One of the responsibilities that we have as the editorial team for POLITICS is updating the popular Political Studies Association's 'Publishing in Politics Guide'. We're in the process of doing this now with the hope of having a new guide in place for the late-spring/early summer. Below is some of the text that I have written in relation to publishing journal articles and the importance of adhering to the conventions of the genre.
The Journal Research Article as Genre
Politics and international studies are broad fields defined as much by their theoretical, methodological, and empirical diversity as any specific topic area or approach to research. But do not let the relative pluralism of these fields contribute to a sense that research articles themselves are an open frontier where 'anything goes'.
From the very start of your publishing career, it is important to remember that academic research articles are a genre of writing. Like any other genre, there are conventions that must be adhered to for your work to be formally recognised as a research article by your peers. Failure to gain this recognition will inevitably result in rejections, whether by editors or peer reviewers who all expect a research article to adhere to the rules of the genre.
Thus, from the outset, one must remember that a research article is not a thesis chapter. A research article is not a research proposal. A research article is not a term paper. A research article is not a literature review. And a research article is not a blog post.
The core conventions that define the genre of the research article can be reduced to the following core elements:
- It must have original research content as established by the norms of your field or sub-discipline;
- It must be a stand-alone output that is not dependent on one reading your thesis or other research articles you have written for exposure to core aspects of the argument;
- There must be a clear research problem that is situated within the relevant academic literature ;
- A single line of argument should be articulated and defended or a single set of hypotheses should be presented and tested;
- An account of how the research was undertaken in accordance with the norms of your (sub)field or methodological approach must be provided;
- A clear sense of the original contribution that the article makes to the literature in the sub-field and/or field must be expressed;
- A clear sense of the significance of the findings in relation to the existing literature must be articulated;
- Presentation must be according to the house style of the journal including total compliance with word count limitations.
Why is adherence to these conventions important? In many cases, submissions that fall outside the recognised genre of a research paper are immediately desk rejected by journal editors. A desk rejection indicates that after being initially read by the editorial team, a decision was made that the submission should not be sent out for review. In other words, in the judgement of the editors, the submission falls short of minimum standards.
It is important to understand that editors are not necessarily experts in your particular subject area. In the absence of any other signals of quality, if one cannot clearly express to them the rigour, originality, and importance of the research that you have undertaken, they are likely to assume that your work is unimportant, uninteresting, derivative, and therefore not worth burdening colleagues with the time-consuming task of reviewing it.
Similarly, the inability to follow formatting instructions at the initial stage submission does not send a strong signal that the author is serious about publishing in the journal.
Beyond the initial round of vetting by the editorial team, submissions that fail to adhere to more than one of these conventions tend to be rejected during the peer review process. Reviewers, even if leading experts in the field, are still sensitive to the genre conventions of how a research article should be structured, what information it needs to convey, and how it should do so. These are baseline expectations that help to establish the minimum standards for publishable material.
No matter how brilliant the theoretical framework, research method, or findings, work that breaks with these conventions is going to have a hard time surviving the peer review process. While your research may produce results that challenge orthodox understandings or conventional wisdom, it should not present the reader with challenges in terms of determining the research problem being addressed, the central argument or hypotheses, how the research was undertaken, or the contribution and significance of the findings.
I suspect that this advice may grate for some who believe that conventions ought to be challenged rather than promoted. While a conversation about what the genre conventions for journal articles ought to look like is worth having, this is the best advice I can offer based on my editorial experience.
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley