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Posts from the ‘Writing’ Category

Common roadblocks to publishing, and how to overcome them

Over the years I have had occasions to answer many questions related to success in publishing scholarly manuscripts.  There are occasional unique issues that prospective authors face, but mostly people experience very similar challenges.  Take heart — most of these challenges can be overcome!  Here is a summary of  common roadblocks, and how to overcome them!

  • Failing to follow the journal guidelines.  Success in publishing in any journal depends to a large extent on your preparation related to that journal.  Read the “Information for Authors” that all journals provide, and follow it as closely as possible.  The ANS guidelines are readily accessible on the ANS home page. Pay particular attention to the purpose of the journal, and make sure that your manuscript is in line with that purpose. If you have questions about the guidelines, do not hesitate to contact the journal editor!
  • Lack of familiarity with the journal.  Become familiar with the past 2 to 3 years of the journal content to know the kinds of articles they are publishing, and to identify possible gaps that your manuscript might fill. Notice the style of writing in the published articles, typical article length, and the typical “profile” of article style and format. Identify the audience that the journal reaches, and if that is the audience for which your manuscript is intended. Notice if the journal has published articles on your topic in the past several months, and if so, consider how your work can add to what has already appeared in the journal.  The author’s guidelines probably address some of the style and format issues, but you will get a greater familiarity with the “personality” of the journal if you do this bit of homework!
  • Knowing when to get editorial assistance.  If you have difficulty with composition, challenges with the English language, or specific writing challenges (for example, improving the logical flow of ideas or making a long manuscript shorter), do not hesitate to seek help.  Consider teaming up with a colleague to exchange feedback on your writing, and to get suggestions for improving your writing.  There are a number of excellent  professional resources that you can explore; we list a few in the ANS guidelines in the “Preparation of Manuscript” section.
  • Becoming discouraged. Often the accomplishment of preparing a manuscript and getting it submitted is a major undertaking, and to get back a rejection letter after all that hard work is truly discouraging.  However, you can prepare publishingWoman250yourself for this disappointment by taking steps to be ready for any outcome.  Have a second and third journal option in the wings from the outset, so that if you need to submit your manuscript to a different journal you are ready to do so from the beginning.  Also, be ready to make revisions based on reviewer comments.  I recommend that authors immediately develop a table containing all of the reviewer comments in one column, and a second column with notes about what to do to address the comments.  Be prepared to tackle revisions the day after you receive the editor’s decision letter!  Do not put it aside and wait … be persistent, and get right back into the task of moving the manuscript forward!

There are factors beyond your control that could lead to rejection of your manuscript. But you can take some steps to minimize the possibility that these factors will interfere with your being published. These include:

  • Space constraints that limit the inclusion of all worthy manuscripts. All journals have some space constraints, so the more you keep your manuscript within reasonable length requirements, the greater your chances of success.
  • Editorial priorities that do not include the topic that your manuscript addresses. Sometimes you can determine these priorities in advance.  Seek publication in a journal that you know includes a priority for your topic, or contact the Editor to determine if they have an interest in your topic.
  • Editorial perspectives and practices related to controversial or sensitive issues. If your topic involves a controversial or sensitive issue, you may seek to determine the journal’s stance related to your topic in advance by becoming familiar with recent journal content, or direct contact with the Editor.

If you heed these hints for overcoming obstacles, you will almost certainly get your work published!  If you have questions or other suggestions to add to mine here, post them as a comment and let us discuss them!


By now most authors have at least heard this term, but it has only recently begun to be Self-Plariarism White Papermore clearly understood!  So if you are still wondering what the fuss is all about – take heed!  I won’t go into a lot of detail here because the details are described very well by in a recent post on the iThenticate Blog.  And, they have provided a white paper that you can download a copy of the white paper titled “The Ethics of Self-Plagiarism.”

There are two key points that I do want to comment on because I believe these points are important to notice, whether you have considerable familiarity with the idea of self-plagiarism, or are just learning about the concept:

  • When your work is published in a journal or a book, and you have transferred copyright to your publisher, you need to treat your own work in the same manner as you would that of a work published by someone else.  The publisher now owns the copyright, not you!
  • The basics of “fair use” of any work are not governed by strict rules.  Rather, there are guidelines that help to determine how much of a published work, yours or anyone else’s, can be legally (or even ethically) quoted and cited.  Many publishers have their own guidelines concerning how much of a published work can be cited without obtaining the copyright holder’s permission.  So become familiar with not only general “fair use” guidelines, but also the guidelines of your publisher.

The Copyright Clearance Center has an excellent 6-minute video that explains the basics of copyright, including the basics of fair use.  Watch it, and make sure everyone on your team knows that this resource is available.  

Evaluating Web (and other) resources

In just the past few short years, the World Wide Web has become like a physical library.  Academic libraries, to a significant degree, now provide journal articles

WWW imageto their constituents as PDF files, replacing the old, large, and very popular “copy machine” room housed in their physical spaces.  A natural extension of this is the use of material “published” on the web as a resource not unlike that accessed through an academic library.

The developer of the Web (and current director of W3C, the organization that oversees Web standards) Tim Berners-Lee, established a vision of the World Wide Web as a valuable tool that would democratize knowledge, making access to valuable information accessible to all regardless of wealth, social standing, race, or any other factor. However, in many academic circles, Web resources are still regarded with skepticism and Web articles are not considered valid scholarly resources, except where a Web site is itself the subject of the investigation or is used to make a particular point.

Rather than simply dismiss Web resources, it is time to recognize the Web and its wealth of information as an opportunity to sharpen our abilities to discern a valid resource from one that is less than valid, and to refine the criteria by which we make this assessment.  Indeed, as the management team of the popular clearly states in their own guidelines on “Researching with Wikipedia”, the veracity of information published in the Wikipedia should be judged in ways similar to standards used for any other resource.

Here are “ABCSS” guidelines that I recommend in deciding on the credibility of any resource, web or otherwise:

Agency.  Is the author of the work clearly identified? Are the author’s professional affiliations and qualifications clearly identified? Is there a clearly identified way for me to contact the author if I have questions or concerns about the work? 

Bias.  Everything has a bias!  Does the author identify their perception of their own perspective on the subject?  What bias, standpoint, or perspective is implicitly embedded in the work?  How does bias potentially shape or influence what is published?

Corroboration.  How does the information in this source compare to what I find in other resources?  If it is wildly at odds with other resources, and the source can be identified as having value for my work, how can I explain the difference? 

Sponsorship.  Is the work sponsored, funded, or “commissioned” by an organization of any kind?  If so, what is the nature of that organization and do they have an explicit or implicit interest in what is published?

Scholarly value.  Do the methods used and the logic presented meet generally accepted standards of investigation, ethics and logic?  Are the sources that the author used clearly identified, and can I trace those sources accurately?

In fact, in my view the Web actually has greater power to demonstrate each of these guidelines much more explicitly than does print media.  Print media is limited by space and cost constraints that greatly constrain the kind of background information that is important to fully understand the worth of that which is published.  

In evaluating Web resources, I believe we can and should expect each and every one of the ABCSS to be clearly evident.  If they are not, unless there is some strong justification otherwise, the source needs to be eliminated from serious consideration.  What are your thoughts, and what shifts might you recommend for the ABCSS guidelines?  

Attention to detail

“Your great attention to detail is both a blessing and a curse”  – Chinese proverb

This message, found in a fortune cookie, inspired the folks at Oxford University Press (the Pencil and question markpublishers of the AMA Manual of Style, used by ANS), to start a blog!  The blog is the AMA Style Insider, and I highly recommend it – even for those who are not blessed with great attention to detail!  It is free of charge and anyone can visit the blog — I recommend that you subscribe to stay informed of many important issues facing writers, editors and publishers.  As they note in the announcement that circulated about the new blog, even though the AMA Manual of Style is over 1000 pages long, there are endless issues and questions that come up for writers every day.  And, the issues they address are not limited to any one approach to “style” – in fact they refer to other style manuals and traditions besides their own.

So far there are only a handful of posts on the blog, but every one of them is interesting!  They deal with topics ranging from recent FAQ’s from users of the AMA Manual of Style, to word usage (heathy vs healthful for example), placement of an apostrophe, the dangers of duplicate e-publication, and much more!  And, the information addresses not just the “facts” of how to handle problems of style, spelling, grammar, usage, and so forth, but the issues surrounding the problems and various points of view about how to deal with the issue in your own work.

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