Finding a home for your article

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Hello, early career researchers in social science disciplines!

If you have written a course paper you’d like to publish, or if you’ve figured out a way to slice and dice your dissertation into some article length pieces, this post walks you through an easy way to find a home for your article.

Start with your reference list

Scan your draft’s reference list to determine which journal you are citing most frequently. Most likely there is at least one journal that pops up multiple times. This tells you your draft is probably participating in a conversation that is relevant to that journal. You may find 2-3 contenders.

What if no journal is cited more than once? You can still use your reference list for guidance. In your literature review, did one article stand out as particularly important? Which article came the closest to what you are trying to do with your article? Consider the journal that published this “VIP” article.

Check the journal’s “aims and scope”

Once you have a potential target journal (or 2-3), go to the the journal’s website and read the “aims and scope” section. If this section is not immediately visible on the homepage, you can usually find it under “about the journal” or possibly “submission guidelines” or “information for authors.”

The “aims and scope” is a bit like the first part of an assignment sheet–it tells you in the broadest terms what the editors expect from a submission that will be suitable for the journal. Notice the buzzwords. Do they line up with keywords in your article? Can you succinctly explain why your article matches up with this journal’s aims and scope? Are you writing to the audience described? Or could you with a bit of revision? If you have 2-3 possible journals to choose from, you can use the aims and scope to figure out which is the best fit for your draft.

Check the journal’s “instructions for authors”

This section is more like the “fine print” of the assignment sheet, explaining in detail length, style, and format requirements and the actual submission process. Make sure your draft fits the requirements or can feasibly be edited to do so. If everything checks out, proceed! Make a plan to tailor the draft to the journal, including all those pesky format requirements, and submit.

I’ve used this process successfully a number of times. Once, I used this process and had the article kicked back by the editor, who didn’t see the study as relevant to an international readership. My coauthors and I just moved on to our next contender journal, which ultimately published the article. So if you get something rejected right away, don’t despair. Just go back to your reference list and look for another contender.

You got this. Get


Working with Feedback

Getting feedback on your writing is tough for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. In this post, I walk you through some basic tools for working with that feedback, so you can move your project forward.

Photo by Vanessa Garcia on

My post on Feedback: Friend or Foe asked you to reflect on your relationship with feedback. If receiving feedback is hard for you, you might now have some ideas about why.

First, have your reaction

Let’s recognize that getting feedback on writing can bring up a lot of difficult emotions, including anger, frustration, defensiveness, and fear. Knowing this, plan to give yourself some time to have whatever reaction you have. Your first job with the feedback is just to read it (or listen to it), without responding in any way. Just try to take it in. If you get wound up, notice the reaction. It’s probably going to manifest first as a physical response, like a tight chest, tight jaw, or thumping heart. You might also experience some reactive thoughts, like, They didn’t even read the whole thing! or I’m never going to be good enough.

The physical response is temporary, and the thoughts are just thoughts, not reality. Notice, and then let the reaction go. This might take a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days. You’ll know you are ready to engage with the feedback when you can think about it without going into that physical fight-flight-freeze response.

Then get to work

My strategy for working with feedback is systematic. Whether for my own writing or when I’m helping a client, I chart the feedback in a table. Adopting this table strategy will help you stay organized as you implement the feedback. Your work with the table also generates a neat and tidy summary of the changes you made (and why) to share with the editor/advisor who gave you the feedback.

A feedback table I made when working with two editors' feedback on a chapter draft. I organized feedback from higher-order concerns (at the top) to lower-order concerns (at the bottom). The colors indicate the boundaries of specific categories of feedback, helping me work on one category at a time.

Organizing the table is part of processing the feedback. One way I frequently organize is to put higher-order concerns (requests for big conceptual or organizational changes) at the top and then work down to lower-order concerns (grammar, spelling, formatting). Resolving higher-order concerns first, before dealing with any lower-order concerns, is best for efficiency. You want to be done moving or deleting whole sections or paragraphs before you tackle any sentence-level editing, so you can avoid editing a sentence that is going to be cut.

Some writers color code comments as easy (green), medium (yellow), or difficult (red). This scheme might also be thought of as coding tasks based on the level of energy required from you as a writer: low-medium-high. Color coding this way can help you match a task to your current physical and mental state. Just keep in mind that doing a bunch of editing, because you’re tired, when you haven’t addressed bigger picture issues might be an inefficient use of time.

Address every comment

Some of my clients are confused about what it means to process feedback. Tough love time: You really do have to address everything the reviewer/advisor has said.


Now, it’s true that you do not always have to do exactly everything that is asked or suggested exactly the way it was asked or suggested, and I think this is where some academic writers get tripped up. As a writer, you have to use your judgment about whether or not and how you modify something in response to what your reviewer/advisor has said, but you have to have a good reason, which you articulate back to the reviewer/advisor, for why you did not do something. In other words, your default position is always to do what they asked. Only in exceptional circumstances do you not, and you always explain why.

For example, on the higher-order-concern end of the spectrum, you might be asked to describe your methods in a way that is inconsistent with the methodological literature you actually followed. In that circumstance, you still address the comment by explaining that the change would inaccurately represent your methods, and you’d probably emphasize which methodologist you followed somewhere in your text. On the lower-order-end of the spectrum, someone might ask you to use formatting that does not actually match the format guide you’ve been told to use. You can point to the format guide to explain why you will not be making that change. If you find yourself avoiding addressing something for a reason you would not be willing to share with the reviewer/advisor, such as I didn’t understand the comment or that felt too hard, it’s time to ask for clarification or get some support in your process.

You don’t have to go it alone

If all of this feels overwhelming for you, please hear me when I say it is okay–and, in fact, wise–to reach out for support as you work with feedback. Those folks you identified as good people to ask for friendly feedback? Also likely to be good at helping you move through the process we just outlined here.

I’d love to hear about any strategies you use to work with feedback on your writing.

Transitions and Opening Up to Wisdom

Tree with orange leaves overlooking a lake with the sun peaking through an opening in the clouds

This weekend I took part in a yoga retreat in northern Minnesota. While yoga was certainly a focus, the retreat was just as much about slowing down, being in nature, and noticing the changing of the seasons. The north woods setting offered up the autumn transitional contrasts with crimson and gold leaves set against deep green pine needles and sun-warmed afternoons bookended by chilly mornings and evenings.

Transitions can open up possibilities we didn’t foresee. For me, a completely unexpected outcome of the retreat was a reconnection with myself as a writer. By the end of the weekend I felt a clear directive to write a book that’s been on my mind for a while, and new ideas for it came pouring in.

With the intention of getting ideas to pass along to my clients, I had packed a copy of Julia Cameron’s guide to unblocking the creative process, The Artist’s Way. I hadn’t read it, and since it comes up regularly in conversations about writing process and coaching writers, I figured I should have it in my resource library. I barely made it through the introduction when I got the very clear message: “This book is for YOU. YOU need this book to write YOUR book.”

Of course that was a bit scary, and posting it publicly here is scarier still, but I wanted to share this experience because all writers get stuck. Writers can even be stuck and not know it. But all the writers and other artists who have gone before us have figured out a lot of ways to get unstuck. We need to be open to that wisdom.

Changing your routine, even in very small ways, can open up new possibilities and move your creative project forward. I firmly believe that academic writing IS creative writing, and all the strategies fiction writers, poets, and other artists use are fair game for researchers.

Close up of a paperback copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Any fans of The Artist’s Way here? Anyone have an experience where the idea for the paper, book, or research design seemed to drop out of the heavens?

Friendly Feedback: How to ask

Let’s talk about friendly feedback, which means feedback on your academic writing from someone whose goal is to help you develop your document (peer, colleague, friend, mentor, writing coach, editor) before you send it to someone who is a gatekeeper for your writing (journal editor, publisher, thesis/dissertation advisor or committee). Now, don’t get me wrong–those gatekeepers will give you feedback as well, and it will help you develop your writing. It might even be delivered in a friendly way! But here I’m focusing on how you can ask someone to help you out and also clarify what you need from them.

You’ve already chosen who to ask, and they’ve agreed. Before hitting send, take a few steps to ensure you both have a good experience.

Step 0: Assess your emotional state regarding this draft. Your emotional state might be the most important thing for you to recognize, own, and share with the person who is going to read for you. If you are feeling a ton of imposter syndrome and critically-delivered feedback is going to crush your soul and prevent you from finishing this thing, please let your reader know. Ask them to provide plenty of encouragement. Your friendly reader can encourage you while also giving you honest, constructive feedback. You also want to gauge your emotional state before you try to do step 1, so you can determine if you are able to give your own draft a fair assessment.

Step 1: Assess your draft’s strengths and weaknesses. From your point of view, what is working? What’s not working? Is there a puzzle you need to solve to move forward?

Step 2: Figure out what stage of the writing process this draft is in. In reality, the writing process is not always linear, moving through clearly distinguishable phases. Still, there are some common, recognizable stages for a draft. Here’s some language to describe these stages:

  • Ideas but nothing in a document yet
  • Bullet points or outline
  • Rough prose: the bullet or outline points are turned into sentences and paragraphs. The words may be just however they came out (this is fine!), or you may have gone through those first rough sentences and paragraphs and made some changes to better reflect your thinking or to make sentences more reader friendly.
  • Revised prose: You’ve gone through all those stages above, let the draft sit for a bit, and then come back to make pretty big changes, often at the paragraph level or higher: changing the document’s organization, reworking the argument, removing and adding paragraphs or sections. You may have received and implemented feedback from someone else to get to this stage. Most likely, there is still some wonky language (moving stuff around can introduce typos and other weirdness).
  • Edited prose: You’ve done all the stuff above and then you or someone else has gone through each sentence with a fine-tooth comb, tidying up sentences, words, and formatting.

Most likely you want feedback to help you get from one of these stages to the next one. You’ll want to tell your reader where you’re at and where you want to get next.

Step 3: Assess your timeline. Realistically, how much time do you have to spend incorporating the feedback the person is going to give you? Maybe the things is due in a month, but the reality of your life is that you have one hour a week to spend on it. That means you don’t have a month; you have four hours. You want your reader to give you feedback that will help you make the best use of those four hours, not suggest a trip to Europe to visit an archive and collect more data.

Step 4: Know your audience, purpose, and genre. It might not be obvious to your friendly reader who your audience is, what you are trying to accomplish, and what kind of thing you are trying to write. Share any info that would be helpful to your reader. Got a thesis advisor with a quirky distaste for the phrase in order to? Share that. Are you trying to shake up a conversation in your field by asking some controversial questions? Your reader needs to know. Writing an essay review in which your job is to say something interesting about why three books have just been published on mapping the Neanderthal genome? You get the idea. All writing decisions circle back to audience, purpose, and genre, so make sure your friendly reader knows what, why, and for whom you are writing.

Once you’ve done these assessments, share all of that information with the person reading for you. You can talk about it (you’ll know you’ve chosen a good reader when they take notes on what you say) or you can write it all out for them in an email. Here’s an example:

Friendly Reader, thank you so much for agreeing to read my draft of my literature review for my dissertation. This is my first rough draft, so I'm wondering if the sections are in a good order at this point and if I've left out anything essential. My advisor said she likes "funnel shaped" lit reviews, so I'd like to know if you can see how I'm trying to funnel down to my specific topic, or if I can do that better. I feel like I've done a pretty good job summarizing the most current research on my specific topic, but I'm not sure if I go too far back/not far enough back with the historical stuff--or even if I have the right historical stuff. Sigh. I'm feeling a little lost and scared that my advisor is going to rip me to shreds. I still have quite a bit of time to work on it. I'm putting in two hours a day and I want to submit this chapter to my advisor in about six weeks. I'm also attaching my approved prospectus so you can see my research questions and basic research design plan. Thank you so much for your help!

Friendly Feedback: Who to ask

Welcome to the second post in my series on working with feedback as an academic writer. If you haven’t already, head to my first post to reflect on your relationship with feedback. This post is about finding helpful people to give you feedback throughout the writing process.

Cheerful students in a cafe discussing a draft one of them has written.

If you are a graduate student, you know you will get feedback from your advisor. Some advisors are willing to read and respond to very rough drafts, but many are not. Don’t assume. Ask your advisor what their expectations are, or, if the power dynamic means you aren’t comfortable asking directly, try to figure this out from peers in your program or alumni who worked with your advisor. Likewise, if you are publishing in a journal, you know you’ll get feedback from the peer reviewers and journal editor. But to get past the initial editor’s desk and into the peer review process, you need to submit a manuscript that is complete, developed, and polished. Same goes for most students giving work to an advisor for feedback.

So how do you get a draft to the complete, developed, and polished stage? To do that, you need to get feedback from someone else and use that feedback to develop your draft before giving it to your advisor or sending it to the journal. Keep in mind that even a complete, developed, and polished draft is going to get feedback for improvement, making it a work in progress once again. This is completely normal and expected. It does not mean you aren’t a good writer or that you’ve done something wrong. All academic writers need other sources of feedback besides the advisor, committee members, journal editors, and peer reviewers. Let’s call this friendly feedback. It’s feedback from someone who is not a gatekeeper for your work. They are in this just to help you.

To get really helpful friendly feedback, keep in mind a few things about what makes feedback productive. First, you are looking for someone who can read your work and give you insight into their experience as a reader. Suggestions are most helpful when they are grounded in what the reader needs for the text to achieve its purpose. In other words, you want someone who can tell you why your draft is or is not working for your audience, not just suggest changes that suit their personal preferences.

You want someone who can talk about your writing in terms of its audience and purpose, has experience with the kind of thing you are writing (or is comfortable using a successful sample for comparison), and is able to focus their feedback to what you need right now.

Ideally, the person giving you feedback has read many examples of the kind of thing you are writing. This kind of experience means the person knows something about the conventions of the type of document you are working on. That being said, someone skillful at giving feedback on writing can apply information you provide about the conventions, even if they don’t have a lot of experience with the type of document. If the person reading for you isn’t familiar with a dissertation methods chapter, for example, you could give them a sample of a successful chapter to compare to your document.

You also want someone who can tailor their feedback to you following guidance you give them about your stage of the writing process (my next post will cover how to ask for that tailored feedback). This means that if you are at the rough idea stage and want help thinking through whether or not you’ve included all the content you need, someone who can’t stop themselves from pointing out every typo and grammatical error is not helpful! But they might be super helpful at the final editing stage, so keep them in mind for that job.

To recap: You want someone who can talk about your writing in terms of its audience and purpose, has experience with the kind of thing you are writing (or is comfortable using a successful sample for comparison), and is able to focus their feedback to what you need right now. Who might these helpful readers be? Think about who’s in your network:

  • Peers: classmates, colleagues in or out of your department. Offer to review your peers’ work for them in exchange for their feedback on yours.
  • Mentors: former advisor, senior colleagues. Mentors are likely to be familiar with the kind of writing you are doing and what’s happening in your field. Of course, asking for their effort to review what could be a long piece of writing is a big favor. Is there something you can offer them in exchange?
  • Family and friends: You may find it difficult to find a reader among your family and friends as your academic expertise and writing have become more specialized–your research speaks to a narrower audience with specific training. But some academics are lucky enough to have a relative or friend who can give thoughtful, useful feedback on their academic writing. And they love you!
  • Writing support professionals: These people have titles like coach, editor, consultant, or tutor. Their services might be provided for free to you by your university through a university writing center, professional development center, or through a contract with an outside vendor. If this service is not provided by your university, or if the expertise available isn’t quite the right fit for your work, you can look for an editor, coach, consultant, or tutor beyond your university. You may be able to use research or professional development funds to help cover the cost. You are looking for someone who specializes in academic writing and does developmental editing and/or coaching (so they can work on early drafts with you). You can search for someone who meets your specific requirements on professional organization sites such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (the EFA) or Professional Editors Network (PEN).

I’d love to hear about your experiences with friendly feedback. Who do you rely on? Or have you learned any hard lessons about who NOT to ask? Would you add anything to my list of criteria?

Feedback: Friend or Foe?

Let’s be honest here. When you envision getting feedback on your writing, are you eager to see where your reader’s comments will lead your draft next, or are you terrified by the thought of even opening the email?

Every professional writer gets feedback as part of the publishing process. And guess what? As an academic, you are also a professional writer! You may still also be a student, in which case you are learning and being evaluated on your learning as you begin writing to professional academic standards. That’s intimidating and can lead to a perception that critical feedback means you have done something wrong (it usually doesn’t mean that).

Where ever you are in your academic career, I invite you to explore your experiences with receiving feedback on your writing. What experiences stand out? What emotions and bodily sensations come up as you recall these experiences? This exploration is an important first step in evaluating your relationship with feedback, so you can make any needed adjustments to that relationship and really harness feedback to serve your writing process. Feel free to share your reflection in the comments!

COVID 19 and Graduate School: Disruptions and Contributions

The passage above is from a chapter in a 2008 book called Infectious Disease Ecology: Effects of Ecosystems on Disease and of Disease on Ecosystems. This chapter was written by University of Alaska Biology and Wildlife professor, Terry Chapin, and colleagues. I sought out this book because I’ve been thinking about the COVID 19 pandemic from an ecological perspective. Homo sapiens is a species suddenly hosting this new coronavirus, and this is happening within an ecosystem. (Or ecosystems? Ecologists, tell me if the entire planet can be considered a single ecosystem or not.)

In my last post I wrote about my latest research project on doctoral writing. I shared that by considering our dissertation experiences through an ecological metaphor, my co-authors and I gained a deeper understanding of how we sought to balance school, work, and life. Specifically, we discovered how these different realms of our lives–following the ecological metaphor, we called them symbiotic clusters (Fleckestein et al., 2008)–both disrupted each other and contributed to each other.

It’s easy to see COVID 19 as a disruption–disease epidemics are termed “disturbances” in the passage from Chapin and colleagues. Yet as I’m working with graduate students throughout our collective COVID 19 experience, I’m hearing about both disruptions and contributions. Our response to COVID 19 means changing our practices within the symbiotic clusters of school, work, and life. As graduate students carry on with their dissertations or theses, some of these changes disrupt their progress, while others contribute to it.

For many graduate students who are also employed, their work practices have changed. Many are doing their job from home instead of their usual workplace. Some are front-line health care workers doing their jobs with increased protection protocols and working longer hours. Others are government employees on call 24/7 to implement pandemic plans. And some graduate students are unable to go to work because their employer has been closed or because they have no child care.

Graduate students are also changing their practices in the symbiotic cluster we call life. Many are parents, caring for their children in new ways and guiding their children’s education in new ways. Like all of us, graduate students are facing changes in how they interact with family members and friends. Options for self-care are different in this time of physical distancing. And some graduate students are sick or are caring for someone who is sick.

COVID 19 has brought many changes in graduate students’ school practices. Many graduate students already attend their classes online, but many are experiencing online classes for the first time. Many graduate students have halted data collection or are revising their proposed data collection plans to implement social distancing. Some simply can’t collect data right now because every potential participant on the planet is experiencing COVID 19, and that would mess up their results.

COVID 19 has suddenly changed practices across the school, work, and life clusters, and changes in each cluster send feedback to all the others. While we are facing the challenges of this grave crisis, many people are pointing out unexpected “silver linings.” We can understand these benefits from an ecological perspective on academic writing as contributing feedback. Canceled travel and events open up time in the calendar for academic work. Staying at home, for some, facilitates the stretches of solitude that many crave for the writing process. Scaling back data collection plans may make a study more feasible for an emerging researcher. As people feel compelled to offer social support (from a safe distance, through an internet connection) some graduate students are finding writing groups or writing partners for the first time.

I also sense that many of us are gaining some clarity as a result of facing the crisis. We are recognizing what’s most important to us. We are giving ourselves and others compassion. We are accepting imperfection. Through my experience supporting academic writers, I know that all of these insights can help people move forward in the writing process.

Thanks to Chapin and colleagues I’m now adding another key term to my understanding of this contributing feedback: resilience. Yes, we are experiencing a disease-induced change in state right now. At the same time, we are seeing that our personal writing ecologies have the capacity to absorb shocks. We can sustain our slow variables–our commitment to intellectual inquiry, our supportive relationships and self-compassion–and thereby plant the seeds for recovery. None of this means the disruption isn’t hard. But we can do hard things. We will come through this.


Chapin, F., Eviner, V., Talbot, L., Wilcox, B., Magness, D., Brewer, C., & Keebler, D. (2008). Disease Effects on Landscape and Regional Systems: A Resilience Framework. In Eviner V., Ostfeld R., & Keesing F. (Eds.), Infectious Disease Ecology: Effects of Ecosystems on Disease and of Disease on Ecosystems (pp. 284-303). PRINCETON; OXFORD: Princeton University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt7sgg4.20

Fleckenstein, K.S., Spinuzzi, C., Rickly, R.J., & Papper, C.C. (2008). The importance of harmony: An ecological metaphor for writing research. College Composition and Communication, 60(2), 388-419.

Seeking Balance

Trying to complete a dissertation or thesis alongside all of our other responsibilities is incredibly hard. Many graduate students are also parents, full-time employees or business owners, or involved in teaching or clinical training. All students have lives beyond the dissertation. All have a need for social connection. All have bodies that need care and attention. All of these parts of our lives need our time and energy, and because there are only so many hours in a day and we have only so much energy to give, these competing priorities pull us in different directions. It’s stressful.

Throughout my dissertation experience, I was in close contact with four wonderful friends from my doctoral cohort. Later, we conducted a qualitative study to better understand our experiences. We all struggled with the dissertation. In particular, we all struggled to do the dissertation work in the contexts of our lives. Like most graduate students, we found that our families, our paid work, our health and other aspects of our lives all competed for our time and energy. Even our sense of ourselves within those other aspects of our lives sometimes felt at odds with our sense of ourselves within the dissertation work.

As we looked further into how we actually moved through the experience, we found that an ecological metaphor helped us understand what “balance” meant for us. We looked at the different aspects of our lives as interdependent ecosystems. Each aspect–family, for instance–was its own constantly changing ecosystem that sent feedback into another ecosystem, like the dissertation work. Sometimes this feedback disrupted the other ecosystem, but sometimes it was helpful. For example, I constantly felt guilty about missing out on time with my young son to work on my dissertation, and that seriously messed up my ability to do good dissertation work. Eventually, though, I had a realization that my family had made so many sacrifices to support me that I just had to complete my dissertation to honor their support. At that point, my family ecosystem was sending helpful, kick-it-into-gear feedback into my dissertation ecosystem.

My classmates and I never “found” balance. It was never over and done with. We were continually seeking balance. While different parts of our lives competed, there were also ways these different parts of our lives supported each other. We weren’t necessarily conscious of the helpful, contributing feedback relationships in the moment–it was a lot easier to see the disruptive feedback–but after closely examining our experiences, we came to the new insight that when enough contributing feedback was happening, the disruptive feedback was mitigated. And that was when our dissertation work moved forward.

Our research process was based on reflective writing and group discussion. Based on that process, we came up with some questions we feel may help other graduate student writers reflect on the different ecosystems in their lives and the feedback between them. Try writing on these questions and see what you discover:

  • Tell the story of your dissertation experience (to date)
  • What are the struggles or conflicts you see in your story?
  • How do you resolve those struggles or conflicts? Or how might you resolve them?