ECH Publishing: Submitting to a Journal

15 October 2015

What makes a good journal article? First, it must stand on its own. It may be a version of a chapter of a PhD dissertation, but it has to be self-contained. Second, it ought to have a strong and distinctive argument. The standard way to demonstrate this is by reference to the historiography – but it’s not enough (or even, really, at all persuasive) to say that your subject has been ‘neglected’ by the historiography. Some subjects are neglected for a good reason – they’re not interesting or important. You need to show how the historiography will look different by including your paper – what arguments are called into question, what new light is cast on bigger subjects, what new subjects are being developed that command attention. Sometimes people publish articles that give the overarching argument of a PhD thesis; sometimes they pick the richest or most provocative argument (perhaps from a single chapter). Third, you ought to be able to provide convincing evidence in support of your arguments. This isn’t easy within the scope of an article – which ought probably to be 8-10,000 words; it’s a real skill to learn how to select evidence that will fit within these limits and still carry conviction. How do you decide which journal to submit to? (You must only submit the same paper to one at a time.) The best course is to ask yourself which journals have published papers in your field that you have admired, or papers with which you have disagreed and would like to engage. Go for the highest-quality journal that fits this description – the one that publishes the work you consider to be the best in your field. If your work is accepted by that journal, people like you will also recognise it as standing with the best in your field. If you don’t succeed with the first submission, try the next journal down the pecking-order. This is likely to be a more specialised journal. Before you submit your paper, check your chosen journal’s website for their advice to contributors – how to format a submission, how to send it in. It’s polite to format the paper to suit the journal’s house-style; if they have an unusual style, very different from other journals, you can format it in a generic style so that you don’t have to keep re-formatting every time you submit to a new journal. For more details on what happens after your paper has been accepted, see publishing in a journal.