How to Publish an Academic Paper: Tips from an Experienced Author, Reviewer, and Editor

grad school journal articles peer-review Aug 14, 2022
How to publish and academic paper

When you haven't done it before, the process of publishing an academic paper can seem daunting. But with insight into how the process works, it can be relatively easier (although it still takes a long time). In this blog post, I will discuss some tips on how to publish your academic paper based on my experience as an author, reviewer, and editor. Follow these tips, and you will be on your way to publishing success!

Preparing Your Paper for Publication

Decide on your paper structure. The most common format for a journal article is known as the IMRaD format. Use this format whenever you are presenting original research and it's appropriate. Review articles and methodological articles have more flexibility in their format.

Decide the order in which you will write the sections. Academic writing very rarely happens in the order that you read it. A good rule of thumb is to write the easiest sections of your research paper first, such as the Methods and Results sections, and save the bigger picture sections, such as the Introduction and Conclusion for last.

The most important aspect of an academic paper is the main argument or thesis statement. Establish your main argument early in the academic writing process. What is your unique point of view on the topic? Make sure that you only include things in your research paper that help to explain or support that main argument.

Ensure that your research paper meets the submission guidelines of the journal you are targeting. Every journal has slightly different guidelines, so be sure to read them carefully. You can find out the journal's style guide by navigating to their webpage and clicking "Submit Paper" and then "Guide for Authors", or similar. It's best to look this up early in the writing process so that you can ensure that you prepare your paper in the correct format and within the word count limits.

Share drafts of the paper with your collaborator(s) and/or supervisor throughout the process. Their feedback will be immensely valuable.

Present your paper in its best possible form, but don't obsess about making it perfect. The reviewers and editors are most likely going to suggest many changes that you can't anticipate.

For more advice on how to prepare your manuscript, you can also check out my free guide: The You Can Publish That Guide.

Write the easiest section of your paper first. This is likely going to be your methods or results section.


Submitting Your Research Paper

Yay! You have come so far and are ready to submit your paper. Good job. This is the easy part, right? Well, not really.

Navigating the online submission portal can be challenging and time-consuming. During this process, you usually find out about additional requirements for submission that you have to address. You can expect this part of the process to take about a week of additional effort.

You will be required to include a cover letter with your submission. The purpose of this letter is to convince the editor that your research is relevant and that it's a good fit for the journal. Don't underestimate the importance of this letter.

Most journals request a list of about five suggested reviewers. These should be experts in your field who are not connected to the research project in any way. They are likely the authors of some of the references you cited in your manuscript. Be mindful of who you suggest here and considerate of how they may react to the content of your research paper.

In the online submission portal you will have to input the names and affiliations of all co-authors. Take care with this step. Ensure that you have not made any spelling errors, that you include middle initials where that is the preference of the author, and that you have all affiliations indicated (many researchers have more than one affiliation). Make sure to enter all authors in the order that you previously agreed upon. It can be challenging to make changes to this once the paper is submitted, so best to get it correct on the first go.


The submission process can sometimes be more challenging than the actual process of academic writing. Give yourself time for this step.


Dealing with Rejections: When your academic paper is not accepted for publication

If the journal rejects your paper, don't panic! It's not uncommon for research papers to be rejected before eventually being accepted for publication by another journal. You simply need to assess, revise, and resubmit elsewhere.

Rejection can happen at two stages of the publication process. The first is often called a "desk rejection". This is when the editor decides not to send the paper for review. The most common reason for a desk rejection is that the editor doesn't believe the research paper is a good fit for the journal. There are other reasons for a desk rejection as well, that could be related to presentation (not in the required format), or significance (the relevance of your research to others is not clear enough). Take note of the editor's explanation for not sending the paper for review and use it to improve your submission for the next journal.

The next stage in which a paper can be rejected is after review. In this case, you will receive the detailed assessments of the reviewers. These assessments are immensely valuable and will help you improve your manuscript so that you can submit it to another journal. Study the reviewer's comments carefully. After a cooling-off period (see below) make the necessary changes to your paper. Then submit it to another journal.

It's normal to feel deflated after a rejection, but know that it is an ordinary part of the academic publishing process.

Rejection sucks. But, it is common part of the process in academic publishing. The best strategy is to learn what you can from the experience and then try again.


Dealing with Revision Requests: When you are invited to submit a revised paper

A good outcome after submitting a journal article is for the editor to invite you to submit a revised version of the manuscript. This is the most common outcome after review. It means the reviewers and editor agree your paper is valuable, but they have some important suggestions/requirements for improvement.

Study the revision requests carefully. Most researchers will suggest reading them and then taking a cooling-off period of at least a few days before taking any action.

It's normal to feel frustrated and even angry about the feedback. You've already put so much blood, sweat, and tears into the writing and submission process that any indication that your finished product is less than perfect can be heart-breaking.

But, don't let this derail you. Reviewers will almost always have opinions on how to do what you did better. In the end, their insight will make your manuscript better.

After some time off, make the necessary changes to your paper. Be sure to address all comments and concerns raised by the reviewers. Keep a "tracked changes" version of your manuscript (some journals require you to submit this). Create a separate document with the reviewer's comments and document your response to each individual comment (you will also submit this to the journal). Be respectful in your responses - the reviewers usually are sent this document.

When you submit a revised version of your paper, you will have to submit another cover letter. This cover letter should explain with a response letter detailing how you have addressed the reviewers' and editor's comments, and how the manuscript has been improved.

After resubmission, the editor will often send the manuscript with your cover letter and responses back to the same reviewers. The best outcome from here is that the reviewers agree that you have adequately addressed their concerns and the paper is accepted for publication.

Sometimes you may need to do a second round of revisions to satisfy the reviewers and/or the editor.

Academic writing and publishing are challenging. You will most likely have to go through at least one round of revisions after submitting a paper for publication. The best strategy is to be patient with the process.


Final Tips for Academic Writing and Publishing Success

Be patient. The process of publishing an academic paper can be long and arduous. However, it is crucial to take the time to make the necessary revisions requested by the editor and reviewers to improve your chances of having your paper accepted for publication. Being patient will ensure that you submit a high-quality manuscript that is worthy of publication.

Stay organized. Be methodical through the submission and revision process. Keep track of the different versions of your manuscript with a good file and folder naming system. I suggest using a naming convention that includes the date (e.g., "YYYYMMDD_manuscriptname_vX"). Keep older versions and only revise copies of your files. This will make the process easier and less stressful because you can always refer to earlier versions if you need to. And you will be able to correctly identify the most recent version.

Be professional in all communications. This includes being respectful and polite in your emails, cover letters, and responses to reviewers.

Finally, don't give up. It can be easy to get discouraged after critical reviews and rejection, but remember that even the most experienced and successful authors get harsh reviews and are rejected sometimes. Do not let negative feedback deter you from your goal of having your paper published in a reputable journal. Keep writing and revising until you achieve your goal.

I hope these tips from my personal experience as an author, reviewer, and editor are helpful to you in your academic writing and publishing journey.

Happy writing!

Dr Jayne


Hi! I'm Dr Jayne Wilkins.

I'm a research scientist and academic publishing coach. I've been writing, reviewing, and editing academic publications for 12+ years.

In 2021, I achieved my long-time ambition to publish in Nature (woot woot 🎉).

Want to publish your research?

I can help you finish and submit that manuscript.

Learn More About Me

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