As a scholarly writer, you were probably educated at the School of Hard Knocks, but it’s not the only school or even the best. Much is known about how to become more prolific—and any scholar can. Even when you can’t work harder, there are important ways to work smarter. Other scholars can help you so let them do some of the work (Boice, 2000).
You will find that sharing your work with others before you submit it for review will streamline your writing process. This is because “others can quickly identify omissions and logical breaks that would take you weeks to figure out” (Belcher, 2009, pp. 7-8). So start a dialog with your readers. Stop imagining what your readers know; instead, find out what questions they have and answer them.
Share more drafts of your work, starting sooner, than you ever thought possible. Share progressive drafts of your work with readers with different levels of expertise: non-experts, experts, and Capital-E Experts. Ask non-experts for help first—as soon as a full manuscript is drafted. Non-experts include anyone who does not share a terminal degree in your discipline. Ask them for help with clarity and organization. Ask experts for help in the middle of your project. Experts include any scholar with a terminal degree in your discipline. Treat experts like non-experts or like Capital-E Experts depending on how well you know them and how far along your manuscript is.
Ask Capital-E Experts for help right before you send the manuscript to a journal. Capital-E Experts include the scholars you have cited the most often, the most heavily or both. Tell them how their work has informed yours. Ask questions about the intersection of your work and theirs. Request only 20 minutes of their time by instructing them to just run their eyes over your manuscript and tell you the biggest problems they see. Ask them what you should read and cite that you haven’t and where they think you should send the manuscript.
Listen carefully to these readers. Don’t be defensive and avoid saying words like “no” or “but.” Instead, try saying things that keep your reader talking such as, “Say more about that” or “How might I do that?”
Respond to each specific criticism. One reader will criticize the literature review, while another will find fault with the methods, and yet another will take umbrage with the findings. Think of each criticism as a hole in your rhetorical dam: The more holes you plug, the better your argument will hold water.
Finally, seek help from the editor of the journal in which you would most like to publish. It’s called “querying.” Send the editor an email that includes the title and abstract of the paper (attach the full manuscript). Ask the editor this question, “To what extent does this manuscript fit the direction you are trying to take the journal?” Let his or her response guide you in your decision to submit to this journal or to query another editor.
The most important thing to remember as a scholar is that you are not alone. You are part of a community of scholars and, to attain the highest quality of scholarship, you should let the community do some of the work.
Note: This article includes excerpts come from: Gray, T. (2010). Publish & flourish: Become a prolific scholar. Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico State University Teaching Academy. Available at http://www.teaching.nmsu.edu/
Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in 12 weeks: A guide to academic publishing success. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: Nihil nimus. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Tara Gray, PhD, is director of The Teaching Academy at New Mexico State University.