Cracking the Journal Writing Code

Some academics write very intuitively. Through the process of reading journal articles, working with strong mentors, and co-authoring with senior colleagues, they seem to absorb the process through their pores. Once they’ve collected their data, they just sit down and write the paper. Lucky for them. If that’s not you, don’t go to those people for help. They’re not the best mentors because they are like gifted athletes – the process is so natural they don’t even know what they’re doing. Instead, if you need help, go to someone who struggled and broke the process down into discrete steps.

codeI spoke today to a professor who is much more of a systematic planner than an intuitive writer. She explained, “Now I have a step-by-step eight-point process for journal writing. For example I use the Giroux method for note taking. In graduate school we used an article summary sheet, but it was way too long, and it had us focus on the article, but not our reaction to the article. In the Giroux method I have one sheet per article, with the citation at the top of the sheet. I write a paragraph about the article from the perspective of my own article, so that it can go right into my piece. When I turn fully to my own article, I go through the topics and make a sheet with all the paragraphs about that topic, and then I have my literature review.”

This professor is not just systematic about note taking, but with all parts of the process. For example, after reading several exemplary articles in top journals in her field, she made a template with the number of paragraphs to include in each section of a journal article, with a note about the purpose of each paragraph. She pulls out the template and follows it as she writes her way through an article.

Another professor who uses a similar approach and now writes very quickly told me, “I almost feel like I’m cheating. I follow this process and it goes so much more smoothly and easily. My first paper took me sooo long!”

The source for many of the ideas above, and the “bible” for those who want help to crack the code is Wendy Belcher’s book, Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. Several of my clients who were originally frustrated with their acceptance rates had much more success after systematically taking their articles through the steps that Belcher outlines. Of course you will need to customize the suggestions to fit your own style, but Belcher’s book makes the difference between guessing at the way to arrive at your destination and having a clear roadmap.