IATEFL 2014 – Graham Hall: How to get published in an academic journal like ELTJ

Have just found my notes from this interesting “how to” talk which took place on Thursday morning before the plenary…

An academic journal is a peer reviewed journal.

What makes academic journals different from a newsletter or magazine?

  • It has an editor, makes decisions on what goes in, but the key thing is that the editor has people to help assess the content of articles i.e. peer reviewed
  • There’s a system of peer review: Articles are judged by the authors peers, evaluated on, fed back to editor, who takes action. (Our peers are people in the field)

The key thing to take from this talk is that not all journals are the same! I.e. different journals have different aims/objectives/readerships. Readerships have different expectations.

If you have an idea for an article, if you want to submit to e.g. ELTJ, the editor will have different expectations from Journal x – so submit your article to the journal you write it for, not another. Be familiar with who you are writing for. (I.e. read said journal!)

Why write for an academic journal?

  • As an individual, we might write for an academic journal for professional development reasons.

There are numerous strands to this.

First strand: we are sharing our systematic thoughts about our good practices. Sharing good practice and research. Getting our ideas out there. And people out there in the world can get in touch and things can happen. It gives us contacts.

Another strand = it really crystallizes what we think and what we do. Once it’s on paper, you’ve thought it through far more clearly than if you just talk about it in a bit of a chat. Your thinking develops.

  • For many people in many institutions, writing and being published is good for promotion.

Individuals and the profession both benefit from publishing: Individuals develop as above; ELT develops from the sharing of good practice. ELT will continue to develop as we and others write for journals.

The processes

I’m (the editor, in the case of ELTJ = Graham Hall) on one end of the email, the author is on the other. We will look at both perspectives.

So, you’ve spent some time preparing your article and finally after a week, two, a month of hesitation, you’ve sent it in.

What happens then?

Most journals now accept articles through online systems, an online platform. To simplify information and also provides a really clear record of all submissions and nothing gets lost. It’s very transparent. You get an acknowledgement that it’s in the system.

As editor, GH reads every article that comes in. Then a process where GH decides whether they are likely to be of interest and whether they fit in with the journal – or not.

If an article doesn’t fit at all, immediate rejection: “Really sorry this doesn’t work for our journal for xyz reasons.”

 Possible reasons:

  • Length. ELTJ = 4500 word limit. But a number of articles come through that are too long.
  • Subject matter: “English language teaching” journal – so something about English literature that doesn’t fit aims will be rejected.

For those that do fit the aims, we then engage in the process of peer review:

  • They get sent out to peers/colleagues, who have about one month to read an article, to consider the article in light of the aims of the journal and whether it would be interesting to readers.
  • The reviewers send the editor thoughts/comments. (Each article goes to two different reviewers.) This takes about a month, when they come back to the editor, who reads the accounts and makes a decision, and passes the decision onto the author. 60 days should be max turn around time, though they try 40-45.

 What decisions might be faced for a peer review journal?

There are 4 decisions:

  • Reject: insurmountable problems to move it forward for publication e.g. topic doesn’t quite work or lack of rigour or systematicity in treatment of data/discussion/argument. Trying to change it would result in a different paper. Important to note, that an author is provided with clear feedback as to why – formative constructive advice for the author to take forward. Everyone who’s been published has had such rejections!
  • Request revision: a paper is seen by the reviewers to be potentially interesting, potential strengths but a few key issues that need to be addressed. But seems that they will be able to be addressed by the author. Email comes back with a series of suggestions. You are given 6 months to revise. After that, you resubmit. And the process begins again.
  • Conditional accept: Great but just a few small things to be tweaked. Email tells you what to change. And if that takes place. It goes forward. Uncommon for first submission, more common for second e.g. after the request revision!
  • Accept: rare to happen first time round – there is going to be something somewhere that needs changing!

Central to decision-making process = peer review.

Who are the peers?

Colleagues in the field, familiar with the journal in question, likely to have been published in the journal, likely to have a degree in the field of expertise in the area of the article.

In ELTJ, there is an editorial panel: 19 people, who work in a variety of institutions and freelance, from all continents. The panel reflects the composition of the profession and the readership/writers: they hail from a variety of fields and countries.

The article is anonymized before review. The author also doesn’t know who is reviewing his/her journal. This is known as double blind review. Reviewers don’t know who the other person is either. So this is for reasons of transparency, so that things are above board, no issues of bias.

 Does it work?

Due to the level and expertise of the reviewers, they look to see if it works – secondary research adequate, methodology rigorous? – but also will the readership “get” this paper? Will it be interesting to the readership? A subjective term, but has to be kept in reviewers’ minds. In the end, the decision about a paper falls to the editor, so if something goes wrong, it’s not the peer reviewer’s fault it’s the editor’s fault. Graham Hall thinks it’s an effective system.

What he (Graham Hall) is looking for:

  • Consistent and accessible – not too much jargon please!
  • Balances between theory and practice (for the ELTJ)
  • Need to include implications for the profession and clear implications for different contexts – so that your article talks to people who work elsewhere too.
  • Demonstration of awareness of recent work/other work in the field
  • 15 references as a maximum

NOT looking for:

  • Not just theory articles needs to be link between theory and practice
  • Not looking for tips – just teaching ideas is better suited to e.g. English Teaching Professional magazine
  • Lack of awareness of other work in the field: GH wants something new or that builds on an idea, or develops it in someway or does something well known in a different context.
  • Not to much concerned with specifics, need to be relevant to other contexts
  • No underdeveloped ideas, please.


Things to consider if you have an idea for any journal

  • Know the journal you want to send the paper to – they differ! Different aims/readerships. Needs to fit what they are about. ELTJ receives around 500 submissions a year so papers that don’t fit won’t get any time. Know the word limits too! You need to access and read the journal in some way. Be familiar with the style/length etc. Look for sample papers online which you can read online. E.g ELTJ has a sample free article form each issue available online.
  •  Study articles in the article closely
  • Read the author guidelines!! All journals have them – with the basics length, references no/how, abstract length etc Follow them! Editors don’t want articles that don’t follow them! Higher chance of success if you follow.
  • Start small. Don’t try to cover too much so that you lack depth. Action research projects and exploratory projects are fine if written up in a systematic/thought through way. Don’t try to get too much into too small a space.
  •  Don’t give up!!!!!!! Everybody who’s ever been published in a journal has had a rejection. The key thing is to look at the advice in the rejection and use it for future attempts. They key to getting published is to keep plugging away. It’s a tricky road, dealing with advice is constructive but takes time.

4 thoughts on “IATEFL 2014 – Graham Hall: How to get published in an academic journal like ELTJ

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