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Before You Start Writing: Identify the Journal You Want to Publish In

By Sierra Pawlak

Dave Harris, an editor and writing coach from Thought Clearing, says identifying the journal you want to publish in early helps you decide what goes into the paper you write.

“You want to identify what journal you’re writing to first, because every journal is different, and if you’re not doing a good job of targeting your article to a specific journal, you’re going to have a harder time getting accepted,” he said, during the April 2024 TAA Conversation Circle discussion on the topic of literature reviews. “At some point where you’ve got this research project that you’ve done and you’re trying to write it up, that’s when you say, ‘here’s the journal I want to go to,’ and you start there, thinking about how to frame your material to suit the journal.”

Identifying the journal early will determine how to focus the paper, how long it should be, and which formatting guidelines you’re using, said Harris, who is also the author of Literature Review and Research Design: A Guide to Effective Research Practice: “Obviously, if you get rejected, you have to go onto a new journal and revise to suit that different journal. But if you’ve gotten a rejection, you want to revise then anyway. You want to learn something from your rejection.”

Harris went on to say that when you’re writing academic work, “you’re engaging in a conversation with other scholars.” Researching the writers and editors of the journal to see what they’re writing and who they’re citing gives important insight: “You can look at the context and contents of the journal, and that gives you a sense of who you’re in conversation with. This allows you to more precisely tailor your conversation to scholars who are doing the work most like yours.”

As an example, Harris mentioned how, while reading an article recently, he realized that the author was on the editorial board of a journal he wanted to submit something to. Because of this, he wanted to cite that article in his own. “I don’t want to turn it into this purely social game, but you’re having a conversation with people and they understand the world in very precise ways,” he said. “To some extent, they’re the only people in the world who understand the world in a similarly precise way as you do, because they’re studying these things that they’ve identified as the same issues that you have. If you address concerns they’ve expressed in their writing, you show them that your interests align with theirs.”

Harris explained that the editors and authors in a journal “are the people who care about the stuff you’re doing too. So being in conversation with them helps with feeling like your work is valuable. It’s really easy to start thinking, ‘oh, nobody cares about my research because it’s so specialized,’ but these other people were motivated for similar reasons as you–they care about work like yours.”

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