I got an email on Christmas Eve last year which started out as follows:
Dear Dr Budd
We are pleased to inform you that your manuscript has been accepted for publication in Higher Education.
My first publication! Boom! This was followed by a note from the editor hoping that I would enjoy this Christmas present, and brief comments from the two reviewers who thanked me for addressing their comments and approving it for publication. It had taken me about a year to get to this point, and all, in, getting here has been an interesting experience. I thought a walk through the story might prove enlightening.
So, the paper I was writing was one of the main findings from my PhD, and I’ve done a blog on the topic here. In short, the paper addresses an issue on which there isn’t much research but a lot of discussion. My article refutes some of the assumptions in the preceding literature and adds a new dimension. This, of course, is what papers should do, as you don’t need to write stuff repeating exactly what someone else has said!
I already knew what the point of the paper was, but there was an enormous slimming down and focusing process in the writing of it. I first presented it as a ‘work in progress’ to my old research group. They told me that I’d fallen into a classic post-PhD trap of trying to replicate my thesis in one paper. Much of the background material was connected to the main points of the paper but not essential. I had to lose most of that ballast and highlight the two ‘new things’ that I’d found out. I was also advised to take out the theoretical side of things as it got in the way of the argument.
Armed with this advice, I sliced and diced, nipped and tucked, honed and distilled, and submitted a sleeker version of the paper to pretty much the biggest journal in my field. It has published a few things on the topic in question – which I was referencing – and I hear this is important. I wasn’t 100% happy with the submission, but you get to a stage where you have to submit something and the reviewers will hopefully have some advice on ways to improve the paper if they like it enough. It’s not just about the end result, but the dialogue with people who read and offer advice on your work.
So, off it went, and then it was a question of sitting back and waiting. I got feedback about four months later: revise and resubmit. This was good news – it meant that they liked it – but I still had to do some serious work in on it. The reviewers both said very similar things, and the editor therefore advised me to do as they’d asked and send it back in. In short, the advice was:
- Be clearer in your methodology about who the participants were and how you conducted the data analysis;
- To provide details of the theoretical framework. I’d been advised earlier to take this out, but never mind;
- Include an area of literature which I’d brushed over but, it was felt, was essential to my argument;
- Separate the findings and discussion into separate sections – I’d included them as one;
- Focus more on what my original contributions were.
One of the reviewers also provided me with a way of explaining a distinction in the data that I’d been struggling with. Brilliant! By the time I was done, it amounted to a 60% re-write of the paper, partly because I needed to reword much of the already good stuff. It took me ages to get round to because we had a new baby, moved house, and I’d started a new job; you know, life. But I got my feedback in May and managed to find the time to work on it in and send it back in November. I didn’t feel it was quite there yet, but it was much closer.
I was pretty surprised, then, to get the acceptance email six weeks later. I was at least expecting some minor tweaks. Still, I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. The acceptance was not quite the end. I first had to sign (online) a copyright agreement, which brings you to the realisation that you’re signing the ownership of your words away in exchange. I had make some decisions on open access and hard copies (basically not wanting either because they cost money). I then got a proof to read online, with a number of questions (mostly about a few marginally incomplete references). This was another few hours or so of work, although knowing that these were the final yards gave me heaps of motivation. And then it was done. Well, it wasn’t done until three weeks later. From acceptance to officially online and citable was just over a month,
All in all, it took a year, pretty much to the day. The paper itself was probably a month of full time work, maybe a month and a half (and this is on top of the years that it took to plan, gather, and analyse my data). Of course the time lag between submissions and responses slows things down hugely. I’ll hopefully be quicker next time round as I get more practised at this. But still, it’s weeks and weeks of effort and it often has to be squeezed in between other jobs.
If you want to read the paper, by the way, it’s here.