On Wednesday 21 July 2021 the Royal Historical Society hosted the first in a new series of training workshops for Post-Graduate and Early Career Historians: ‘Getting Published: a guide to first articles and journal publishing’.
The event brought together journal editors and publishers, recent first-time authors, and early career historians. Its aim was to demystify the process of journal publishing and provide practical advice and tips on how best to succeed. We recently released the event video which contains numerous tips and insights.
Here we pull out a ‘Top 10’ from the panel and discussion: 10 key things for historians to bear in mind when writing and submitting a first journal article.
Thanks again to our panellists and audience on 21 July and, also, to Dr Sarah Johanesen for choosing and summarising these 10 Points to Remember in this post.
1. Choose a self-contained section of your research (watch the discussion at 1:07:57 in the video)
ECR panellist Sasha Rasmussen took her first article from a section of her thesis ‘which didn’t need a lot of theoretical scaffolding, it was pretty self-contained. It made a concrete point’. While in your thesis you can lead a reader in, an article needs ‘to hit them with the point, and 8000 (ish) words is a lot shorter than you think it is.’
2. Use Journal websites (discussion at: 14:23)
Professor Sandra den Otter, co-editor of the Journal of British Studies, discussed the importance of researching which journals would be the best fit for your research – and using their websites to do so.
‘Sites provide information about the overarching mandate or aims of the journal, and they might signal openness to new methodological approaches that particularly suits your research, or preference for certain kinds of research. If you dip into the table of contents of recent issues of the journal, you’ll develop a sense of the tone of the journal too, you can sample articles to become more familiar’.
Other important information can also be found online such as length limits, style guides, submission instructions, and contact details for the editors.
3. Consider your goals and publishing beyond academia (discussion at: 1:27:00)
ECR panellist Dr Diya Gupta advised that if you don’t want an academic career, or feel as if one isn’t working out, ‘then it might not be worth the time investing in publishing in a top-rated journal’. You might want to consider other ways of getting your research out into the world, ‘turn it perhaps into a trade book and have more of a popular readership’.
‘Publishing in journals is one type of approach, and it’s about weighing up that type of type of approach with many other types of approaches you could also take’.
4. Position your work as making an intervention in current debates (discussion at: 08:17)
Professor Emma Griffin, President of the Royal Historical Society, has only recently stepped down from her position as co-editor of the Historical Journal. As an editor, she explained they are looking for ‘how relevant’ your work ‘is to other people who are working in broadly cognate areas’, and ‘how you’re going to intervene’ in scholarly conversation. She urged junior scholars to, ‘think in terms of an intervention, as well as in terms of the conversation.’
5. Your abstract is ‘your calling card’ (discussion at: 30.09)
Dr Rebekah Lee, co-editor of the Journal of Southern African Studies, explained that abstracts are often the only thing reviewers see before volunteering to review your paper, ‘it’s your calling card’.
‘so often I find that Junior scholars don’t spend enough time with actually getting their abstract quite right, and so it’s important, particularly in our case it’s an interdisciplinary journal’.
Make sure the abstract clearly indicates the debates your article intervenes in, your disciplinary, regional, and chronological focus, your source base, and your key arguments. If it ‘misrepresents or doesn’t fully represent what it is your papers about, then you’re not getting your paper sent to the best possible’ reviewer.
6. Rejection is not reflection (discussion at: 23:54)
Journal publishing is about fitting the right article with the right audience. So, as Professor den Otter reminded us:
‘it’s important not to leap to conclusions about the quality of your life’s work if your first approach to a journal is discouraging or does not run smoothly. Everyone has received discouraging news from journals, but persevere, and your work, with persistence and with an eye to its quality, will reach the audiences and join the conversations with which you’d like to engage.’
7. Review before the Reviewers (discussion at: 1:14:15)
Our third ECR panellist, Dr Jonah Miller, explained that even before sending his article to a Journal he received extensive advice from his supervisor, and got ‘feedback from a group of peers,’ through a reading group where they shared their work. He strongly suggests doing something like this as you ‘get lots of different perspectives, and it’s a kind of preliminary to the reviewers’ reports. And I think if I hadn’t done that then the reviewers reports would have been a lot harsher’.
8. Don’t panic about Open Access fees (discussion at: 41:40)
Our final editorial expert and Vice-President of the RHS, Professor Jane Winters, gave some valuable insight into Open Access publishing – particularly for those who must publish Open Access due to their funding – explaining the difference between Green Open Access and Gold Open Access.
‘A key point to remember is that you don’t ever have to pay a fee, the Green route to Open Access is absolutely fine. And it’s allowed by the vast majority of journals.’
Even where Gold access is absolutely required, ‘Your host institution will have a dedicated open access fund that you may be able to call on depending on demand.’ Although this is not an option for those without institutional affiliation, this is one of the ‘clear inequalities in the system, which the Royal Historical Society has been doing work to try and raise awareness’ of, so that it can be changed.
Though it came just too late for our event, UKRI has just announced its new policy on Open Access publications based on research it funds – e.g. via the Arts and Humanities Research Council. A separate RHS blog (10 August) explains what the UKRI decisions mean for historians: don’t worry, the AHRC funding does not refer to doctorates and publications arising from doctoral research.
9. Check the Journal’s Open Access compliance (discussion at: 43:42)
Professor Winters added that when researching which journal you wish to send your article to, there is a useful online tool which allows you to check their Open Access policies.
‘It’s called, slightly oddly, Sherpa Romeo … and you can just enter a journal or publisher name, to find out more information about what they offer, and it’s very up to date and it’s tied to particular funders and their funding mandate.’
10. Just email and ask!
Throughout the panel on the Editors’ perspective and the Q&A session at the end this came through repeatedly. Journals are incredibly diverse, and what’s true for one may not be true for another.
Perhaps you have questions about support for authors who are neuro-divergent, non-native English speakers, or have other access requirements? You might want to know whether the journal would accept a translated piece, or allow re-publication elsewhere in a foreign language? Do you have queries about getting the rights to images, or want to know what level of support the journal can offer in getting funding for that?
If you cannot find the information you are looking for, simply email the editors. You may just be the first to ask, and you may be surprised by the support they can offer in fully realising your research
You can check out further resources at the bottom of this page, and the articles of our ECR panel at the following journals:
- Dr Diya Gupta, ‘Bodies in Hunger: Literary Representations of the Indian Home-Front During World War II’, Journal of War & Culture Studies, 13: 2 (2020), pp. 196-214. [URL: https://doi.org/10.1080/17526272.2019.1644274]
- Dr Jonah Miller, ‘The Touch of the State: Stop and Search in England, c.1660–1750’, History Workshop Journal, 87 (Spring, 2019), pp. 52-71. [URL: https://doi.org/10.1093/hwj/dby034]
- Sasha Rasmussen, ‘Musicians, Students, Listeners: Women and the Conservatoire in pre-war Paris and St Petersburg’, Cultural and Social History, 18: 2 (2021), pp.221-42. [URL: https://doi.org/10.1080/14780038.2021.1902608]
Our compiler, Dr Sarah Johanesen‘s own first article, ‘‘That silken Priest’: Catholic disguise and anti-popery on the English Mission (1569–1640)’ was published in Historical Research, 93 (Feb 2020), pp. 38-51 [URL: https://doi.org/10.1093/hisres/htz010]
(selected guides from publishers, blogs and learned societies)
- Society of Historical Archaeology: How to publish your first journal article
- Jobs.ac.uk: Getting Published
- Taylor and Francis: Publishing your research
- Sage: How to get published
- Past & Present Society: Getting published in journals
- NACBS: Publish, don’t perish!
- American Historical Association: Publishing in journals, plus other articles on the AHA’s Perspectives on History
- Get a Life, PhD: How to publish an article in an academic journal
- Get a Life, PhD: How to respond to revise and resubmit
- Further publishing guides and resources from the RHS (from 2014-15: covering journals, edited collections and monographs)