Writing to learn: tips for a successful academic publication

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If you are interested in research and want to start the adventure of sharing your knowledge and experiences, learn some recommendations to write a successful scientific or academic paper.

By Sandra Gudiño Paredes


As teachers, we feel we have done a good job if the strategies we implemented in class help to accomplish our students’ learning outcomes and enrich our educational practice. However, in our role as professors, an equally important duty is to communicate knowledge to our colleagues. The educational innovations and strategies that we apply in class and the projects we execute should be known and, ideally, replicated by other teachers, not only at our own university or school, but also at other educational institutions in Mexico and abroad.  In this article I will be sharing the main components of a scientific/academic article and some tips to assure the success of your publications.

The objective of anyone who writes an article is for it to be published, but it is important to understand that publishing in a popular magazine is not the same as publishing in a journal or peer-reviewed journal. Popular magazines usually have an editorial board or editor-in-chief who is ultimately responsible for accepting or rejecting an article depending on the subject matter, the writing, the objective of the magazine and other factors. These publications accept articles with a less academic language and usually illustrate them with colorful images. I think it is an excellent platform for those who are starting out on the adventure of sharing and publishing their knowledge.

Sharing our knowledge with other colleagues in order to improve education is a transcendental and valuable function that all teachers should encourage.

Journals or peer-reviewed journals receive articles from researchers who are experts in or familiar with a specific topic and target only that audience. These papers, after an initial examination of the format, are subject to a blind peer review process, i.e., your article is assigned to two different expert reviewers, eliminating the information that could identify the author to avoid a biased opinion, thus guaranteeing that our work has been rigorously reviewed. Each reviewer issues his/her opinion separately and sends it to the journal. If the opinions do not coincide, the paper is sent to a third reviewer, who will define its fate.


The possible answers are:

  • Accepted. Congratulations!

  • Accepted with modifications: this is excellent news. It means that you just need to complete the modifications requested and resubmit as soon as possible.

  • Rejected: having your article rejected is par for the course for every researcher who writes, so teachers should not feel discouraged, but, on the contrary, view this as feedback to improve the article and then move forward.

How do you choose a journal to publish your research? First of all, determine the subject matter of the article, since peer-reviewed journals are divided into specific topics and are also classified according to their "impact factor". This indicator reflects the frequency with which the journal’s articles have been cited based on the published articles and range from Quartile 4 (Q4) for those with a lower citation index to Quartile 1 (Q1) for those with a high impact factor.

One of the most important sources for choosing where to publish is the "Journal Citation Report" (JCR), which is an indicator of the quality of peer-reviewed publications, and is also the most highly valued by organizations or universities that measure their research activity. It allows us to locate the journals with the highest impact in any field. However, the best journal for publishing an article will depend on each teacher’s level of experience. My recommendation is to start with the journals in JCR that have a Q4 impact factor, following the policies and rules for authors of the selected journal and summoning all your patience while waiting for the results.

The educational innovations that we make in class should be known and ideally replicated by other teachers in our own university or school, but also in other educational institutions and abroad.

Aspects such as the number of words or pages, citation style, structure of the article, etc. must not be neglected, since these seemingly simple factors are often the reason why an article is rejected.

 

Process for writing a scientific/academic paper:

Preliminary activities:

  • Define what it is you want to communicate or publish. This implies having completed a research undertaking with a specific methodology: quantitative, qualitative or mixed, and having documented your findings.

  • Know the components of a scientific/academic article. These articles require a clear structure in which the author’s arguments are accompanied by references in the field of knowledge, offer a concise review of the method used, and solidly support findings with referenced literature. The main parts of a scientific paper are:

    • Introduction: an overview of your article and of the context with which your research question is related.

    • Methodology: this section describes the research method used and the procedures that led to the study’s findings.

    • Results: this section describes the findings in detail, providing specific contributions or comments.

    • Discussion: this section describes the implication of the findings obtained and their impact on the field of knowledge.

  • Choose the scientific journal in which you will be publishing using these criteria:

    • Is it a peer-reviewed journal?

    • Who reads this journal?

    • Does the journal have an international audience?

    • Who is the editor-in-chief of the journal and who sits on its editorial board?

    • What is the journal’s impact factor?

    • Is the journal in print or electronic format and/or both?

    • What is the process for submitting an article for review in this journal?

When writing your article:

  • Use up-to-date references. Nobody wants to read an article whose last reference is from two years ago.

  • Find a mentor who has published in high-impact journals to read your article.

  • In the results section, do not just use tables and numbers, but also explain the findings.

  • Check the writing style of articles published in the journal you have selected. Using clear language will undoubtedly always help.

  • Publish in English. If you want your publication to reach a wider audience, publish in English, since this is the most commonly used academic language.

  • Write every day, for at least two hours a day.


After the verdict:

  • Turn a “rejected” paper into an “accepted” one, taking advantage of the feedback you received.

  • Share your article with the scientific community from your area, through social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or ResearchGate. Remember that after publishing your paper, the most important thing is for readers to cite it and, to achieve this, you have to publicize it.

  • You can turn your article into a conference paper and present it at an international congress.

As can be seen, writing a scientific article is not as difficult as it seems. If you are interested in research and sharing the innovations you incorporate into your educational practice, I would like to invite you to explore this process. The only way to be published is to write.


About the author
Sandra Gudiño (sandra.gudino@itesm.mx) holds a Ph.D. in Educational Innovation from the School of Humanities and Education of Tecnológico de Monterrey. Her research areas include: educational innovation, moral development and comparative education. She is currently the Director of the Master’s in Education program at this institution.