Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Writing for Publication: A Controlled Art

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Writing for Publication: A Controlled Art

Article excerpt

What do editors want? With his biennial survey of the editors of various education journals, Mr. Henson takes the guesswork out of getting an article into print.

THIS article marks the 11th entry in a continuing series of biennial articles that have reported on surveys of the editors of more than 50 prominent education journals. The current survey differs from the previous 10 in that it had a 68% rate of return, compared to an average of over 90% for the others. With the previous surveys, I followed the same steps to ensure a high rate of return: keeping the questionnaire to a one-page maximum, sending a letter in advance announcing that the questionnaire would be coming, and sending a carefully constructed cover letter with the questionnaire explaining why it was important for recipients to complete and return it. The only thing I did differently this time is that I omitted a final step that I performed for the previous surveys: phoning those editors who failed to return their questionnaires.

From more than two decades' worth of survey results and from considerable experience, I've derived the following axioms that I share with readers here.

Axiom No. 1. You can learn a lot about writing and publication from a lot of sources. So never discount or neglect any opportunity to learn. Robert Louis Stevenson advised his readers to always carry a pen and paper wherever they went because good ideas can come at the least- expected times -- and they don't always return. While the surveys are my richest vein of information, some of my best insights into writing for publication come from talking to my students and the participants in my workshops.

Axiom No. 2. Successful manuscripts offer substance that the readers consider worthwhile. In my workshops, I have observed that, while the participants may enjoy my stories and jokes, they come looking for practical advice -- tips they can use when they prepare their own manuscripts. Similarly, editors are looking for articles that contribute something of significance to the field. Among editors' responses to my question about why they reject manuscripts are that an article "does not push the field," "lacks data," or fails to "substantiate claims."

Axiom No. 3. Effective writing for publication requires a box filled with tools, and the most important of these tools is the right attitude. Successful writing for publication isn't about how intelligent you are or whether or not you have the gift of a "natural writer." Actually, there is nothing natural about the act of writing. Although writing may require us to learn how to use an unfamiliar set of tools, among the thousands of participants who have attended my workshops, I have yet to find one who did not have the innate ability to succeed. The single shortcoming that appears to block most would-be writers is attitude: in particular, the absence of a positive, "I can and I will succeed" attitude.

In the middle of a workshop in Prairie View, Texas, a participant asked, "When do you take breaks?" This question stunned me, for I had never thought of taking breaks from my writing. When I write, I am already on break. Writing is my escape, my play time. I work during most of my waking hours so that I can have fun when I'm not working. To me, writing is that fun. I don't like to stop writing, because that means it's time to go back to work.

The most frequent excuse I hear for not writing is lack of time. I know that the pace of life today seems to push us to work faster and faster, but this pace is imposed on everyone, writers and nonwriters alike. The biggest difference between the two is that successful writers are better managers of their time.

But time management alone will not make someone a writer. I believe the major barrier to becoming a successful writer is fear. Unaccomplished writers fear rejection, while accomplished writers accept it as both natural and necessary. …

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