I recently caught up with Dr. Carolyn Miller of the CRDM program to get her thoughts on the art of scholarly publication. Here is her advice:
And here is the “source code” for the infographic (aka Dr. Miller’s original answers):
What would prevent a seminar paper from being publishable?
I’d say there are two issues that distinguish a seminar paper from a publishable essay, and these are related to each other: audience and scope. A seminar paper is produced within the hothouse context of a graduate course and responds to the particularities of that class, its professor and other students, the curriculum into which it fits, and the developing comprehension of the student-as-author. It’s a turn in a particular conversation. A publishable paper has to position itself within a national disciplinary context, which is a conversation of longer standing and broader scope. Positioning one’s work within that disciplinary conversation on an equal footing with other participants is one of the most important things one works on in graduate school.
What is the most important element of a publishable paper?
It’s always difficult (and probably misleading) to fasten on “one thing” as the most important, so my answer is going to be unhelpfully vague. The most important thing a publishable paper has to do is to make a contribution to that disciplinary conversation that others recognize and value as a contribution.
How do you go about *beginning* the process of writing an academic paper?
In my experience, the process of developing a publishable essay never proceeds the same way twice, so it’s hopeless to look for a method or recipe for success. Many different starting points can serve to crystallize an intellectual exigence to get you going. Once you are embedded in a disciplinary conversation (or, usually, more than one), what you do is always conditioned by (disciplined by) that conversation from the beginning. It’s your training and your reading that make an issue interesting in light of the concepts and previous work through which you see it. This is not to say that you see everything the way that everybody else does–if that were the case, you couldn’t have anything to add. But you need to be alert to degrees of sameness and difference.
John Swales gave a workshop for grad students at Carleton University in Ottawa recently before the Genre 2012 conference there in which he addressed this very question, demonstrating the variety of starting points for his work as an applied linguist (moving into a new building, getting a digitally produced taxi receipt, a conversation with a student) and the differing fates of his ideas, some of which percolated for years, some of which were published promptly, some of which were discarded for various reasons.
Any other advice or suggestions about the topic of academic publishing?
Don’t get discouraged by a “revise and resubmit” response from a journal. Few submissions are accepted as is, even from experienced senior authors. Publishing is a negotiation process with the disciplinary audience for their attention and credence, a process that begins with the editor and the peer reviewers. If the reviewers are misreading your work, don’t dismiss them as stupid or stubborn, but rather revise so as to prevent such misreadings. And you can’t–and don’t have to–please all of the readers all of the time. If you are given conflicting advice, select which line of revision to follow and justify and explain your choice to the editor. Etc. And never digest and interpret an editor’s decision on your own but consult your advisor, your committee members, your colleagues. Give yourself some time, and then go back to it. And, because academic publishing is a slow, thoughtful process, keep several things in the process at once, as there will be long periods while reviewers and editors do their work.