Preparing for Publication

revising for publication

Some significant differences between academic articles and papers written for your degree must be kept into account as you begin revising: genre, audience, and tone.


It is likely that you have written a seminar paper that follows the general procedure and goal of an academic article. However, there are other common forms of writing for education, including literature reviews and answers to qualifying exam questions.

  • Literature Review: A literature review is somewhat like an annotated bibliography; it is an exercise (usually written as preparation for, or part of, a thesis or dissertation) in which you explain what has already been said in your field or sub-field. They are some times very narrow and yet also broad in scope. In general, literature reviews do not offer much in the way of an argument or addition to the field; they help set the stage for you to find your place in the field. This kind of writing often fosters creative thinking, as you are put in a position to think about the "bigger picture." If you are working with a literature review, chances are that not much of it will work well for your article. Academic articles do have summaries to explain your position, but those comprise a small portion of the writing. You can expect to use sections of a literature review, but know that translating one wholesale for publication is generally not done.
  • Answers to qualifying exam questions (comps): Depending on your field of study and school, you will have (or have already taken) some form of exam as a degree requirement. Comprehensives and qualifying exams (as they are often called) vary greatly across fields, but in general, learners are given a set of difficult questions, the answers to which require demonstration of broad knowledge in one's area of study. Comprehensive exams will not convert into academic essays very easily, as the goal is very different: a journal editor rarely asks authors a question. Also, your goal in an academic essay is not to prove that you understand everything; instead it goes without saying that you know the field. You're offering something new, not proving your competence. Like literature reviews, even though comps do not generally lend themselves easily to publishable works, they are often great fodder for ideas.
As you revise a seminar paper, consider audience and tone.


Knowing your audience (or readership) is crucial for publication. Pieces written for classes are often crafted with an imaginary (or real) reader in mind who is going to grade you, who has authority over you and is not (necessarily) your peer. Academic article writers are all on the same playing field. Your audience is the rest of the field, and therefore, you are on equal footing with everybody. This means that you have as much authority over the ideas as everybody else.


Academic articles are assertive and confident. One thing that turns off editors is tentative or suggestive writing. Your publishable work will not have a lot of passive words such as: perhaps, possibly, maybe, conceivably or probably. As a learner-writer, it is common to be suggestive and unsure of oneself and knowledge (although this is something to avoid!). In academic articles, this is not desirable or acceptable. Think about it: would you be inclined to buy someone's critique of a given theory if the writing is loaded down with "maybes?" Suggestive language can imply that you're unsure of your own argument. There's no need to go overboard with overconfidence, but it is important to make sure that your revised piece is powerful and authoritative.

Another attitude to watch out for is the inclination, that everybody has now and then, to prove one knows everything. This is common when you're writing for a professor, but when writing to your scholar colleagues (you have to think of yourself that way), try to avoid a lot of unnecessary name/study/theory dropping.

Central European University's Making Decisions about Style
National-Louis University's Academic Tone Guidelines

journal formatting

Whether you're revising an essay or starting from scratch, it is crucial that you submit your work in the exact format requested by the publisher. They are sticklers for detail and would, without hesitation, turn away a good article because of seemingly small formatting errors.

All journals have guidelines for submission. If you have a hardcopy issue in front of you, the directions will be in the very front or sometimes near the back. If you are looking online (most hard copy journals have online sites to provide this kind of information), scan the website for a link saying something like "submit an article." Some periodicals will have several pages of guidelines and others will be somewhat simpler. Regardless of detail-level, always follow their directions.

Be on the lookout for the following:

  • Summary/Proposal: Some journals ask authors to submit a 1-3 page statement of intent prior to official submission. Journals that require this step usually have detailed instructions on what the proposal should include.
  • Citation/Formatting Style: While many journals ask for submission in APA style, other commonly used formats include: MLA, Chicago, and Turabian. There are many reliable sources on the web for all publication formats. Even if it takes a bit of time, be sure to follow the format perfectly. FYI: Some journals will even specify a specific edition of the style manual that they follow.
  • Word Count: You may find a word count limit (10,000 words, for example). If so, stay within the limit.
  • Submission Medium: The guidelines will indicate whether or not the editors will accept hard copy and/or electronic versions. Some will ask for both and often multiple hard copy printouts.
  • Author information: Most journals ask for an information sheet; the guidelines will tell you what they need, from your address to a brief bio.