Turning your dissertation into a journal article is a great way to share your research with your fellow professionals and build your reputation in the archives and records sector. It also helps to enrich our understanding of the field. So much great postgraduate work is going on but only a small proportion of it reaches the wider community.
At Archives and Records, the journal of the Archives and Records Association, we are keen to help new professionals to publish, as are other journals like Archival Science, Archivaria, Archives and Manuscripts, the Journal of Records Management and the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies. We’ve put together some tips about how to go about it.
- Discuss your ideas with your dissertation supervisor. They can give you preliminary guidance. They should at least be acknowledged (with their permission), but their input may qualify them to be named as a second author.
- Choose the journal to find the best match for your article. The scope of the journal should be clearly stated on its website. Does your article fall within its remit? Will your article reach your intended audience through that journal? Check for calls for papers for special themed issues published on mailing lists or journal websites – but do not shoehorn your article into a theme that does not really match. Also look at predicted turn-around times for publication – is your content time-specific?
- Check the author guidelines for the journal. Word limits, formatting, and referencing styles vary. Many journals in our field have an 8000-word limit, so you may need to edit your dissertation significantly to fit.
- Contact the editors. Get in touch to propose your idea. At Archives and Records we now have a ‘buddy’ scheme where recent MA graduates can be matched with a member of our Editorial Board to guide you through developing and editing your article. (Then your ‘buddy’ should also be acknowledged or named as a second author.)
- Isolate the central argument of your article. What is the most important thing you are saying? What is your contribution to the field? Everything else will fall into place around the argument.
- Evidence your argument with your findings. Read it back with a critical eye and ask if you would be convinced by the evidence presented.
- Structure your writing. A typical journal article structure mirrors the structure of a dissertation: introduction, literature review, methodology, findings, discussion, and conclusion. It is not the only way to write an article, but if you choose a different approach you will need to be confident that your argument still flows logically. The reader should always know where you are going, and how each paragraph contributes to your central argument.
- Keep your language simple. Big words and long sentences do not impress. Try this test: can you read each sentence aloud without taking a breath part-way through?
- Consider your audience. What level of knowledge are you assuming? It is ok to target your article to a record-keeping audience and assume they will know what you mean by ‘fonds’, for example. But will an international reader know what you mean by ‘ARA’ or ‘TNA’?
- Identify sections to trim. As we mentioned, the article will be shorter than your dissertation. Generally the literature review can be shortened. You do not need to prove that you have read everything on the topic and evaluate each work; instead you can use it to set the context for your argument and signpost readers to further reading. The conclusion can also be a space where you highlight areas you did not have room to discuss, or ideas that could be further explored with future research. This signals to the reviewers that you have thought about these gaps, but justifies why they were not covered in your article.
- Think carefully about your abstract. It needs to be an accurate and enticing summary of your article. Many people will only use the abstract to decide whether or not to read further.
- Consider illustrations, tables, and images. They can be useful, especially to present statistics, but do not choose ‘pretty pictures’ just to add interest to an article. Ask what the figure, table, or picture adds to the article, that cannot be conveyed in words.
- Read and read again. Ideally ask a friend to read over the article – a fresh pair of eyes can spot typos and inconsistencies. They can also tell you if they found the argument convincing, or highlight sections that require further explanation.
- Be prepared to revise your article after peer review. Your article will be peer reviewed by two people who are experts on your topic, who will send detailed recommendations for how to improve it. The process is anonymous – they won’t know who you are, and you won’t know who they are. The review process can involve a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, between author, peer reviewers, and editor, making changes and adjustments. You are entitled to ask for clarification on the feedback, if it isn’t clear. Receiving critical feedback can also be an emotional experience. But you will get there. Remember that the editors would not invest their own time in the article if they did not see promise in it.
- Persevere. From initial submission to publication online will take 6-12 months due to peer review, revision, and editorial processes. This considered approach ensures the best quality scholarship, which in turn helps the profession develop and maintain high standards.
For further information and contact details about Archives and Records: https://www.archives.org.uk/publications/archives-and-records-ara-journal.html
For guidelines about submitting an article to Archives and Records: https://www.tandfonline.com/action/authorSubmission?show=instructions&journalCode=cjsa21
Helen Hockx-Yu, Victoria Hoyle and Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, Editors, Archives and Records