A conference presentation is an important stage in the development of your research. It allows you to get feedback, helps you refine your arguments, and begins to build an audience for your work. Now comes the hard part: actually sitting down to turn that excellent first draft into something good enough to submit to a journal.
Give serious thought to where you plan to submit the paper. Making a decision at the outset will help with the writing.
The most important consideration is who you want to communicate with. Consider journals that reach that audience and are well respected. Make a ranked list of your top 3 journals for this purpose. This gives you a plan for where to submit the finished article and where to send it next if it is rejected. Now put that list aside. Write for your first choice, even if it feels like it’s a bit beyond your reach right now.
Dealing with criticism.
As soon as possible after the conference, find some time to write some notes about what you need to do with it, based on the feedback you received. Make sure you note positive comments, too. These are just as important as the negative ones.
Even when people give respectful and helpful feedback on your paper it can be difficult to deal with. You worked so hard and sometimes feedback makes you feel like you don’t know enough. Maybe someone in your conference session asked some awkward questions. Or made some suggestions about where you could take this. Or focused on some of the things you didn’t get a chance to talk about.
Take a few deep breaths. This is one paper of many you will present and publish over the course of your career. Some of the criticism (or helpful advice) you will disagree with. That’s fine. Some will help you improve your thinking, and your paper. It is okay to feel a bit bruised, but try to relax and work out some realistic next steps to move this presentation towards publication.
If you are feeling particularly chewed up about the experience you might want to try journalling a bit about it just to get it all out of your head. You may or may not do anything with this writing but it helps a lot of people process difficult experiences.
Learning to deal well with criticism is an important skill for academic life. It’s always hard, but developing strategies for sorting out what’s useful and using criticism to improve your work will make your academic career much more enjoyable, and successful.
Now do the work
Revising a conference presentation involves a lot of things that you already know how to do and do well.
- Extra research and thinking to strengthen the weak points.
- Clarifying the focus and getting rid of the material that doesn’t really fit.
- Writing the contextual section that a journal article needs to place this argument in the wider debates.
Use your notes on the feedback to make decisions about what needs to be done. Make sure you retain a clear focus. Start a file for the other papers you will write elaborating some of the related issues.
Take into consideration the journal you plan to publish in (only number 1 on your list). Make sure you address relevant articles published in that journal recently. Make sure your style is appropriate.
Submit your better draft to your colleague
It’s a good idea to have a colleague read it before you submit it. The paper only needs to be good enough that reading it is not a waste of their time. Sharing your work and getting feedback is a crucial step in getting from good enough to excellent, as Charlie Gilkey has said.
You have to let go. You will make revisions based on their comments anyway. This is a good paper. It is better than the conference presentation and that went public. Relax.
When you give it to your colleague, make an appointment for coffee, lunch, or a meeting (perhaps by Skype if they are not local) to discuss their comments. This gives them a deadline so your paper doesn’t float to the bottom of their pile of things to do.
While you are waiting, put the paper away and work on something else. Don’t read it until a day or so before your appointment, at which point you will probably see new things in it, too.
Submit the paper to a journal
Make appropriate revisions based on your colleague’s comments. Don’t spend a lot of time on this. They should be minor at this point.
Your aim is not to have the article accepted without revisions. That is actually quite a rare decision. Your aim is a revise-and-resubmit decision. When you think it is good enough for that, get it off your desk.
Submit it to the journal you chose. Do not panic. It will not be the end of the world it if is rejected. You have a back up plan (numbers 2 & 3 on your list).
It is a good article. You presented it at a conference. You got feedback from a colleague. The most likely outcome is a “revise and resubmit” and then you will have reviewers comments to work with.
You’ve submitted an article! This is the first win.
Take yourself out for dinner. Or at least a drink.
A version of this post was first published in 2009. It has been edited, most recently in July 2015.