Navigating the path to first-time publication: a guide

11 Sep 2023 | By Paul Lawrence
How to get published
11 Sep 2023 | By Paul Lawrence

This article serves as a guide for early career academics who are navigating the challenging process of getting published for the first time. In the competitive world of academia, first time publication is a vital milestone. One resource at your disposal for initial publication is your completed thesis. After all, it represents a significant amount of novel research, and is an ideal foundation for developing standalone articles for publication. We provide some key advice for your journey to publication, ranging from selecting the right journal to effective writing strategies, submission tips, and dealing with reviews and feedback.

Choosing a journal for submission

Not all journals are created equal.  It is vital to evaluate the credibility and reputation of journals that interest you, as well as their alignment with your research goals and values. Does your research fit the themes covered by journals you’d like to publish in and will they help you to reach your target audience? Here are some factors to consider:

  • Credibility and editorial board: Investigate the reputation of the journal and the expertise of its editorial board. Look for well-established and recognised journals within your field. Assess whether the journal's editorial board members have expertise in your research area and if their views align with yours. 
  • Publishing models and intellectual property: Familiarise yourself with different publishing models and their implications for intellectual property. Closed journals typically hold copyright over the content and often require subscriptions for access. Hybrid journals involve shared copyright between the author and publisher. Open access journals allow immediate free access to research outputs without restrictions. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of each model and choose the one that aligns with your career goals and research vision.
  • DHET accredited journals: In South Africa, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) provides subsidies for publications in accredited journals. Consult your faculty and university management to obtain the DHET-accredited journals list. Publications in these journals can contribute to academic recognition and career advancement.
  • Beware of predatory publications: There are many unscrupulous journals that exist only to exploit researchers and their work. They often employ aggressive solicitation strategies, promise quick publication with minimal or no peer review, and charge exorbitant publication fees. Predatory publications lack rigorous editorial standards, don’t adhere to ethical publishing practices, and fail to provide the necessary quality control and scholarly rigour expected in reputable academic journals. Publishing in such journals can tarnish your reputation and put your research into question?
  • Additional considerations: Consider factors such as the journal's target audience (national or international), whether it is peer-reviewed, its subsidy status, the turnaround time for publication, and whether it is open access or not. Take note of the journal's word count requirements and instructions to authors to ensure your research aligns with their guidelines. Check if the journal is indexed in reputable databases such as Web of Science, Scopus, or PubMed. Indexing indicates a certain level of quality and visibility within the academic community.

Submitting your paper

You’ve done your due diligence and identified credible, respective journals in your discipline and identified key findings, methodologies, or theoretical frameworks within your thesis that have the potential to make valuable contributions to your field of study. So, what next? Familiarise yourself with the following requirements and expectations as you ready your paper for publication.

  • Ensure that you check and adhere to the style and formatting guidelines of the journal in question.  This will specify requirements for the use of figures, graphics, images, and cover artwork. Download the journal's article template and structure your manuscript accordingly. Don't write the article first and then choose a journal; choose the journal first and align your writing with its requirements.
  • Before submitting your article, read several articles from the journal to familiarise yourself with its style and content. This will help you understand the journal's preferred writing style, tone, and structure. Adapting your writing to match the journal's style increases the chances of acceptance and integration within the publication.
  • Stay abreast of the literature: Conducting a thorough literature review in your field is crucial. It helps you identify existing research gaps, build on previous knowledge, and position your work within the broader scholarly discourse. Staying up to date with the latest developments in your field will ensure that the research you share is timely and relevant and increases your chances for successful publication.
  • Avoid plagiarism at all cost and acknowledge sources: Ensure that there is no question of plagiarism by properly attributing all sources and providing accurate citations to avoid ethical and legal challenges. Academic integrity is essential for maintaining the credibility of your work and the trust of the scholarly community.
  • Maintain coherence and define key outcomes: Your article should maintain a clear narrative thread from start to finish, ensuring coherence and logical flow. This involves defining key outcomes and highlighting their significance throughout the article. Presenting a cohesive argument and emphasising the impact of your findings strengthens the quality and impact of your research.
  • Writing advice: Keep the intended audience in mind and write in a manner that is accessible to them. Be confident in your knowledge and findings. Avoid being long-winded or redundant; keep your writing concise and focused. Ensure accuracy in your bibliography and adhere to the required citation style. Avoid procrastination and perfectionism; keep writing and revising. Be open to feedback and willing to make necessary revisions based on input from peers and reviewers. Proofread your work carefully for meaning, spelling, and grammar errors.
  • Submission: When submitting your article, write a strong and captivating cover letter and abstract. Use your institution's letterhead and clearly introduce the focus and key outcomes of your work and how it advances knowledge in your discipline. Address the editor by name and make sure to include any additional requested documents or disclosures. Look for confirmation of receipt after submission.
  • Dealing with feedback: After submission, you may face various scenarios, including immediate rejection, acceptance with minor revisions, or the need for major revisions and resubmission. Be prepared to handle feedback and critique professionally. Address reviewer comments in a constructive manner and make necessary revisions to improve the quality of your article.  

In conclusion, keep re-writing and making incremental improvements in response to feedback from reviewers.  If your article is rejected, it is important to not get discouraged and instead take it as an opportunity for further revision. Carefully review the feedback provided by the reviewers and editors and include their suggestions (if you agree with them). Address any concerns or suggestions raised and strengthen your arguments or methodology where needed. You can then resubmit your revised article to other suitable journals (or even re-submit if you feel that you have addressed all concerns). Remember that rejection is a common part of the publication process, and persistence and continual improvement are key to success.  

When publishing from your thesis, don’t fall prey to the temptation of publishing as many papers as possible by doing what is called ‘salami slicing’. Instead, put together a few robust articles which each tell a strong story and displays your research as robust. Favour a few heavyweight quality articles in reputable journals rather than many small articles published like a stamp collection in obscure journals. Be bold and submit to an established journal. If you are rejected, you will leave with invaluable advice on how to improve your manuscript and also the research. 

As you build a portfolio of successful submissions that have led to multiple publications, be sure to build your research identity by utilising researcher identifiers like ORCID that distinguishes you from other researchers, ensuring proper attribution of your work. By creating an ORCID profile and linking it to your publications, you can establish a comprehensive and easily traceable record of your research output. Additionally, other identifiers such as ResearcherID and Scopus Author ID can further enhance your visibility and help establish your scholarly presence. Regularly updating and maintaining these profiles will aid in networking, collaboration, and showcasing the impact of your work within the research community.