once we have some good ideas and have consulted with others via books and journals, written communication, face-to-face meetings, and other means, we are ready to write our piece. Of course, the act of writing itself can help us get ideas, and we may often find in the course of our writing that we need to go back and get some new ideas or revise the ones we started with. Below are five ideas that I try to keep in mind in my own writing
once we have some good ideas and have consulted with others via books and journals, written communication, face-to-face meetings, and other means, we are ready to write our piece. Of course, the act of writing itself can help us get ideas, and we may often find in the course of our writing that we need to go back and get some new ideas or revise the ones we started with. Below are five ideas that I try to keep in mind in my own writing.
An article should be a rich tapestry, connected both within itself and to the ideas of others. We should connect our ideas to other people's writing in many related areas, including others' research, theory, methodology, philosophy, and techniques. Also, we will often want to link our ideas to practical, real-life examples. In this way, we create a bond between the concrete and the abstract. For instance, if we mention a theoretical idea in an early part of our article, we might later show in a very, very clear manner how we put that idea into practice in our classroom. Thereby, we connect the various parts of our article, giving every idea a purpose, making it a necessary part of the whole.
Don't Just Present Data and Experience: Ize Them
One tool for connecting ideas is to apply some of the thinking strategies embodied in words ending with the sound ize: analyze, synthesize, generalize, organize, conceptualize, concretize, and, to invent a new word, exemplifize. Such izing provides depth to our writing, making it easier to understand and more meaningful. Another ize word is recognize; we need to recognize that ideas in disagreement with our own often exist. Instead of ignoring these, we should present them and verbalize why we see things differently.
Be Reader Friendly
How many times have you heard fellow educators and maybe yourself complain about journal articles, protesting that they are difficult to understand and written for specialists only? So that no one makes the same complaint about our articles, we must try to write in a reader-friendly manner. Some ways to achieve this are:
1. Furnish background and explanation for those not from our country/institution
2. Explain terms and concepts for those not involved in the same specialty area in our field, e.g., readers should not have to be assessment experts to understand the general ideas in an article on assessment.
3. Write introductions to the article as a whole and to each section; these help prepare readers for what is to come.
4. Establish a smooth flow from one section to another and from one paragraph to another in order that readers can better understand how our ideas connect and what our main points are.
5. Use Visuals Another way of being reader friendly is to illustrate our ideas with visuals. Visuals are nice to look at and can make ideas easier to understand. Visuals include tables, graphs, drawings, diagrams, photos, samples of students' writing in their original handwriting, boxes, and textual enhancement, e.g., bold, italics, and underline. Journal editors usually need camera ready copies of all visuals, but advances in computer software make it easier to create visuals. In an article on conducting research that I co-authored with Willy A Renandya of Akademi Bahasa 47 (Jacobs, Renandya, & Das, 1997), we included drawing to illustrate our suggestions.
A very good way to figure out such writing matters as how to divide our piece into sections and how to phrase our ideas is to look very carefully at a similar piece in the journal for which we plan to write and notice how they do these things. For example, if we are writing an article reporting research, we can find an article in that journal or a similar journal which reports research. What are the subheads? What is the wording used to report the results? We can copy much of this. That is not plagiarism.
Every field has certain conventional ways of writing. Probably the simplest way of learning these conventions is to find a model, take out our magnifying glass, and examine very closely its parts and the language it uses, e.g., the tenses. We have to do this painstaking kind of noticing to successful use the model. Similarly, we need to teach our language students this same kind of noticing in order to encourage them to develop their language awareness. (Appendix 1 is a handout I give my students to encourage them to be diligent and skilful noticers.) However, we may have to deviate from the model sometimes, as our situations may not be exactly the same as those of the authors of the pieces we carefully examine.
Collaborating With Editors
The key people at journal are the editors. Editors normally work with an editorial board to whom they send the manuscript (ms.) we submit to their journal. Different editors work differently, but normally editors send each submission to two or three members of the editorial board and then read over their feedback before deciding on the fate of the ms. Editors may decide to accept the submission without asking for changes, accept it pending minor changes, offer to consider the ms. again if fairly major revisions are made, or reject the ms. If a submission is rejected, recommendations may be made for improvements or as to other types of journals to which it could be submitted. However, I have had submissions rejected without any reasons or advice given.
Because editors are such important people, we need to know how to work with them. Below are five suggestions on how to do that. I have never been a journal editor, but I have edited books and currently serve on the editorial board of two journals, including TEFLIN Journal. So, I do have some sympathy for this often maligned species.
Choose the Right Publication
There exists a very wide variety of journals, with each area of education and related fields having its own journals, e.g., psychology, the Thai language, pragmatics, distance education, first language acquisition, and second language writing instruction. Additionally, some journals focus on specific places e.g., a country or region, while others are international in scope. Publications also vary in terms of their orientation, e.g., from mainly theoretical to mainly practical and from emphasizing quantitative research to specializing in qualitative research. Other variations among journals include size of circulation, status, and acceptance rate for submissions. Acceptance rate, although not constant and sometimes difficult to find out, differs widely, with some journals accepting most of the manuscripts submitted to them, but others accepting only about 10%.
Choosing from amidst this wide array of choices can be a daunting task. Two places to start for the novice author are the journals published by local universities and ministry of education departments and with those published by associations to which you belong, such as a teachers organization. Such publications often encourage first-time authors. I like such journals because often I can speak personally with the editors to get their guidance. Another good way to find a home for our writing is to look at the reference list of articles on topics which are similar to ours. Journals and their editors often have a fondness for certain topic areas.
As to whether or not to send to a high status journal with a high rejection rate or a lower status journal with a higher acceptance rate, a professor of mine, Fred Bail, once advised me to aim high on the first journal to which I sent my ms., because if I got rejected by the higher status journal, I could always send to a journal lower on my preference list. Another reason why it is good to aim high - at least after we have published a few articles and gained a bit of experience and confidence - is that, at least in my limited experience, the more prestigious journals often give better feedback, even when they reject an article. For instance, once I sent a ms. on cooperative learning to TESOL Quarterly only to have it sent back with a rejection letter. I kept the feedback from the reviewers and have referred to it since whenever I write something about cooperative learning.
Another point to keep in mind is that one study can result in more than one article. For example, in many studies, such as a study that records student-student interaction in groups, large quantities of data are produced. These data can be analyzed to answer a variety of research questions. These questions can be grouped, with each group forming the basis for a separate article. Additionally, we can write two very different pieces on the same topic, e.g., one piece could emphasize theory and research and be submitted to a journal with that slant, while a more practical article could be written for submission to a journal with a practical focus.
Follow the Directions Given in the Guide to Contributors
Most publications provide guidelines to potential authors in a section entitled something like Guidelines for Contributors. The guidance deals with such matters as:
Also, I have learned the hard way to keep a copy of my ms. Sometimes, I get feedback from editors that refers to particular page and line numbers. If I don't have an exact copy of what I sent, I can't always find what they are referring to.
Include a Cover Letter
We need to be sure to include a cover letter to accompany our ms. Cover letters will normally contain the title of the ms. and contact information for the first author- mail, phone, fax, email, and carrier pigeon(?). I also request that the editor send me acknowledgement of receipt of the ms., although most, but not all, journals do this routinely. Another thing I learned the hard way is to include in the cover letter a list of all the authors with their names in the form and order in which they should appear if the article is published.
Once we have submitted our ms., the waiting begins. I have waited more than a year for a response to an article I submitted, and I've heard even worse cases. However, most journals take less than six months, but few take less than about three months. Editors should give us some idea how long we will have to wait when they write us to acknowledge receipt of our ms. Of course, when we do receive feedback from the journal it may be in the form of a request to rewrite. That means we will have to resubmit and then wait all over again. If at last, our piece is accepted we often have to wait at least another six months, but often a year for it to be published. Thus, an article we submit in 1999 may not be published until 2001, and that is not taking into the account that we may have to submit our ms. to two or three journals before getting it accepted.
Rejoice in Disagreement
One of the most difficult experiences I have when writing for language learning journals occurs when I get conflicting feedback from two reviewers from the same journal. For instance, one praises an idea in a piece I co-authored and the other says that the same idea should be deleted. I have had one reviewer recommend that an a ms. be accepted with minor revision and another recommend that it be rejected.
Reviewers suffer from the same problems as everyone else: bias, political machinations, failure to notice major errors, and inconsistent standards of judgement (Peters & Ceci, 1982).
If our ms. gets rejected by a journal, no matter how stupid their reasons may seem, we should pause to think about them. After all, the members of the editorial board are members of our profession, in other words, members of our intended audience. Perhaps, we need to rewrite to better reach this portion of our audience. Also, as I recounted in my experience with TESOL Quarterly, there may be good advice accompanying our rejection letter. And, remember as the 19th century novelist Anthony Trollope wrote, "There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily".
If we are asked to make revisions, we should be willing to compromise to try to satisfy the suggestions of the editor and reviewers. However, we do not need to follow all their suggestions, and, as was mentioned above, sometimes we cannot follow all their suggestions because reviewers disagree with each other. When we decide not to follow suggestions, we should clearly state our reasons for not wanting to make a particular change. In other words, we should see disagreement as an opportunity to think more deeply. As the saying goes, "If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn't thinking".
Treat Editors Like Colleagues
Finally, we need to realize that we, the authors, sink or swim together with editors - if our piece is good, it makes everyone associated with it happy, but if what we have written is not very good, everyone looks bad, us and the editors. Editors do not enjoy rejecting articles, because it means they have less good materials for their journal. When a ms. arrives in their mailbox which has followed all the requirements spelled out tin the Guidelines for Contributors and does not need any content or style changes, editors are "living on Easy Street". But, every extra draft we have to do is more work for those who have to give us feedback.
We should realize that editors are busy too. Most or all of them have full-time jobs, and editing a journal means extra work. Therefore, just as we hope they will forgive our inadequacies, e.g., taking a couple extra months to send in our revised ms., so too should we forgive their inadequacies, e.g., taking a couple extra months to send out the feedback on our revised ms. Regular correspondence with keeps the communication lines open. For instance, we should let them know about new addresses and if we fall behind schedule in sending in revisions, camera ready graphics, etc., we should inform them that we have not decided to forget about the article and change careers from language educator to Antarctic explorer talking with penguins.
On that somewhat sarcastic note, I will bring this article to an end. I hope that reading this advice has left you inspired not tired, elated not deflated, and thrilled not chilled. Writing for publication in journals and other media plays an important role in our important profession. You are an important member of that profession. I look forward to reading your articles. Happy writing