In the world of academia, a student’s knowledge is demonstrated by the quality of work the student is able to produce. In the college environment, students write comprehensive papers that apply material learned in the classroom and require the student to create new perspectives blending previous research. It could also be the case that students are required to write experimental research reports, where they have collected and analyzed data. In either case, this style of writing requires the student to critically think about the research conducted in the past and is important in creating a competitive and high-quality academic reputation. Students often turn in these comprehensive papers for a grade, and after the class has ended, have no use for the papers. If students wish to increase the lifespan of their scholarly works, they may want to consider the area of publication.
Some students believe that after receiving an "A” grade for a paper, the purpose of that paper has been fulfilled. As a student who has written "A” papers, you might have asked yourself questions like: "Are there any other options for this high-quality paper that can demonstrate my proficiency in this subject area?” or "Is there something that I can do with this paper other than put it in the pile of my other outstanding scholarly work?” If these are questions you find yourself asking, then publishing your work in a peer-reviewed journal is the next step in the writing process for you and your manuscript!
In the context of publishing a paper, a manuscript is the most basic form of a paper that is used for the purpose of publication. In most cases, a manuscript contains all of the components of a scientific paper including an abstract and sections for the introduction, method, results, and conclusion. This "formula” makes it easier to organize your manuscript and is a basic requirement for most journals. However, before you focus on what the publication requires of you, there are some preliminary questions you need to ask yourself (and your advisor) about publishing your manuscript.
Before diving into publishing, it would be most beneficial to meet with a primary advisor who is familiar with your work as a student and can assist in determining if the manuscript is ready for publication. Ask yourself beforehand: are there any areas in the paper that need to be enhanced or changed? Is the quality of this paper high enough to be considered for publication in a journal? Addressing these two main questions will be beneficial in the long run. Another reason to consult a mentor is that often it is the advisor’s research (or guidance) that has been instrumental in writing the manuscript, and the advisor should also be included as an author on the paper.
Authorship can be a touchy subject in the area of publishing. There are hundreds of horror stories about students who have concerns with their advisors and the ethics involved in authorship. The most common example of this is a student researcher who runs tests for the principle investigator and receives no authorship on a paper. For example, "The Lisa Bach Case” (Schrag, 2007) describes this issue. Lisa, a graduate student, worked extremely hard on her research and provided continuous feedback on a paper that was written as a result of her research. After checking up on the progress of the paper over several months, she was assured the paper was going well and that it had even been submitted for publication. Because Lisa only saw a draft of the paper (which had no title and no authors) she was surprised to find that the published paper did not include her as an author; Lisa was only mentioned in the acknowledgements section.
Although it is highly unlikely that an undergraduate researcher will run into these types of authorship issues, being clear about authorship (Who should be included as an author? In what order will the author names be listed?) with your advisor in the beginning can eliminate headaches for everyone in the end. If the names are not alphabetical, author order can indicate that the first author is the principal contributor, the second author contributed the next greatest amount, and so on. It is a good idea to prepare for such a discussion with your advisor by reading the American Psychological Association (APA) manual section 1.13 on publication credit beforehand (American Psychological Association, 2010).
The final question to ask before publishing your manuscript is a simple one: are you willing to commit to doing more research to get the manuscript published? After meeting the previous requirements it will be necessary to extensively research the journals to which you would like to submit your manuscript. Remember that putting a little extra work into a high-quality paper can lead undergraduate students to be competitive candidates for graduate school programs and/or the job market. First, however, you must choose the right journal for your manuscript. Part of this research will include determining the type of papers that are accepted by the journal. For example, some journals accept review/theoretical papers, other journals only accept empirical research papers, and some journals accept both types of papers.
Decisions, Decisions: Selecting the Right Journal for Your Manuscript
Selecting a journal to submit your manuscript to can be a challenging task to overcome. With the high number of journals that exist, it can be overwhelming to research all of them. Start by looking at your own reference list to see where articles on your particular topic were published. Checking out your reference list can give you an idea of several journals that may be a good fit for your paper. Another place to start is by compiling a list of all the journals in your field. This can be done by researching scientific journals online or in the library. This list can also be useful after you submit your first manuscript for publication. Because you will be submitting more manuscripts for publication in the future, this type of comprehensive document can be updated throughout your academic career. The more comprehensive you make your list of journals, the higher your chances of selecting the right journal for your manuscript. Making the best manuscript-to-journal "connection” is a major component of publishing your manuscript.
It is important to remember to format your manuscript to fit your journal of choice, not the other way around. Each journal has an objective and a set of general topics that the editor follows in deciding which articles to publish. Therefore, examining the objective of the journal is the best way to get a feel for the type of manuscript a journal accepts. For example, if preparing to submit a manuscript to Developmental Psychology, the manuscript should examine the development of people throughout the lifespan or at various stages of the lifespan. Also, it is important (in fields like psychology) to take note of the journal’s targeted age range for study participants. The journal might cover similar topics, but if your research does not align with that of the journal, it will be less likely to be published. If you are still unsure whether your manuscript is a good fit after looking at the general description of the journal, there is another precaution you can take. Reading a few of the articles of the journal’s most recent publications is a good way to see the type of manuscripts the journal publishes.
A third way to see if a journal is right for your manuscript is by using the Impact Factor. In general, the Impact Factor is a number that corresponds to the prestige of the journal. In some ways you can think of it like a rank that the U.S. News and World Report gives to graduate schools, except in this case, the larger an impact factor, the harder it is to get your paper published in that journal. The more scholars there are who cite articles that have been published in a journal, the higher the journal’s Impact Factor. Impact Factors can be found in the Journal Citation Report, a database that your school’s library may have access to. There are mixed feelings toward using the Impact Factors of scientific journals as an indicator of academic merit (Callahan, Wears, & Weber, 2002). Just keep in mind that there are many articles published in journals that do not have a high Impact Factor. Nevertheless, Impact Factors add to the different ways you can check if the journal is right for you and your prospective manuscript.
This Is It: Submitting Your Manuscript to the Journal
After selecting the ideal journal for your manuscript, you must determine the specifications for submitting manuscripts to that journal. Each journal has a list of submission requirements you should follow, which include factors like how your manuscript margins should be set up, the number of figures and tables allowed, and a manuscript page limit. Usually, these requirements are several pages long and are extremely specific, so it is helpful to print them out, create a checklist, and mark them off after you apply each requirement to your manuscript. It would be unfortunate if your high-quality manuscript is rejected simply due to lack of compliance with the specifications. Spending the time to make sure your manuscript meets specifications can lead to a smooth submission process.
Another aspect of the preparing your manuscript for submission, particularly for psychology students, is making sure you follow the correct APA style throughout your manuscript. Whether you need to be familiar with the mechanics of style for correct punctuation and abbreviations, or you are looking for the specifications for citing references, the APA manual is a great place to start in orienting yourself with the guidelines in psychological writing. If you do not have a hard copy of the APA manual, a plethora of resources can be found on the APA website (www.apastyle.org). The APA manual and website also have sample papers that can be especially useful when editing your manuscript. Our recommendation is to make sure you have a copy of the APA manual handy as you work on your manuscript.
Now that you have enhanced your manuscript in terms of quality of work, compliance with journal guidelines, and APA style, you are one step closer to publishing your manuscript. The next item on your list should be writing your cover letter to accompany your document. The cover letter is the first thing the editor will read about you and your work, so it is important to be professional and direct. Your cover letter should include items such as: (a) specific details about your manuscript (e.g., page length and number of figures), (b) information about past presentations of the data, and (c) who will be serving as the corresponding author(s; APA, 2010). For example, identifying the corresponding author(s) is important because they are the source of communicate between the other authors and the editor. An example of a cover letter is presented below. You can find the complete list of the requirements for your cover letter in section 8.03 of the APA manual. Make sure to consult your advisor to see if there is any additional information you should include in your cover letter that is specific to your manuscript. Before submitting the manuscript and cover letter, you want to make sure to take time to proofread both.
Proofreading and asking others to proofread your manuscript is a vital part of preparing your manuscript for submission. Grammatical, spelling, and APA style errors can take the attention of the reader away from the content of your manuscript. The more error free your paper is, the more others will be able to follow your research and take something away from it. This is the part in the publication process where you can take advantage of resources like writing centers, friends, and professors. All of these people can view your work with fresh eyes and may bring details to your attention that you overlooked. Mistakes may seem obvious to you now, but after reading the same manuscript for weeks or months you may be surprised what errors you have missed. Do not chance it! Make your first submission your best; do not let a long list of edits from the reviewers and editor leave you thinking of what you could have done better before submitting.
The last step of the publication process is the easiest: submitting your manuscript, which often occurs online. For some journals, you can attach your cover letter and manuscript to an email and send it directly to the editor. Other journals will ask that you upload these two documents to the journal’s website. Either way, the process of submitting your manuscript can happen with one click. It is that simple! There is, however, a part of publishing that people seldom discuss, which is the wait. After you receive acknowledgement of your manuscript submission, months can pass before you receive any further information from the editor or journal (Sternberg, 2000). Usually, your manuscript is given to a few readers (called peer reviewers) who will provide feedback on your work. These reviews are often done blindly, so the reviewers do not know anything about you or your university affiliation. After you submit your manuscript, it can be accepted, accepted with revisions, deferred for a second review, or rejected (Carroll-Johnson, 2001). Do not let these categories frighten you! Even if your manuscript is accepted, you may have to revise it (sometimes several times) before it is published. Remember to remain consistent and take the feedback you receive as constructive criticism. When you receive notification of publication, pat yourself on the back. All of your hard work has finally paid off!
Going through all steps in the publication process is a great practice, especially for students who are interested in attending graduate school and holding academic positions in higher education in the future (Brownlow, 1997). Publishing articles can be seen as "currency” in the world of academia. In an interview by Dr. Jeannette R. Ickovics (2008), she states that publishing papers and grants can be a good way to get promoted. She also stresses that it is important for individuals who are early in their careers to stay focused to ensure that their manuscripts get through the publication process (Ickovics, 2008). With this statement, Dr. Ickovics stresses the importance of starting the process early, and we recommend that you start the process as an undergraduate. Such a solid foundation can lead to students having more experience with not only conducting extensive research prior to graduate school, but also effectively communicating their findings to the broader academic community.
Unlike events that only take place once, the art of publishing is a continual process that scholars build upon over the course of their academic careers. Scientists from around the country attend national and international conferences like the Society for Research in Child Development’s (SRCD) February 2012 themed meeting on Developmental Methodology, where researchers presented on topics including "Publishing Developmental Research.” Such meetings give scholars an opportunity to refresh themselves and contribute to their own professional development. These meetings also allow students to learn about the most current research in the field. Although the complete process for cutting edge research to become available to the public can take several months, there are benefits to this process. The more scientists are able to publish, the more their research is publicized, which can lead to more prestige and shed light on new areas in their given field. By producing top quality research and publications, you can contribute to the body of scientific knowledge and potentially influence the work of generations to come.
American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Brownlow, S. (1997). Going the extra mile: The rewards of publishing your undergraduate research. Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research, 2, 83-85.
Callahan M., Wears, R. L., & Weber, E. (2002). Journal prestige, publication bias, and other characteristics associated with citation of published studies in peer-review journals. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287, 2847–2850.doi:10.1001/jama.287.21.2847
Carroll-Johnson, R. M. (2001). Submitting the manuscript for review. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 5, 13–16.
Ickovics, J. R. (2008). Publication is currency. Retrieved from http://www.4researchers.org/articles/2376
Schrag, B. (1997). The Lisa Bach Case. Graduate research ethics: Cases and commentaries. Retrieved from http://www.onlineethics.org/cms/5550.aspx
Sternberg, R. (2000). Guide to publishing in psychology journals. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.