Writing for Professional Journals: Paradoxes and Promises

By Henson, Kenneth T. | Phi Delta Kappan, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Writing for Professional Journals: Paradoxes and Promises


Henson, Kenneth T., Phi Delta Kappan


By following the suggestions that Mr. Henson provides here, you can become a proficient practitioner of the craft of getting published.

The more you hone your skills in this craft, the more success you will experience, and the more you will enjoy this part of your profession.

WRITING for publication presents a number of paradoxes and contradictions. To minimize the jealousy that can arise among colleagues who are not publishing, professors who publish successfully sometimes find themselves hiding the fact that they have gone public with their work. Many others who try and are rejected feel compelled to hide their failure, and many who don't even try feel a need to conceal their negligence by criticizing colleagues who succeed.

Once you've made a decision to write for publication, the contradictions and uncertainties continue. Should you write for research journals, theoretical journals, or practical journals? Indeed, should you write for journals at all? Why not book chapters, yearbook chapters, or monographs? How about papers to appear in the proceedings of professional meetings? Should you write alone or in collaboration with colleagues? If the latter, how should you select those collaborators?

These uncertainties may be frustrating, but they shouldn't discourage you from writing for publication because, once the secrets are unlocked and the questions answered, writing for publication can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding activities available to educators. Each year, I receive several requests to visit college campuses and help faculties unlock the mysteries of writing for publication. To prepare for this challenge, I send a biennial survey to about 50 prominent national education journals. The results of my latest survey, conducted in the winter of 2001, are shown in Table 1.

Identify Some Goals

I always advise participants in my workshops to begin by identifying some career goals. They can then use their writing as a way to help achieve these goals. Some participants have a single paramount goal, such as achieving tenure. Others are pursuing merit pay or promotion and know that getting published will be necessary for reaching those goals. Still others aim to increase their marketability. For example, an aspiring writer who attended a workshop in Bloomington, Indiana, had one purpose: to enable herself to move from her current position in a community college into a university-level position.

Some who wish to publish professionally simply wish to share their ideas or the results of their research with others, including their own students. Some even write because they know that writing for publication is an effective way to clear the cobwebs and get a better understanding of a discipline. Whatever the reasons, I encourage everyone to write down one or two long-term goals and one or two immediate goals and set deadlines for reaching them.

A Game of Chance?

Writing for publication becomes easier when writers view it not as a program designed to satisfy an employer but as one designed to meet their own individual goals. No longer is their writing an occasional one-shot, hit-or-miss attempt to get an isolated manuscript into print. Instead, it becomes part of a carefully crafted, ongoing program in which everything is done with purpose. By designing their own programs and learning the expectations of editors, those who would be published gain greater control over the fate of their manuscripts and of their careers. Everything in my writing workshops and books is designed to increase the probability of acceptance of the manuscripts of those who attend. So is each of the following tips and promises.

Select Two or Three Journals

With your goals and personal deadlines in hand, you are ready to target two or three journals that will be valued by those who hold the keys to meeting your goals. These "key holders" may be colleagues in your own department, or they may be colleagues throughout your campus who make decisions regarding promotions, merit pay, and tenure. …

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