Ania Gruszczyńska, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
I remember too well the first day of my master’s degree. I learned that the Education library doesn’t charge fines (wait, what?). I made friends who were keen on staying in the faculty past the official induction hours, drinking leftover wine and snacking on crisps. And, I also learned that the author of the best thesis in my course would get a chance to publish in the faculty’s journal—Cambridge Journal of Education, if I remember correctly. I thought to myself, “I want to be that person.”
Fast forward a few months: I ended up getting a distinction, but not finishing top of my cohort. I was still quite confident in my work, so why not try and publish it? And I did. Here is how:
STEP 1: Identifying a target journal
My research is not firmly situated within one topic or even discipline, so no one journal immediately emerged as a clear choice. I used two strategies to make this decision. First, I thoroughly examined my reference list to check which journal I cited most frequently. Practically speaking, I exported my Zotero bibliography to Excel and arranged the journal titles alphabetically to see which appeared more than once. This gave me a broad idea, but not enough yet to make a fully informed decision, and this is why I also made sure I discussed my target journal options with someone familiar with my work. This could be your supervisor, assessors, or pathway coordinator, for example. I discovered that one of my thesis assessors was editor-in-chief of a journal that seemed like an appropriate outlet for my research; I sent her an informal email asking whether she also thought it was a good match. I was pleased to receive a prompt reply encouraging me to work on the paper manuscript and go ahead with the submission. It’s an important step of the whole process, so don’t rush it. There’s a wealth of online resources that can assist you with this process further, for example, this page run by Cambridge Libraries.
STEP 2: Becoming familiar with the journal and its specifications
Every journal will have slightly different formatting requirements, so it’s very important to carefully read “Instructions for authors” on the journal’s website. These will include the allowed length of the manuscript, expected citation style, guidelines for formatting figures and tables etc. Some journals also provide ready templates to ensure consistency, which can save you some editing! I found it also quite helpful to read a few articles from the journal to make sure that my manuscript matched the publication style. I paid attention to patterns in article structure, section headings, length and structure of article titles, and the content within the abstracts. For example, the journal I chose seemed to always include the theoretical approach in the abstract, but it was not very specific about research methodology.
STEP 3: Preparing the manuscript
I started off by trying to convince myself that it was not an impossible task to turn my 20,000-word thesis into a 7,000-word article. I’d only have to cut it by over a half, right? I learned the hard way, but here’s what you can do to make this process a bit less daunting: choose what you’d want to focus on! Perhaps you’ll be able to address one of the three research questions that your thesis covered? Maybe you’ll focus on contrasting case studies, or perhaps on something that really makes your thesis stand out? And when you have to cut something that, indeed, is unrelated to your chosen focus, you can always tell yourself, “I’ll save it for my next publication.” Maybe you will use it, maybe you won’t, but at least it’ll feel like your work is “saved for later” and not “thrown away.” Consider referring to this article for advice on how to convert the specific sections of your thesis (e.g. introduction, methodology, etc.). It’s good practice to contact your master’s supervisor at this point to offer them co-authorship if their contribution was significant. Also, you may want to consider citing at least 2-3 other articles from your chosen journals in the paper you’re about to submit. Editors may like to see some evidence of your paper engaging with the research already featured in the journal.
STEP 4: Proofreading and asking for feedback
Getting a second opinion can really help you see your work from a different angle, especially after you’ve spent so much time working with this material. I asked my current PhD supervisors to read through the manuscripts and comment on it, and I’m glad I did. This second set of eyes could be your MPhil/MEd supervisor, a colleague from your cohort, or a PhD student that you met in the faculty—you’ll know best whose feedback would be of value to you!
STEP 5: Submitting and waiting…
Most journals will ask you to submit your manuscript via their publishing portal that you’ll find on their website. And once it’s submitted, you get a bit of a break! Your article will be assigned to an editor who will select usually 2 or 3 reviewers. “So, how long will I need to wait?” I hear you ask. It varies between journals and disciplines. I got my decision with 3 months of submission, but it often takes even longer. I was advised by a senior academic to wait 5-6 months before contacting the editor and asking about the review progress.
STEP 6: Dealing with reviewers’ comments (and correcting the manuscript)
When the editor’s decision finally reaches your mailbox, try to be prepared for any outcome. Rejections are very common in the academia, and even well-established professors sometimes get them, so if your manuscript is rejected, that’s not a bad company to be in! It’s worth trying again. Consider choosing a different journal or changing the focus of your paper, and just do it again. It gets easier every time you do it (at least that’s my hope!). And what if the outcome is positive? You’ll be likely asked to make revisions to your manuscript based on reviewers’ suggestions. Journals are not always clear about the difference between “minor” and “major” revisions, so don’t worry about this terminology that much. Your job is to reply to reviewers’ comments—if you agree with them, make the suggested changes, if you don’t, explain why. I know, sometimes it’s easier said than done. I must admit I remember being a bit nervous when facing comments that suggested that I skipped a large portion of literature or did not include a key concept in my theoretical framework. It was rather overwhelming at first, and I needed to take some time to let it sink in. But once it did, it was time to do my homework. I read the papers suggested by the reviewers, I researched the concepts that they thought were missing, and most importantly, I made my own decisions up to whether they were relevant to my paper or not. In some cases, I had to politely disagree with the reviewers, but, since I had done my homework, I had some good arguments to support my decisions. As a result of this revision process, I produced a slightly redrafted manuscript that I strongly feel was an improved version of the first one.
STEP 6B: Correcting the manuscript again?
Luckily, things went well with my corrections and the article was accepted for publication shortly after re-submission. However, some manuscripts travel back and forth between the author and reviewers, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked for additional revisions.
STEP 7: Celebration!
It’s a lengthy process and the outcome often reaches us when we least expect it. I was in a waiting room in a local medical practice, where it wouldn’t be appropriate to jump up and happily shout “I just got published!’. When I’m thinking back to that day, I realise I didn’t really do anything to celebrate or reward myself, and I wish I did. So, here’s my last piece of advice: celebrate!
This is how I went about it. Feel free to follow my advice or go about it your own way. Either way, best of luck! And, here is my very first publication if you’re interested: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14767724.2019.1628637
Ania Gruszczynska is a PhD student in sociology of education at Durham University. Before beginning her studies at Durham in October 2018, she graduated with a BA in Geography and an MPhil in Education, Globalisation, and International Development from the University of Cambridge. In her current research project, Ania uses collaborative qualitative methods to work with emerging adults from a range of cultural and ethnic background, aiming to paint a broader picture of how heritage, identity, and education intersect in the narratives of belonging in the migration context. To learn more about her study and/or volunteer to participate, please visit bit.ly/2BTfsL2.