How to get your first research paper published

Ian McNay advises new researchers on how to get their work accepted by academic journals. Plus the latest higher education appointments

September 4, 2014

Source: Alamy

Piling up: pressure to publish rises

The daunting challenge of getting that first academic paper published weighs on new researchers like an albatross around the neck, especially given the “publish or perish” environment.

“There’s pressure to have that [academic] record,” said Ian McNay, emeritus professor of higher education and management at the University of Greenwich. “In modern universities, there are a number of vice-chancellors who want [their institutions] to become pale imitations of Russell Group universities. And so research and publication is what their academics have to do.”

Among his tips for getting published, Professor McNay – who ran a Society for Research into Higher Education workshop on the topic earlier in the summer – said a major challenge was “finding the time and getting the funding” to do research.

“An awful lot” of academics are in a situation where “timetables simply don’t allow them time to get a good plan and a project, do the fieldwork and have reflective time to write,” he said. “You need to prepare the ground. Go to the conferences, even if you’re not presenting. The alternative [to presenting] is to get in touch with editors, [who are] always looking for book reviewers and reviewers of articles.

“If you’re willing to do that, you can get known to a couple of editors. Then, if your name is on an article that is submitted, you are likely to get read thoroughly.”

Of the many reasons why papers get rejected, he said a common one was “you sent it to the wrong journal”. “Find one that fits,” he advised.

Moreover, if you are adapting a PhD thesis for publication, he added, readers will be less interested in your background material, literature search and methodology. “They want to know basic details to establish the validity and viability of your method,” he explained.

And to attract interest, you have to “get your abstract right”, he said. “Most abstracts – and I edited research for 17 years – are bad. Go for originality, but don’t over-claim. You’ve got 300 words to sell this so that people want to find out more.”

However, he urged researchers to not be timid with journal editors. “When people make recommendations [about your paper], respond to them, be polite, but don’t necessarily accept them,” he said. “If you’ve done a PhD, you’re the expert. You can be assertive in saying: ‘I can see where you’re coming from, but…’ That establishes your credibility as someone who is able to engage in debate at that level.”

If you do get rejected, he said, “be disappointed but don’t be downcast”. He believes that a 25 per cent acceptance rate is typical. “Get a good mentor and possibly go for joint-authorship in the first place,” he suggested as a way to counter disappointment.


A University of St Andrews theology scholar has received a major honour. Nicholas Thomas Wright, research professor of New Testament and early Christianity studies, has been awarded the Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies by the British Academy.

Mandy Bentham has been appointed director for learning and teaching at the University of East London. Dr Bentham is currently director of academic development at Soas, University of London.

Durham University’s business school has appointed Julie Hodges as its new MBA programme director. Dr Hodges will assume strategic responsibility for the full-time, executive and global MBAs as well as operational responsibility for the full-time programme.

John Minten has been made dean and pro vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University’s Carnegie Faculty, which encompasses the schools of sport, education and childhood, and events, tourism and hospitality.

Paul Harris has been appointed dean of the University of Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. Prior to taking up this role, Professor Harris was head of Robert Gordon University’s Gray’s School of Art.

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