Earlier this year I was asked to take over our AIIAS Seminary journal, The Journal of Asia Adventist Seminary. It is an academic journal that comes out twice a year with articles on a wide variety of topics: pretty much anything taught at our Seminary is fair game (here are some additional details).
Perhaps the most interesting part of editing an academic journal is the peer-review process. Like most journals we practice “blind” review, in other words we do our best to not reveal who the author is to the reviewer, and similarly, we try to keep the reviewers anonymous from the author, too. The goal is to make sure that the acceptance of an article is based upon the merit of the actual piece without any undo prejudice. As the editor, I typically consult with my associate editor and my dean in helping to select experts in the field who are knowledgeable enough to give candid feedback. The result is not always encouraging. In my first batch of articles that I sent out for review, two thirds were rejected.
The question I often get is: do you have any tips to help give my article the best chance to make it through the peer-review process? Here are a few practical pointers:
- Check style requirements. The easiest way to do this is to obtain a previous issue of the particular journal you are writing for (for JAAS you can find issues online here). It is not sufficient to send a copy of a term paper. The article needs to make a unique contribution to the topic using primary source material. Make sure you adapt your research to fulfill the requirements of the journal.
- Have a clear point with evidence that supports your thesis. While this may seem obvious, many times academic articles are considered “weak” because they are based upon conjecture. Avoid making generalizations that can easily be shot down. If your article challenges an established point of view, make sure you have adequately examined all of the evidence both for and against your position.
- Have credible research in footnotes/endnotes. Some articles are rejected, even though the content is good, simply because the author does not cite the latest research. It is not enough to check a series of books published 20 or more years ago. Where is current scholarship on the topic? Make sure to survey recent articles with academic databases to find the latest peer-reviewed articles. Avoid citing websites such as Wikipedia, they show a lack of ability to discern what the term “authoritative reference” means.
- Wrestle with ideas. In all probability, someone has wrestled with the topic before. One of the worst reasons for rejection is “inadequate scholarship” which implies that the person has not really wrestled with how other people have dealt with the topic. A quality research article is not merely a summary of the topic, it should make a significant contribution to scholarship. One way to do that is to make sure that whatever thesis you espouse is engaged with others who have published on the topic. When peer-reviewers flag articles because they miss major works published on the topic, this tends to show a pattern that the person did not really do their homework. Make sure that you build on the research of those who have gone before.
- Fairly represent other viewpoints. Even if you disagree with others, it is imperative (and perhaps even more so) that you accurately and fairly represent other viewpoints. After all, it may be the other person who ends up peer-reviewing your article!
For those who enjoy academic writing I welcome comments or suggestions about what ideas and processes you find helpful for academic writing.