Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Publishing: "Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Article"

On Friday, April 19, 2013 EGSA hosted an event focused on publishing, in which Dr.Laurence Roth, Editor of the journal ModernLanguage Studies, joined us via Skype for a talk titled, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Article,” in which Roth gave us advice, as junior scholars, on how to approach the daunting world of publishing in peer reviewed journals. Besides being the editor of MLS, Roth is Professor of English and Director of the Jewish Studies Program at Susquehanna University, where he founded the Publishing & Editing minor. He is currently co-editing a The Routledge Handbook to Contemporary Jewish Cultures with Nadia Valman, and working on a book project, Unpacking My Father's Bookstore: Collection, Commerce, Literature, for which he received a fellowship at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan for Spring 2013. 

In case you missed this wonderful event, here are the highlights of Roth's immensely helpful advice:

Before delving into the thirteen ways of looking at an article, Roth spoke briefly about the fact that as writers it is almost impossible for the pieces we set out to write to match the intentions of our writing: “Does anything ever hit the mark of what we intended to write?” he asked. This paradox is part of our profession, Roth asserted. We will always have to grapple with the mediation of our ideas and the practice of these ideas.

The following steps seem to be a methodology for making this mediation slightly simpler:

  1. An article is an idea story with a beginning, middle and end: Like a piece of fiction, an article should also have a discernible narrative arch that grips readers and clearly presents why an idea is important. It must convince readers to turn the pages.
  2. An article talks back to the literature: Although one cannot grapple with everything that has been written about our topic in one article—i.e.: Shakespeare's Othello—Roth recommends demonstrating specific engagement with a particular current within the conversation—one that is pertinent to our argument and demonstrates our deep engagement within the field.
  3. An article is about the “new” because it is your way of looking at the topic: Roth mentioned that while our articles may not be speaking about completely “new” ideas, our particular perspective and our explanation about why our ideas are important makes it new. This should come across clearly in our opening and through the article.
  4. An article knows exactly what it’s about: When writing an article, it should be clear from the outset what it is trying to argue and the methodology it will use in order to present this argument and its proof.
  5. An article wants to show, not tell: Much like a piece of fiction, our “idea story” wants to show its argument. Roth suggests getting to our evidence quickly, making sure it is well examined. The evidence is the most important part of the article, Roth stated, and suggested we avoid using other scholar's ideas when analyzing our evidence.
  6. An article reflects and does not reduce: Our arguments should anticipate the objections and responses of critics and readers (reflecting), stating clearly what the take-away of our argument is—why our idea is important.
  7. An article is not a book: Articles are narrower and more discrete—they cannot contend with all that has been said, or can be said about a subject or text. Many times, Roth advised, articles can be taken from pieces that do not fit within a larger book project; therefore we should make sure that our articles are focused and specific.
  8. An article speaks to an audience: Roth advised us to read, read, read journals in our specific field in order to know what editors and readers are looking for. Roth differentiated between journals such as American Quarterly—published with other scholars in mind, and therefore its language and focus is more “jargon” and academic—and the Yale Review—published with a wide-ranging audience in mind and therefore less "academic" in its language and direction. Our articles should fit within the guidelines and aims of the journals to which we submit. 
  9. An article speaks in a recognizable voice: Editors and readers can differentiate between authentic and inauthentic voices, and our articles are most effective and powerful when our personal voice comes through. Roth stated that even the smallest of details affects our voice. For example, for many years Roth fought against using contractions in his articles, yet finally deciding to incorporate them into his writing because it felt more authentically like himself.
  10. An article wants to be understood: Roth recommended avoiding unnecessary jargon, taking the opportunity to translate theory taken from others—how you interpret this theory and are going to use it in the article—and when accepted into a journal, working alongside an editor and being open to editing suggestions.
  11. An article takes time: To write a successful article that will be accepted to a prestigious peer-reviewed journal takes time (Roth gave a 1½ year - 5 year timeline). This is a process that cannot be rushed, and seeing as one can write a book in about the same amount of time (toward the longer end of Roth's timeline), one has to decide where one wants to invest one's time—i.e.: Do you want to write a book instead?
  12. An article is not timeless: An article is not going to be perfect and must be sent out for peer-review at some point. Let it go!
  13. An article is not the final word: An article is part of a transient and fast moving conversation (vs. a book), and while it should be treated with seriousness and respect, do not get overwhelmed with making an article a perfect, timeless piece.

Finally, during the Q&A, Roth also suggested that if an article is rejected do not be afraid to revise and resubmit. However, make sure that the revision is drastic and demonstrates to editors of the journal that you are able to re-write and take suggestions seriously. Do not be afraid to write editors for advice on how to revise your article, asking specific questions about what it is they exactly want in a revision. Another good piece of advice was to research who the editors and board members of journals are, seeking them out at conferences. Network with editors and board members, mentioning what you are working on, can be an effective tool for getting published. Roth also mentioned the emerging market of online publications, such as ImageText, but did question their efficacy and whether these were good venues for junior scholars.

As a junior scholar, I found this event to be extremely helpful, putting the world of publishing in perspective. The break-down of how to go about writing and revising an article—thirteen things to keep in mind when writing and sending out an article—has helped me put my writing in perspective, and hope this summary is helpful for you. Now, go write! 

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