How to Get Published: Guidance from Journal Editors

Lilienfeld’s Top Ten
Journal Submission Errors

10. Selecting the wrong journal

9. Not explaining why the article makes an important contribution

8. Too much or too little background

7. Making inferential leaps in logic that are unclear

6. Confusing explanatory with confirmatory data analyses (misrepresentation)

5. Presenting too much information and over-analyzed data sets

4. Omitting effect size information

3. Glossing over design limitations

2. Absence of a clear take-home message

1. Article not proofread (grammar & spelling errors)

APS values its student affiliates. This year’s convention provided students with travel awards, symposium opportunities, interactions with psychology champions, and a workshop on how to get published. The “How to Get Published” workshop featured speakers Marilynn Brewer, editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, James Cutting, incoming editor of Psychological Science, and Scott Lilienfeld, founder and editor of Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice.

During the first part of the workshop, the editors described the manuscript process to the audience. First, the editor receives the manuscript and takes an initial look at it to make sure it is appropriate for their particular journal. Then, the editor contacts 2-3 reviewers from their journal who are familiar with the subject area of the manuscript. The reviewers typically have 4-8 weeks to review the manuscript. After this process is complete, the reviews are forwarded back to the editor to make the ultimate decision of whether to accept, reject, or reject with suggestions for resubmission.

It would be nice if everyone could get published on the first attempt, but in reality only manuscripts that have undergone numerous revisions and corrections actually make it into the academic journals. In fact, regardless of the journal’s prestige or selectivity, your manuscript is far more likely to be rejected than accepted.

Even if your manuscript isn’t accepted, rejection letters can also be helpful. Instead of getting defensive or taking the criticism personally, you should regard the feedback as a sampling of informed reader opinion and use it to make your manuscript better.

Luckily, the journal editors gave students a number of tips so that first time submitters, like most of us, don’t have to go through the arduous process of multiple journal submissions and revisions only to have our manuscript rejected in the end. They recommended seeking out as many people (e.g., other graduate students and faculty members) to review your work as possible and not to simply count on “spell check.” Submitting a manuscript with grammatical errors or spelling mistakes is a potentially fatal faux pas.

Your submission should also be succinct and have a logical flow, which Brewer identified as the two cardinal virtues of a manuscript. In addition, you need to decide on how to best present your data (figure, table, or text) because you should only present your data one time.

Lilienfeld further suggested that submitters should try to tell a story in their manuscript and lead the reader through each point. They must explain why their study is important and how it contributes to the existing literature. The length of the article should be proportional to its research contribution. In terms of structure, it should resemble an hourglass. Begin broad, become specific, and then broaden out again. The limitations of the study should also be addressed in the manuscript. Alternative hypotheses and generalizability should be included.

When deciding on an appropriate journal, you should know the type and mission of the journal and ascertain the fit with your manuscript. As Cutting noted, his journal is multidisciplinary and he has on more than one occasion been forced to exclude several submissions because he did not want to publish too many articles on one singular topic within psychology. Thus, you may want to consider submitting to a specialized journal if your manuscript is rejected from a general psychology journal.

You should also consider the prestige of the journal you are submitting to. The benefit of submitting to a lower-tier journal is that it will be more likely to get published. The downside is that publishing in this type of journal carries less prestige than publishing in a top journal. Publishing in a lower-tier journal could also potentially hurt your career since you still won’t be on the same level as your peers who have published in top journals.

In the end, publication is an excellent way to make a contribution to the field of psychological science. Whether you’re looking to boost your application to graduate school, or to increase your chances of attaining a professorship at a top research university, publishing is one of the best ways to get your name and work out there in the research world. In conclusion, Lilienfeld offers his top ten journal submission errors to help you in this process.

Editor’s Note: On behalf of the APSSC and student affiliates, I would like to thank the editors-Marilynn Brewer, James Cutting, and Scott Lilienfeld-who contributed their time and effort to this workshop. We have received tons of positive feedback about this workshop; your contributions are greatly appreciated.
-Julie Hall, Student Notebook Editor

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