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Writing for an academic Journal


JournalsDo you want to write an article for an academic journal? Don’t know how to get started? Graham Hall, editor of ELT Journal, offers some advice.

What’s your view of ‘theory’ and ‘research’ in English language teaching? Have you ever heard another teacher say ‘that’s fine in theory, but it’s just not relevant to me’, or even ‘I’m too busy actually teaching to look at research’ (maybe you think this yourself)? Well, in some ways, your colleagues might have a point – teachers are busy and research can seem very remote from what happens in our classrooms.

But, in the end, everything we do as teachers is informed by some kind of theory – whether the ideas of researchers in our field investigating how languages might be learned, or the methodological approaches embedded in our textbooks, or our own personal theories about what constitutes a ‘good’ classroom activity, or why learners respond to certain learning tasks but not others.

And many teachers, at some point in their career, want to move beyond reflecting upon their own professional practice and ‘just’ reading the insights of others, to share their own informed insights about teaching and learning with the wider profession. One way of doing this to write for an academic journal. But how might you get started?

First, make sure you have something interesting to say! There are two elements to this, of course – that what you write about is interesting to you, and that it is also interesting to potential readers (sorry for stating the obvious). So, as you prepare and write your article, have a specific journal in mind, and study articles in that journal closely. What kind of topics are covered in the journal, what is the typical style of articles in the journal, how are authors’ own ideas balanced with background literature, what is the balance of theory/research and practice and so on? Additionally, all journals have ‘Author guidelines’ or ‘Instructions to authors’ which summarise the answers to many of these questions (usually on their websites) – try to get hold of them.

Writing an article isn’t always very straightforward. Finding the words to express yourself clearly and concisely whilst covering everything that you need to say within the word limit is often a challenge. And, the first time a teacher tries to write for an academic journal, writing in what is often a new style of language, and writing about both theory/research and practice can be a challenge – certainly, this was the case when I was preparing the first article I was fortunate enough to have published. So, don’t give up – I suspect that everyone who has published an academic journal article has struggled at some point!

Having prepared an article which you think is suitable for a particular journal, give it a final check through. Does it meet the criteria the journal lists for publication, both in terms of focus and interest, but also in terms of, for example, the word limit and language accuracy? If so, submit it.

What usually happens next is as follows. Authors receive an acknowledgement that the journal has received their paper. Editors then take an immediate decision about articles – should they be rejected immediately or should they be sent for ‘peer review’? When papers are rejected immediately, it is often because writers have not thought clearly enough about the way in which their article meets the aims and objectives of a journal, or have ignored ‘the basics’ such writing an article of an appropriate length.

Peer review means just that – articles are sent to members of an editorial panel who work in the same field and have experience of both writing for publication, usually in that journal, and reading and reflecting on journal articles. Papers are read by two reviewers, and are anonymized throughout this process – reviewers do not know who the authors of a paper are.

As they read, peer reviewers look for the following: that articles are relevant and interesting to the journal readership, and are clearly and coherently written with no flaws in their internal logic. In the case of ELT Journal, reviewers specifically look for an appropriate balance between theory and practice, and that practice relates to theoretical principles whilst theoretical concepts are clarified by reference to their practical applications. Accounts of specific contexts should have clear implications for other contexts whilst there also needs to be an awareness of recent / other work in the field. Most journals have similar criteria, dependent on their aims and readership.

The reviews are returned to the editor who then considers the feedback and prepares a follow-up response to the original author. This usually takes the form of one of four possible decisions – a paper might be Rejected; substantial Revisions might be requested prior to resubmission and further peer review; the paper might be Conditional Accepted, dependent on a few minor changes being made by the author; or the decision may be a straightforward Acceptance. And clearly, this all takes a little time.

So, what’s in it for you – why try to publish in an academic journal, especially if there’s a possibility that your article may be rejected after so much hard work? Well, it is a great form of professional development. Authors focus on one key issue which is important to them and learn even more about it through the process of researching and writing an article; first time authors also learn a new set of skills – researching and writing for publication. If successful, your findings and perspectives become known to the wider ELT profession which develops as a consequence. You may be able to develop your paper into a talk which you can present at a conference. Readers may get in touch to find out more about your ideas.

So, is writing for an academic journal worth the hard work required? Definitely, but you will have a huge sense of satisfaction when you see your article in print.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

12 thoughts on “Writing for an academic Journal

  1. I would say what the author mentions is very true, especially in terms of enhancing teacher “practical” knowledge, not to mention they may also pick up a new sets of research skills which are beneficial for their continuous professional development.

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  5. Hi Graham !
    Great article, thank you.
    I could relate to it, and this is my favourite bit:
    “… many teachers, at some point in their career, want to move beyond reflecting upon their own professional practice and ‘just’ reading the insights of others, to share their own informed insights about teaching and learning with the wider profession”
    I myself have started sharing my own insights and research via my blog. Below the article I had published in the OUP Blog, http://oupeltglobalblog.com/2012/12/18/qr-codes-using-mobiles-in-the-efl-classroom/
    might I also add that I’m very proud and encouraged by the development opportunity given to many other teachers like myself, from all over the world by the OUP Blog team.
    Thank you all again.

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  9. I’m puzzled by the “but” in the final sentence!

  10. Thank you Graham,
    It was a great article. I liked it and could also relate myself to it; however I am not sure if it is a real need in the world of ELT. I was in TESOL convention 2016 in Baltimore but honestly speaking could not find anything new 🙁

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