Getting Published: A guide for researchers

Getting Published: A guide for researchers

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The advent of the Performance-based Research Fund has brought additional pressures on researchers and tertiary educators to publish. For many this is a daunting task.

Using the extensive experience of a researcher and teacher educator; an editor; and a publisher, this book sets out to demystify the publishing process and make the writing-for publication task seem “doable”.

Included are many tips from some of New Zealand’s leading researchers and writers.

From: Getting Published: A guide for researchers, by Bev Webber, Paula Wagemaker, Ruth Kane

Chapter 1 Thinking about Writing and Publishing

WRITING AND, SUBSEQUENTLY, PUBLISHING do not just happen—there are several issues you need to think through first. In particular, you need to think about your purpose for writing. In addition to asking yourself why you want to write, you also need to think about and answer these questions:

  • What will I write?

  • Who will my audience be?

  • Who will I use for peer review?

  • How long will I need?

  • Who will publish my work?

  • Will it get published?

ImageCarefully planning your writing, and researching where and how you might publish it, not only maximises the time you can set aside for this activity, but also enhances the likelihood of a publisher accepting your work and of you experiencing the satisfaction that comes from this.


Writing with a view to getting your work published is a common requirement in today's environment. While this requirement is an important one, you will enjoy the process more if you have other motivations as well. Assuming that you have developed a strong field of interest and research, your work has gained recognition through favourable peer review and feedback, and most importantly, you feel passion ate enthusiasm for it, you should be able to identify several reasons why you want to write. Among these might be:

  • A burning desire to “tell the world” about your research

  • A drive to make a contribution to knowledge in your area of interest

  • A concern to make your research accessible to teachers, parents, whānau, and communities

  • A strong wish to build your academic reputation

  • The hope of influencing policy and practice

  • An interest in joining collaborative research projects

  • The need to obtain funding to further your work

  • A wish to gain recognition for your institution

  • The establishment of dialogue with other researchers.

Or it may simply be the pleasure of bringing elements of your work together in publishable form.

PLAN YOUR WRITING Decide to do it. Make a commitment to yourself that it's worth doing and that you will give the time needed for the project. Formulate a short-term and a long-term plan and do not deviate from them.

Angus Macfarlane, University of Waikato

ImageIf you can give three good reasons for wanting to write, and if you know you can make a whole-hearted commitment to it (in terms of both time and motivation), you will have taken a big step along the way to getting published.


If you're new to writing and publishing, starting small and close to home is sound advice. Publishing locally allows you to build experience and confidence, and to hone your writing to a level that is likely to see your work accepted in major journals or by highly regarded publishers. The basis of your writing is likely to be your thesis or your research work. From this material can come conference papers, journal articles, commentaries for professional or popular magazines and newspapers, books, “edited” books (i.e., books containing chapters written by different authors and selected and edited under the supervision of one or more persons), and professional development resources.

Your writing might report an empirical study (or series of studies), involve a review of published literature, develop a theory, consider a methodological issue, or draw conclusions and implications from a case study.

ImageYour planning begins with deciding what to write. At this point, think about where your work fits in regard to audience, as this will help you determine your topic and the focus you will give it.

Those of you who are new to research and tertiary teaching will probably find writing conference papers and/or journal articles the best starting point. If you've researched and taught a topic for several years or completed a doctoral thesis, then you're probably ready to synthesise your work into a book or to work with others in the same field to produce an edited book. If you're writing for a journal, your focus should be specific. From the work you've done, you'll be able to select aspects that can be adequately developed within the constraints of the specified length of a journal article. Remember that a journal article is rarely a summary of a thesis or a piece of research—it should have a smaller focus and purpose that is apparent to the reader.

ImageWhatever you write about, you need to locate your work in a wider context and demonstrate clearly how the findings add to, or advance, the knowledge and dialogue in your field.


Your writing may have more than one audience, but, in general, try to focus on one main audience. Some possibilities are:

  • Classroom teachers

  • The research community

  • Curriculum specialists

  • Education managers

  • Policy makers and strategic planners

  • Tertiary students.

Put yourself in your readers’ place by asking, “What's in it for them?” “What would they specifically like or need to know?” Jot down two or three points to keep to the fore as you write. For example, if your main intended audience is the busy class room teacher, you will probably decide to keep the language relatively simple, avoid long, complex sentences, use plenty of headings, and relate your writing clearly to classroom practice. If the research community is your main audience, you may decide to present a new perspective on an old argument, building your case carefully by drawing on key literature in the field, and the findings of your own research.



Although you might have a clear idea of the structure you want to use, keep the intended reader in mind. What will be the most useful outline for them to follow?

Joce Nuttall, Monash University

ImageHaving in mind from the outset a clear picture of who you're writing for will give direction and clarity to planning and then executing your writing. Once you've decided who your readers will be, plan your writing with these people firmly in mind.


Writing takes time. It does not happen in one burst, and you cannot always strictly timetable it. However, there are clearly defined stages, and each needs to be part of your planning. The first steps are:

  • Determining what you are going to write

  • Who your audience will be

  • How you are going to structure your writing

  • Which publisher or journal you will approach with your idea.

The next step is the actual writing. You may need to do several drafts before you are satisfied. At this point, you may feel comfortable about handing the manuscript to a colleague for comment and suggestions.

ImageAllow time for more than one draft. Redrafting your manuscript after peer review is likely to be the most time-consuming stage, so be prepared to work your text over several times if necessary.

Even when you're pleased with your draft, you need to complete another stage before you'll have your text ready to submit to your publisher. This stage, called “crafting”, involves shaping your work to a publishable standard for your audience and for the type of publication you are submitting it to. Here, you can look at:

  • Overall structure

  • Devices you have used to hook and hold the reader's attention

  • Coherence of the overall “story”

  • Links between the different sections and/or chapters.

To complete this stage successfully, try to look at your work as a reader would. Ask yourself what key points you are trying to get across and check to see how well you have done this. There is more on crafting your manuscript in Chapters 6 and 7.


We cannot stress enough the importance of peer review. It's essential to the quality of your work that colleagues critique it before you submit it for publication. As part of your writing planning, think carefully about who might review your work. Choose someone whose work you respect and who will be rigorous in their review. You need to be able to trust your reviewer to give you honest and constructive feedback. This person preferably will know your field well and have some knowledge of the work you've done, as well as what works for the audience you have in mind. If you've developed your text from your thesis, your supervisor may be the best person to act as your critical colleague, but consider also asking other experts in your field for their feedback. Talk to your possible critical colleagues before you start to write and, if possible, involve them at an early stage. Talk about your ideas for:


  • The content

  • The focus you plan to develop

  • The kind of structure you are thinking about using

  • The most appropriate audience.

Talk through quality standards, and ask your colleagues about their publishing experiences and the quality expectations of publishers or journal editors they have worked with.

ImageObtaining quality feedback from colleagues, and acting on it, is one way of avoiding the disappointment associated with rejection of your work. Always take their feedback seriously, and make the suggested changes where warranted.


Advice from colleagues is a good starting point. Also look through journals and books in your field, or get your library to do a search for you. Find the publishers that seem to “match” your vision of your published work and examine their websites and catalogues. Check out other key writers in your field via the Internet and see where they have published their work. While at conferences, have a look at publishers’ display stands to see which areas they specialise in, and maybe even get some advice on the spot. You can also get ideas by looking at the names of the journals and publishers in the references you cite in your own work.


If you're not too sure about whether a journal is right for your paper, have a look at the members of the editorial board and email one of them, with a draft copy of your paper attached, asking if they will have a quick skim and let you know if it is the kind of work they accept, and if it is of the appropriate standard.

Joce Nuttall, Monash University

When deciding which journal to approach, check if it is refereed. A refereed journal is not only more prestigious than a non-refereed one but more likely to reach a greater number of readers. Find out how often a particular journal is cited in other publications and the extent to which the articles in the journal are used for other purposes, such as readings in tertiary courses. You can apply similar guidelines when choosing a publisher. For example, does the publisher distribute only to the domestic market, or do they sell their books overseas as well?

ImageOnce you have decided what you will write about and the format your work will take—journal article, commentary, book—find out about the publishers and journals that are active in your topic area.


Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that this will happen. There are several reasons for rejection:

  • Your topic may be outside the scope of your selected publisher or journal, may no longer be current, or other authors may have sufficiently covered it.

  • Your research design may have limitations or be insufficiently robust.

  • You may not have convinced the reviewers or editors that you followed ethical guidelines.

  • Your conclusions may not be warranted by the data you have presented.

  • You may have exceeded the length specified in the editorial guidelines.

  • You may have failed to make the amendments suggested by the publisher's or journal's reviewers.

Lessen the likelihood of rejection by considering these elements in advance. For example, when thinking about your topic and its focus, make sure that what you want to write is of current interest and not repetitive of published literature. What you write will need to provide new information or otherwise advance the debate in some way. You can also maximise your chances of being published by:

  • Consulting with colleagues about suitable journals and publishers for your work.

  • Reading through back issues of journals and consulting publishers’ catalogues or websites to get a feel for the type of work (and writing style) that has previously been accepted for publication.

  • Realising that some publishers and journals accept only solicited work—check this out before you submit your work.

  • Keeping strictly to publishers’ and journals’ guidelines for writers. Generally, and especially in the case of journals, these are non-negotiable. Never begin to write before you have consulted the guidelines. You can find this information on journal and publisher websites, and in the notes for contributors set out in journals. Do consult the most recent version of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association if the journal or publisher states that they follow APA style.

  • Finding out publishing time frames, as these may not always suit your purposes With some journals, for example, the time from when you first submit your article to the time it actually appears in print can be considerable.

  • Discussing your writing ideas with a publisher before you submit a full manuscript. Many publishers are prepared to consider book proposals and to let you know whether your idea is one they would be interested in.

  • Familiarising yourself with book or journal publishing processes. This knowledge will give you confidence as you prepare your manuscript. Keep the end point in sight.

ImageIncreasing your knowledge of what publishers and journal editors want will help you shape your manuscript to their requirements, so enhancing your chances of being published.


Sticking closely to editorial guidelines, especially word length, is essential if you want to save yourself a lot of time and grief.

Joce Nuttall, Monash University

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