Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lesson Learned: Writing Peer-Reviewed Research Articles

Today, I'm hosting Dr. Rasheda Weaver, who shares with us what she learned about writing during her PhD. Rasheda L. Weaver, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Community Entrepreneurship at the University of Vermont where she teaches classes and conducts research on social enterprises, businesses that seek to combat social problems. She conducted the first large-scale study of the social, economic, and legal activities on social enterprises in the United States. You can email her at Rasheda.weaver@uvm.edu and follow her on Twitter @RLWeaverPhD.

After graduating with a PhD in Public Affairs from Rutgers University in May 2017, I wanted to take some time to reflect, discuss, and share some of the lessons that I learned about writing for peer-reviewed journals throughout my doctoral program. The lessons are organized below by the following three themes: 1) The Writing Process, 2) Organization and Interpretation, and 3) Peer-Reviewed Publications and the Job Search.

The Writing Process

* Binge vs. Incremental Writing
o Binge writing consists of writing for large amounts of time (e.g. several hours), but people tend to do this periodically. Incremental writing involves writing for short time periods (e.g. 30 minutes a day) on a regular basis, usually daily. When I entered my doctoral program, I thought that I was a binge writer. However, after taking the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity's 14-Day Writing Challenge, I realized that incremental writing helped me in various ways. It made writing a more reflective, inspirational, and stress-reducing practice for me. As an academic, writing is an essential part of my career and thus should not be a struggle. Developing a daily writing habit enables me to feel comfortable and at ease with my writing, research, and my daily life as an Assistant Professor. Writing, usually at the beginning of, every workday enables me to feel accomplished every day and to enjoy my weekends off.
* Using a Research Diary
o Using a research diary for taking methodological, theoretical, reflective, and observational notes can be useful for logging important information about a manuscript. Research diaries may be an actual notebook or an electronic notebook like those in Evernote. However, I usually use Google Docs because I can access it from everywhere and many of my files are already stored in Google Drive. I use my research diary for keeping track of reflections on my writing and research over time, which has helped me write new papers and to ask new research questions. I also use it to track information that I delete from a manuscript over time. This has helped me retrieve information that a reviewer asks me for during the review process. I learned this strategy while working on research with Rutgers University-Camden Professor Stephen Danley (Twitter @SteveDanley) and it is consistently useful.

Organization and Interpretation
* One Subject Per Paragraph
o Focusing on 1 subject per paragraph can be difficult, but it increases the clarity and flow of a manuscript, which makes it easier to understand the knowledge being disseminated to readers.
* Making Every Sentence Count and Getting Peer Feedback
o Proofreading manuscripts thoroughly and sending them to friends, colleagues, and/ or research assistants can help eliminate filler, redundant sentences. They can also provide important feedback on ideas within manuscripts. During my PhD program, I had two go-to proofreaders that were also students in my program and one outside of my program that is a friend that works outside of my field. Now, as an Assistant Professor, I ask my research assistants to proofread and critique my manuscripts before I send them to journals. If the people that know my work cannot figure something out or feel that there are grammatical errors and redundant sentences, then journal reviewers will likely feel the same way. Thus, I am a big believer in getting peer feedback, even if it is just for proofreading. However, I only send my manuscripts to people I trust in an effort to prevent plagiarism.
* Illustrations and Tables are Essential Communication Tools
o Using illustrations such as graphs, logic models/flow charts, and tables aid in communicating important concepts and results. I try not to write any manuscript without visual aids. This is extremely important for manuscripts that some may find particularly difficult to read or that discuss esoteric concepts.

Peer-Reviewed Publications and the Job Search
* The Number and Timing of Manuscripts
o Peer-reviewed publications are extremely important during the academic job search process. Many applications for assistant professorships require the submission of several articles with the application, which serves as writing samples and as proof of the applicant's productivity. Some doctoral students delay sending manuscripts to journals until their later years without realizing that:
  • Journals may take months to review your manuscript and even when they do they may still reject you.
  • There are several stages to getting a manuscript published (e.g. desk rejection, revise and resubmit with major/minor revisions, proofing). Scholars should expect that even if their manuscript gets past the desk rejection phase, it may be returned for revise and resubmits on multiple occasions, which can take months.
  • One of the main requirements to even applying for assistant professorships is a PhD and thus that only qualifies scholars to APPLY for such positions. Many, if not most, universities use publications as a key indicator of whether or not applicants will be successful at their institutions. Thus, having one or more publications will help you in the job search, but you have to make sure you set aside time to write, reflect, and revise them and to go through the publication process to increase your chances for success.
  • Having peer-reviewed articles under review or forthcoming helped the search committee assess my potential productivity and indicated that I understand the realities of the publication process (e.g. long wait times, revise and resubmits).

I hope you enjoyed reading about these lessons that I have learned about writing peer-reviewed research articles. Please feel free to share some lessons that you have learned in the comments.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I didn't get feedback from my colleagues but after I read your post I think I should do.

    1. Yes, asking your colleagues for their input can be very valuable!