Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers July 2006
vol. 2, no. 7
Oddly, researchers rarely study researchers. So I was delighted when I discovered Anne C. Weller's literature review titled Editorial Peer Review: Its Strengths and Weaknesses (2001, Information Today). She does an amazing job of collating and analyzing the various studies on what gets rejected and why. I thought you might be interested in some of what she found.
Studies conducted several decades ago on the publication experiences of those in the physical and social sciences found that one third of authors who had gotten an article rejected had abandoned not only the article but also the entire line of research on which it was based (Garvey, Lin, & Tomita 1972). That's really too bad because many published articles were first rejected by other journals.
For instance, you may remember the story I told in the first issue of Flourish about George Akerlof, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics for a thrice-rejected article (Gans and Shepherd 1994). Other studies of Nobel Prize winners found, similarly, that editors had rejected early versions of their award-winning work (Gans and Shepherd 1994; Campanario 1995). One study of famous articles found that one-tenth of them had been rejected by a journal before being published by another journal (Campanario 1996). In other words, just because editors reject your article does not mean that it is unpublishable.
Several studies suggest that at least 20 percent of published articles were first rejected by another journal (Weller 2001, 65). Of the articles rejected by prestigious journals, over half go on to be published in other journals (Weller 2001, 66). In fact, one scholar concludes that if you are doing groundbreaking research you should not send it to a prestigious journal-they will be more likely to reject it (Comroe 1976). As Weller concludes, "studies have shown that indeed, a good percentage of rejected manuscripts do become a part of the published literature" (Weller 2001, 70).
Therefore, don't get discouraged if editors reject your article--simply resubmit it elsewhere. Just know that although one study shows that about half of resubmitted rejected articles were not revised (Yankauer 1985), revising the article increased the chances of the second journal accepting it (Imon, Bakanic, and McPhail 1986). Finally, if the peer reviewers give you long, detailed recommendations for revision, you can take comfort in knowing that articles that receive long readers' reports are more likely to be cited in future (Laband 1990)!
I highly recommend an article about scholarly productivity in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
I don't care what they say: It is possible to write and teach at the same time. In fact, I have a hard time writing without teaching (sabbaticals are always disastrous interludes for me, a time when I tend to sink into depression, writing more slowly, thinking a lot less clearly). Teaching organizes my life, gives a structure to my week, puts before me certain goals: classes to conduct, books to reread, papers to grade, meetings to attend. I move from event to event, having a clear picture in my head of what I must do next. Without the academic calendar in front of me, I feel lost. . As a graduate student, I watched a few of my more prolific mentors carefully. One of them [was] an extremely productive and original scholar . I once asked him the secret of his productivity, and he said, without hesitation: "I've learned how to use the odd gaps of 20 minutes or so that occur at various points in the day."
Readers Write In
From a recent email I received from a graduate student, expressing some very common feelings:
Since starting graduate school I have tended to feel overwhelmed. I don't accomplish as much as I want, which makes me feel guilty and less capable as a student. I feel like I should know how things work by now -- I should always be on top of things, reading and writing should be a piece of cake, navigating the institution should be a breeze, and I should love every second of the process. This has not been my experience and I get mad at myself (literally mad!!) because it hasn't been. Over time, the realization that my working process, and writing specifically, has not been what I wanted for myself has served to paralyze me. I think just hearing [in a writing class the previous week] that I am not the only one struggling with writing enabled me to take a huge step forward. It was great to be in a safe space where we could express our vulnerabilities and not feel judged. It is helping me to 're-envision' graduate school as a place I do belong, even though I may struggle with my writing.
Flourish reader Lars Larson sent along many excellent quotes on writing. Here are two:
"Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." --E. L. Doctorow
"Take the time to write. You can do your life's work in half an hour a day." --Robert Hass
Flourish reader Kathleen Sheldon points to an exchange about writing in the American Historical Association newsletter. A professor writes that "Style Is Not a Luxury Option: Reflections on the Prose of the Profs" and an editor writes in recommending that more authors hire a freelance copyeditor in "Outsourcing Style".
I recently met with Christine Wilson, the coordinator of the UCLA Graduate Student Resource Center, which was founded and funded by UCLA graduate students. It is a groundbreaking effort to provide graduate students with the support that so many universities fail to provide. Among its many activities are holding workshops on such topics as grant-writing, negotiating relationships with faculty, and starting and completing a dissertation. They hold an annual orientation in the fall; this year it will be on Friday, September 22. If you are not at UCLA, and don't have such a center, you might want to think about recommending it at your university. News from the Editor I started teaching my summer writing workshop at UCLA. The first class is always exhilarating, getting graduate students together to talk about writing.
News from the Editor
I started teaching my summer writing workshop at UCLA. The first class is always exhilarating, getting graduate students together to talk about writing, in public, often for the first time. Laughter and relief are predominant feelings. Much work lies ahead, but we face it together.