The CSHE toolkit

A beginner’s guide to academic writing for publication

Academic writing for publication: a beginner’s guide by Dr. Adrian Bromage

The personal benefits of writing
Regardless of whether the subject matter is pedagogy or one’s main academic discipline, the aim of writing an academic paper is to share one’s work with relevant communities of practitioners, to gain feedback, and to network with those with an interest in one’s area work. However, the act of writing can have also have other less obvious benefits, for example, the process of articulating and explaining something to others can help one to get a clearer picture in one’s own mind.
One of the difficulties faced by those writing for publication is finding the time and space in which to write, given heavy workloads. The Centre for Academic Writing at Coventry University supports prospective academic authors in their efforts using among other things a combination of protected writing time and two day writing retreats funded by the iPED Network.
Originality and closure
Academic papers should be original, that is, they should make some worthwhile new contribution to our understanding of some topic within a particular disciplinary field. In this sense ‘Originality’ can refer, for example, to applying an existing technique, process, or approach to a novel context. It follows that papers should be ‘timely’, that is, they should deal in some way with current issues and interests in the field. This has implications for the degree of ‘closure’ that one can expect to achieve. It is arguable that one will never achieve ‘total’ closure; rather, one can only claim closure on ones’ views on the topic in question at a particular time.
Plagiarism and academic cheating
As with any academic discipline, it is only right to acknowledge any intellectual input or research assistance from others, and if this is substantial, they should be named as co-authors. Replicating earlier research is not plagiarism, as long as that research is properly referenced. Claiming someone else’s work or ideas as ones own, or word-for-word copying (unless properly referenced as a quotation) is academic dishonesty. Another dubious practice is to write in such a way as to make it look as if a speculative application of ideas was a substantive application of those ideas. The latter example in particular is ambiguous, as it could be attributed to an author’s lack of awareness of the nature of plagiarism and academic cheating.
Prepare yourself
First-time writers of pedagogic research, particularly those writing for an audience outside of their usual ‘disciplinary boundaries’, may experience anxieties about writing styles. One way to deal with such anxieties is to examine a sample of papers from relevant journals, in order to get a feel for what is acceptable and appropriate. Sometimes, however, other issues are deeply intertwined with writing style. For example, a psychologist or sociologist is likely to feel relatively comfortable (or at least a sense of familiarity) with educational research. On the other hand, those from the physical sciences may feel more challenged, as the underlying ontological assumptions of educational research may be quite alien compared to those of their own discipline. This can either be exciting or uncomfortable, depending on the individual. Strong emotions such as these will almost certainly be reflected in their writing. Arguably either extreme can compromise scholarly quality.
Target your publication
Survey a range of education-related journals to find one whose content most closely reflects the subject matter of your paper and the intended audience (also make a list of second choices -just in case!). Different journals make different stylistic requirements of their authors; for example, in the use of headings and subheadings, bibliographic styles and so on. Writers should familiarise themselves with the details of such guidelines or instructions before they begin to write, in order to spare themselves needless corrections.
Structure your writing
It greatly helps the reader if your paper has a clear logical structure. However, educational research ranges from psychology-style experiments to highly personal qualitative techniques. Arguably the best approach is to base your paper’s structure on existing studies that examine similar topics using similar data collection and analysis methods. When writing for a specific journal, pay attention to its guidelines for prospective authors, and look at articles previously published in the journal. One of the benefits to an author of adopting a clear structure is that it enables one to work on sections sequentially. This can make the overall task seem less daunting and enable a progressive approach; for example, writing the introductory section before one has collected data and so on, rather than trying to write everything up in one go. Another aspect of Academic Writing which goes hand-in-hand with structure is ’signposting’, letting the reader know in advance of each new aspect, issue or element and explicitly connecting them with relevant previous material.
Negotiate the review process
As in any academic field, papers submitted to a peer-reviewed journal will be examined and commented on by fellow academics who are experienced in the discipline or field that is the subject matter of the journal. The reviewers judge the quality of the paper in terms of whether it can be accepted unconditionally for publication, whether it must first be amended, or whether it should be rejected by the journal. Any of these outcomes can naturally be very emotive for an author, after all their toil and best efforts.
If the paper is subject to amendments skim read the recommendations, then put it down and go and do something else. When you feel sufficiently composed, re-read the recommendations, considering them in a scholarly manner, or seek advice from colleagues at CSHE or the iPed Fellows. If the paper is rejected unconditionally, see if there is another, more appropriate, journal where you could submit it to.
-For individualised advice on writing for publication, contact the Centre for Academic Writing (CAW)
-For discipline specific advice/comments on drafts that relate to education research, contact members of iPed whose interests and expertise are matched most closely to the topics/issues about which you are writing.