Dear ASA Family Section
This post is part of a new series from the Mentoring & Inclusion Committee called Dear ASA Family Section. It's a Dear Abby style Q+A where more advanced family sociologists answer questions from members.
Q: When do you know an article is "ready" to submit? I know it will never be perfect, so I’m wondering how you decide when to submit.
A: This is a tough (and good) question that I still grapple with – and I imagine I will for the rest of my publishing career! I’ve seen numerous approaches to knowing when a paper is “ripe” for submission for peer review; mine is just one perspective. I also want to caveat my reply with the note that my work to date has exclusively drawn on quantitative methods, which shapes what a manuscript “should” look like, as well as how the writing process unfolds. With all that said, for me, I think an article feels ready to submit when I personally feel that I’ve done the following:
(1) Effectively answered the question(s) I put forward (and made that answer clear);
(2) Made a clear argument as to why this question needed to be asked (the front end/motivation/argument is clear, supported, and connects to and acknowledges its building blocks, i.e., key concepts and findings that were previously established or introduced); and
(3) Provided empirical support to indicate that my answer to the question I’ve posed is a halfway decent one, by following empirical breadcrumbs to alternative explanations or challenges to my answer/approach.
Now, the review process is ideally going to help me do all of these things even more effectively, but I don’t generally think of the review process as a way to “workshop” a paper. I would also argue that we have to at least have convinced ourselves that we’ve done the above and believe ourselves that the paper has something important to get out there before we ask peer reviewers to consider the manuscript.
Part of that self-convincing should involve workshopping and getting feedback from colleagues, friends, and advisors. I tend to struggle quite a bit with getting feedback on my work pre-submission, so my current rough requirement for myself has been at the very least (a) one workshop (conference, working group, etc.) and (b) one advisor/mentor/peer’s read-through/feedback on a very advanced draft prior to submission.
I also want to acknowledge the realities of the job market and tenure and timing. These put constraints and deadlines on an intellectual process that is generally non-linear and rife with complications and unexpected challenges. These considerations vary by subfield and journal, and people are facing different professional and personal needs. However, I’d encourage people not to shy away from acknowledging and considering the practical aspects of timing (with a personal mentor!) alongside the points I’ve suggested above.
Joan Maya Mazelis
A: It’s great you know that there isn’t a time when it’s perfect – neither the timing nor the article will ever be perfect, as perfection doesn’t exist!
Too often scholars (I think particularly junior scholars still learning to trust themselves and their analyses, but sometimes more senior scholars as well) postpone sending an article out much longer than they need to. I once heard that the main difference between people who publish a lot and people who don’t is that people who publish a lot submit a lot. And sometimes that’s submitting the same thing a lot. It can never get published if it only lives in your own computer.
Remember, rejection is the most common outcome for submitted articles! But those rejections can and do often come with meaningful reviews full of helpful and constructive advice (even if there is sometimes less-constructive advice or harsh criticism as well). So sometimes having other scholars in your field review your piece can help you move it forward in the process. I also got better at sending things out for review sooner when I began to review for journals more; I read many manuscripts that seemed less polished than I had assumed my own manuscripts had to be before sending them out.
It’s also good to send things out to overcome the anxiety some of us feel at letting others read our work: the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more sending it out for initial review begins to feel like just one step in the process. When we sit on a piece for a long time and keep obsessing on revising minor details before sending, we tend to think of sending it out for review as a final step, when really, it’s somewhere in the middle: research, analysis, writing, revising, sending out for review, revising, sending out for review again, revising again, etc.
If you know your article isn’t “done” in that, for example, you haven’t completed your analysis, finished writing your methods section, or written a compelling conclusion, then it’s obviously not ready. If you aren’t sure where to send it or haven’t formatted your citations the way the journal you’ve chosen requires, you’re not ready. But if you’ve chosen the journal and correctly formatted your citations, you’ve included all the pieces you intend, you’ve read it through for flow and grammar and errors, and – if you’re lucky – also had a friend, colleague, editor, or writing group pal read it through for you, you’re ready to send it out. When you do send it out, think about the next journal you might want to submit to if it gets rejected. If you’re already prepared with that information, it will be much easier to send the paper elsewhere if you need to.
Leave a Reply.