Most often, peer-reviewed scholarship takes the form of journal publications, but it can also take the form of books. This article will show you how to write well in this domain.
Why write for scholarly journals?
First, we should address the reasons for writing for peer-reviewed journals. Is it worth your time and energy?
The most obvious reason for publishing scholarship is if you have — or are seeking — an academic career. However, it may be worthwhile even if you are not. As someone who has published scholarly and non-scholarly works, I can attest that the level of feedback one gets from peer reviewers is almost always more detailed and engaged than I receive in other domains.
A good peer-review often runs into the thousands of words, and the reviewer applies the same level of care and attention to the work being reviewed as if the ideas and arguments were their own. Usually, peer-reviewers are experts in their field, and the critique they offer you is a labour of love: their love for their subject. So if you are looking for a serious, free, and engaged critique of your work, often the best way to get that is by submitting it to a scholarly journal.
Many scholarly journals focused on literature and culture, such as Wasafiri, Frontiers, and Feminist Studies, accept fiction and poetry submissions. When these works undergo peer-review, the feedback is often more helpful than the typical generic response from a literary magazines.
In brief, the editors and reviewers of peer-review journals typically approach their task differently than do editors of literary and commercial magazines. They feel obligated to offer those whose work is rejected a detailed account of why their work has been rejected. Rarely will they publish anything with seriously engaging with, and helping to improve, its argument.
A second reason why publishing in scholarly journals may be relevant for non-scholars is that it can be a useful way of gaining credibility as an expert in your writing niche. Publishing in scholarly journals is not typically directly compensated, but it can a huge help when applying for funding from NGOs and other organizations. These include the Independent Social Research Foundation’s Independent Scholar Fellowships and the National Coalition of Independent Scholars.
Before you submit
- Enjoy the first draft. Complete a first draft. Let yourself enjoy the process and don’t worry about anything else. The overall length should be between 6,000–9,000 words. If it is on the shorter side of this, that will make the rest of the process easier, since you will doubtlessly be adding more during the editing process.
- Leave months for revisions. Set the first draft aside for at least a month before you review it again. During this time, you can reflect on what you have written, but don’t read it again just yet. Instead, read work by others on the topic, with a few to citing them in your revision stage.
- Cite with care. As with any form of writing, who you cite is a reflection of who you are. You can find out about the latest scholarship on a topic by plugging relevant keywords into Google Scholar, JSTOR, and Project Muse. The advantage of using these sites is that their indices focus on articles that have undergone peer review. Mentioning those articles in your work will enhance your credibility. Keep in mind that one of the authors of those works may well be your reviewer, so be kind.
- Share it with others. The more you read the work of your friends and colleagues the more likely they will be to reciprocate by reading your work and offering useful feedback. At least one of these readers should have some knowledge of the field, and the other should preferably be an outsider.
- Be patient. Peer-review can take a year or longer. Usually the wait is worth it. So as you soon as you submit, do you best to forget about it and start working on something else.
- Craft your abstract with care. All submissions to scholarly journals are accompanied by an abstract. Craft it with as much care as you would a pitch for a non-scholarly publication. This is the first thing that readers will see, and it will help them decide whether to read your article.
Scholarly writing is not for everyone. But if it’s something you want to try, the above tips will help you during your journey towards scholarly publication.