Tips on Writing for an Academic Journal
If you ever had to put together a literature review, then you probably got burnt out on reading the same type of journal article over and over again. If you are interested in the subject matter at hand, a few in one sitting can be okay, but after ten or twelve articles in one day they all begin to sound verbose and pedantic. Academic articles are created for a reason, primarily to inform the reader about research. However, poor readability can detract from the connection you make with the reader, especially if they are not that academically-orientated themselves. Let’s not forget that almost all articles are stories in some fashion. A journal article can be viewed as a non-fictional story about the journey, conclusion, and contribution our research has made. In that regard it can be either a boring story, or a great story. Learning about the craft of storytelling will help any writer… be it fiction, non-fiction, or academic build that bridge with the reader that is a crucial component in getting your message across to them.
There are many strategies you can take to make your article more readable. Here are a just a few:
- Find Your Voice
Written works are easier to read when the voice and tone of the article are consistent. This is especially important if you have multiple authors. Make sure that the entire document sounds as if it is being created by the same person. It is okay to be bold and entertain the reader, but make sure it is not at the expense of diminishing the perception of scholarship.
- Create the Setting
Especially if you are new to writing journal articles (for instance, you are trying to get your dissertation published), you know your research inside and out. That doesn’t mean your audience does. Although brevity is certainly important, especially condensing the information from a dissertation into journal format. It is important to remember most readers have no preexisting context and, as such, they’ll need a road map. It can be useful to include a section on the background of your research and describe the factors that might be important to understanding your research and assessing its value.
- The Hero’s Journey
One approach you might consider is using a monomythical model, if your research lends itself to that approach. A monomyth is story that takes the reader on a hero’s journey. In your case, the hero is your research question and the goal is to return the reader transformed after a thorough review of all the challenges your question went through. Don’t disappoint the reader, and make sure that the article does answer the research question you have proposed at the start.
- Stay the Course
Great writing takes time. It also requires you to create a path for the reader so that they can follow your thought process from beginning to end. Like a good story, the introduction should captivate the reader enough that they want to take the journey with you. Research can often be difficult to comprehend, especially when the area of study is complex. Do not make it harder on the reader by taking a non-linear approach, or using non sequiturs.
- Know Your Audience
The spirit of this post is to empower you to think outside the box, and you should. However, it’s important to keep in mind that every academic journal has a unique audience with a distinct culture and preconceived set of expectations. Good authors of all types know they have to play to their audience. So if you have a journal in mind, make sure to read previous works and see how your style and storytelling abilities fit with it and whether you believe they will be welcomed from the respective journal’s readership. It can also be helpful to include in your article some references from the journal you are submitting to (some reviewers look at that when assessing the article’s suitability).
- Choose a Good Title
Again, the choice of the title also depends on the type of the journal you’re going for. Journals that publish a lot of qualitative works often include articles with more narrative-like titles whereas journals with quantitative preferences often have more hard-core, factual titles. The title needs to give the reader a good sense of what your research was about. An increasing number of articles these days have catchy titles, so don’t be afraid to be creative and find a title that captures the essence of your work as well as sounds entertaining.
- Have a Great Trailer
Great movie trailers make you want to see the whole movie. Think of your study’s abstract as a movie trailer; a brief version of your work that will attract the reader (and the editor/reviewers) to want to dig in and read about the details. A good abstract promotes your research. Keep to the prescribed length, but try to include all the information that represents your research as well as explain the relevance of your work.
In most cases, you won’t want to take storytelling too far. However, starting with the reader in mind (as well as being empathetic to the fact that many academic articles are considered by some as not enjoyable to read) you probably cannot go wrong by adding elements of story into your submission to improve your article’s readability.