Turning a class paper into a publishable paper

PhD students are always encouraged to write for journals, but they might not know the best way to turn class papers into articles. PhD student Ayca Fackler offers some tips on how to do this

December 18 2019
Turning a class paper into a publishable manuscript

“You have written an excellent paper, and I think that the second section could be a published paper. We should discuss this. Grade: A+.”

I felt so happy when I received this feedback from my professor for my midterm paper. This remark was more than just a compliment on my paper; it also helped me to recognise my strengths. It was the first time I had received feedback that motivated me to write future class papers. This experience shifted my mindset about academic writing for several reasons.

First, the positive feedback boosted my self-confidence as a second-year PhD student who had tried to find her way into the competitive US publishing culture. I realised that well-developed ideas always have a home. Most PhD students tend to underestimate their ability to develop remarkable ideas and write compelling papers because a lack of confidence causes them to constantly question their capabilities (I bet many of us ask, “Am I cut out to be here?”).

Second, writing for publication is different from writing for class. I noticed that turning a class paper into a publishable paper is a valuable way to begin your publishing journey, especially during the early stages of graduate school. Getting a head start on writing a manuscript helps to teach you how to prepare for publication, how to choose a journal for submission, how to handle the review process, how to respond to a journal’s decision and so on. It is best to start early to improve your experience in scholarly writing.


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Third, I discovered a different mindset from the traditional dissertation-centric mindset. Being a doctoral student requires more than writing a dissertation during the last year of graduate school. One of the goals of pursuing a doctoral degree should be to foster one’s capability to write concisely and comprehensively to communicate ideas. Why would we wait until the last year of the doctoral programme to make our research visible? We should begin to think about how to make our way to publishing from day one of our doctoral journey.

Last but not least, being a first-generation doctoral student, I needed a mentor to support me in academia. When I engaged in converting my class paper into a manuscript, my professor became my mentor. We had several meetings and writing sessions to improve my paper. I had a chance to learn from him about how to organise my ideas and how to generate compelling arguments in my writing. This experience has been useful for writing my conference papers, proposals related to my dissertation work and other projects I have worked on.

Being a PhD student is emotionally and mentally taxing. We need motivation rather than grades. We need academic support rather than lectures. We need a sign of recognition rather than the feeling of being a second-class citizen in academia.

Here are three important tips for writing a paper that people want to read: 

Be confident

Develop your ideas thoroughly. Share them with your colleagues. Be open to discussions about how you can keep improving your writing. Keep pushing yourself to sharpen your skills and ideas. Your work might not get accepted by highly prestigious journals, but starting with a lower-tier journal is better than not having any papers published by the time you graduate.

Create your own opportunity

Leave your comfort zone to make a difference. Many class papers in graduate school mean a lengthy research paper. Do not undervalue the time you spend on a class paper. Take the opportunity to polish your paper through the feedback you receive. Utilise help from people around you as you go along.

Stick to people who help you

Find a mentor, and remember that they don’t always have to be your PhD adviser. Recognise others who help you succeed. Value senior researchers’ ideas in your field.

Read more: What is a PhD? Advice for PhD students

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