Lecture: The MIT Guide, Ch. 14: Journal Articles

Note: Unless I hear otherwise I will assume you understand the readings from The MIT Guide to Science and Engineering Communication. Therefore, lectures on readings from the book will tend to be short, focusing on specifics I want to highlight. If you have any questions whatsoever about the readings, including material not covered in the lectures, please ask.

Chapter 14: Journal Articles

Publication in an academic journal is often the final stage of a research project, and the last stage in a series communicative acts about the research, both formal and informal and public and private. Prior to publication in a journal, most scientific research projects have been presented in both oral and written form numerous times. Such forms often include grant proposals, progress reports, conference presentations (oral and/or poster), publication in a conference proceedings, publication as a letter (a short description of important research findings), and circulation as a preprint article. Often, writing a scientific article or research paper for publication in a journal is a significant endeavor of its own, and not only can it help you refine your thinking and fill in gaps in your work, it might even send you back into the lab for more research.

A note on preprints: Not all journals will consider articles that have been released as preprints. As a general rule, the more prestigious journal, the less likely it is to consider articles that have been circulated as preprints. Before releasing a preprint, figure out which journals you want to target (that’s journals rather than journal), and check on their preprint policies.

Kinds of Journal Publications

While the scientific article or research paper is the most formal and comprehensive publication within an academic scientific journal, it is not the only kind of journal publication. The kinds of publications one might find in a scientific journal include:

  • Article or research paper: Reports of original research that are submitted for to peer-review by multiple referees.
  • Letter: Short descriptions of timely and important research, usually no more than 2,500 words, that are often reviewed by one referee.
  • Notes: Short articles regarding previously published articles in the journal, new experimental data, or new theoretical approach, usually reviewed by one referee.
  • Reviews: Usually commissioned by the editor, a review of recent developments in a field.
  • Letters to the Editor: Short responses or comments related to articles previously published in the journal.

The kinds of publications a journal will accept differs from journal to journal. Some journals may accept and publish a mixture of all five, others might be specifically dedicated to just one genre such as the letter such as The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters and Advanced Science Letters.

Targeting Journals

As mentioned above, at some point in the writing process you should have at least one (and ideally more) journals in mind. As part of keeping current in your field you should have an idea of the journals to which you might want to submit your work. From that list, you’ll want to examine the requirements and editorial policies specific to each journal. Different journals want different kinds of research, different kinds of articles, and different kinds of approaches and focuses. Selecting the journal(s) that best match your research and/or shaping your manuscript to meet the specific needs of a specific journal will greatly increase the likelihood of publication. Essentially, journals adhere to their policies regardless of how amazingly wonderful and groundbreaking a piece is. Likewise, you want to adhere to the specific formatting requirements and submission guidelines for the journal. Failure to do so is the easiest way to have your manuscript rejected: If you can’t bother to follow their submission guidelines, they won’t bother to consider your manuscript. All journals publish their policies and submission guidelines either online, in the journal (if it’s a print journal), and usually both.

Article Contents

The MIT Guide‘s list of contents for an article or research paper found on pages 222-228 is meant to be comprehensive, but as far as the formal article goes, these are fairly standard. As with all things, different journals will have different requirements, and the contents of a letter, a note, or a review will differ from that of an article. When in doubt, check the journal’s published author guidelines and examine the publications in recent issues.

Submission to the Journal

As with everything else, the submission process and the submission guidelines (including the formatting of the manuscript, how many copies, etc.), will differ from journal to journal. Some journals will want you to mail them three printed-out copies of your manuscript. Other journals will want you to submit an electronic version via their online submission tool. Again, find the guidelines for authors and follow them.

Many journals insist that any manuscript sent to them not be under consideration or submitted to another journal until they have made a decision. This is pretty standard, so do not send out the same manuscript to multiple journals at the same time. Submit your manuscript to one journal and wait until they respond with a yes, no, or revise before sending your article out elsewhere.

If you’re asked to include a letter of transmittal, do so. The letter of transmittal for publication in a journal is its own particular genre. Your letter should be formatted as any professional business letter — preferably in block letter format.

  • Paragraph One: State that you are submitting your manuscript to be reviewed for publication. Refer to your article by its title and the journal by its title. If you’re asked to submit multiple copies, indicate that you are submitting X number of copies of Y article for review in Z journal.
  • Paragraph Two: Provide a brief summary of the main focus of your article.
  • Paragraph Three: Thank the editor.

Some journals will also ask that you include a statement that the article has not been previously published and is currently not being submitted or under consideration by another journal.

Response from the Journal

After reviewing your submission, you’ll get one of three responses from the journal: a rejection, a conditional acceptance (also known as revise and resubmit), or an acceptance. Acceptance without some kind of revision is uncommon. Generally, rejections come with some kind of feedback from the reviewers. Such feedback can be quite useful in helping you revise your manuscript before sending it off to a different journal. Conditional acceptances always come with some kind of revision feedback. Whether or not you revise your article and resubmit it is always up to you. Some authors will just send their article, unrevised to a different journal; others will revise and resubmit it to the journal in question; and others might revise it based on the feedback but still submit it to a different journal.