How to Write an Academic Journal Article In 11 Easy Steps

direction © Pixabay 2021 / image: MabelAmber

When it comes to preparing research for publication in a professional journal, young academics may choose to rework some of their dissertation or showcase new ideas. Regardless, there are 11 critical steps that one should take.


  1. Ask yourself why you want to publish.

In a seminal book called Writing for Scholarly Journals Alaric Hall, suggests you begin with two questions:

  • Is it worth publishing?
  • Is it worth it to me?

Determine whether you are seeking to publish because you want to share your knowledge, make an impression on your current or prospective faculty members, or begin to carve out a niche in your field? Even if you are doing so because of the “publish or perish” pressure along the tenure track, the answer should help guide you to step 2: identifying the right journal for your work.


  1. Take a survey of the journals in your field.

Be pragmatic: target first, then write. Shortlist three to five journals you think would be a good fit.

Read and be able to cite other articles in your field already published by this journal. Sounds instrumental, but it is not. It is a good way to ensure that the editor and the audience are a good match for what you have to say.


  1. Next, visit the websites of each of these journals.

Subscribe to the journal’s alerts, so you can receive calls for abstracts or papers. Understand the journal’s audience and range of fields they cover. Make sure your work is in sync with the journal’s focus.

Don’t submit an article that has no cross-cultural implications if the journal specialises in comparative work; don’t submit work that focuses on micro-processes if the journal has a macro-level predisposition.


  1. Read their submission requirements carefully.

While you are on the publisher’s website, check the typical word count, consider the emphasis on and formatting of references etc. When it comes time to submit your manuscript, stick to these rules. Don’t push the limits on fonts or margins, for example. Just do what they ask.

On the topic of references, do yourself a favour and invest in a citation management tool, like Endnote, Mendeley, RefWorks, or Zotero. If you familiarise yourself with the software, then organising and formatting references, footnotes, and bibliographies is a breeze.


  1. Set out a specific schedule and choose a place to do the work.

You should make time to think, plan, do the writing, and then complete the logistical requirements. Don’t forget, if your article is accepted for publication, you are likely to be asked for a rewrite as part of the peer-review process. And then to proof before print. This can be quite time-consuming, but well worth the effort.


  1. Pay attention to the quality of your abstract

Write it first or write it last, but ensure it does the work you need it to do. Librarians and indexing systems use keywords from your abstract, so make every word count. And it is the first peek at your work that readers see.


  1. Next, set the stage and locate your research paper in a body of work.

You will need to do a literature review or produce a theoretical framework within which your work is situated, but this should by no means be like your dissertation. Be guided, once again, by the general tone and style of other articles already published in your journal of choice.


  1. Then, explain your methodology and your findings.

Depending on the journal and your field, you are the best person to determine how much space to devote to methodology. Keep in mind, this is the place to build trust and legitimacy with your audience (and your editor and peer reviewers), demonstrating to them that you know your subject and that your findings are relevant and real. Do not be shy to note gaps and areas for future study. This acknowledgement also conveys honesty and builds trust.


  1. Check for unintended plagiarism.

Consider running your manuscript through a plagiarism checker. The journal probably will, so rather catch it before they do. There are free and paid services and plagiarism apps worth considering and the peace of mind is certainly worth the price.


  1. Do not submit to more than one journal simultaneously.

It is considered unethical, and often explicitly stated in submission requirements, to submit to more than one journal at a time. If you are accepted by one journal and have to decline another, editors are sure to make note of that and not offer you a chance to publish in the journal again. If you are getting anxious about where your article is in the process of review, feel free to inquire and then withdraw officially if you believe your article will have a better reception elsewhere.


  1. Lastly, while you wait for feedback, be patient and develop a thick skin.

Check JournalReviewer – an independent site that aggregates information users provide about their experience with academic journals’ review processes – to see average review periods for various journals.



It is unlikely your article will be received as is. It might even be rejected outright. Most often you will receive feedback from a peer review that you need to incorporate into your manuscript. Take a deep breath and welcome the constructive criticism. It really is there to help make your article better. Revise and resubmit as requested. If you feel strongly about not taking the direction your reviewers have suggested, you may withdraw. Make sure you communicate with the editor.


© Pixabay 2021 / image: MabelAmber