmarked for expansion and publication. It was on an area that wasn’t directly related to the thrust of my overall argument, and yet teased out some of what I thought made my work original and which I found fascinating (who doesn’t like a good theatre riot?).
  • Writing. I set about writing a week after submitting a draft thesis to my supervisor in the August of my 3rd year. I then set myself a target of finishing the article before my viva (so three months), using a combination of words siphoned off from my thesis and some extra research (having been editing my thesis for the previous 6 months I was desperate to do some research again!). I did meet my deadline but nearly didn’t make it because I underestimated the how long it would take to migrate my idiosyncratic style to the style guide for the journal I was submitting to. So top tip, read the style guide for your chosen journal early on in the writing process!
  • Reviews/Edits. Contrary to many horror stories (and subsequent experience) I enjoyed the peer review process. The readers offered constructive criticism (mostly around not being blunt enough about what the article was seeking to do in the introduction and what it had done in the conclusion – basic undergraduate stuff really…) and the editor was supportive. The article went to press six months after I submitted it, though this was sped along (I think) because I had contacted the editor in advance to see whether the piece would be of interest to the journal. This contact had helped guide some of the thrust of the argument (for example, the journal was interest in the idea of cartoonist/caricaturist as reporter) and perhaps helped smooth its passage to publication.
  • Journal. The journal I chose – European Comic Art – was a journal I had read and enjoyed the content of: interdisciplinary, practically driven, used to dealing with images (permission issues for images can be a major headache!). They also allowed me to share online a post-print version of my paper after what I considered a reasonable embargo period (12 months. These days – shameless promotion of latest article klaxon! – I have a preference for open access at the point of publication: though I’d suggest – unless you are particularly passionate about OA – that you put aside these considerations for now). I also hadn’t heard any horror stories about the time they take to consider articles: this was important to me given that I was at the end of my PhD and needed to publish quickly (this informal list of journal response times is worth consulting, though I’m not sure how up to date it is).
  • What I’d do differently. Start earlier. Given that I wanted to have a stab at academia, I should have had an article under consideration by the start of my third year. It may seem odd to you right now, but you have more time to write now than you will after the PhD when teaching, grant applications, job applications and (above all, unless you are willing to dip into the pockets of friends, family or the state) putting food on the table will take priority. Starting earlier would also have meant I could have aimed a little higher with the journal I chose, because I’d have had time to wait for the review then – if rejected – use the feedback to submit a better article elsewhere.

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. Otherwise, best of luck!

(For those not taking part in the event, you can follow the students – and even help them out! – by directing your twitter feed to the hashtag #CHOTSwrite)

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