My Experience in Publishing in an APA Journal

Publishing in an APA journal might seem like an unattainable goal for someone who is still an undergraduate or master student. However, if you have good research, and supervisors who support you, there is a great chance you will achieve your goal.  I was lucky enough to perform my final year dissertation with two fantastic supervisors, and it was this research that later went on to become the journal article being published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance. However, it was a very long road to travel down which I will re – travel with you in the following paragraphs of this post sharing the experiences I had.

 How it all began – the project

The project began in October 2010 where the idea for the project was born followed by a phase of initial testing in January 2011. After having handed in my dissertation in July of 2011, I went travelling. Before leaving to go travelling, I had discussed with my supervisors the possibility that the work we had performed would be submitted to a high impact journal. The two experiments that I had performed for my dissertation project had to be rewritten by my supervisor who became the lead author of it and afterwards submitted to the journal. Returning in January 2012, I received correspondence from my supervisors saying that the work had been reviewed and that revisions were required before it could be accepted.

The important question – which journal to choose?

The main thing that I learnt through this process is that writing a paper for a journal is a very long process. Throughout my undergraduate degree I found it agonising to wait for essay marks which generally required the patience to wait for only six weeks. But this is nothing when compared to the patience required to submit to a journal. When your paper is submitted to a journal, it is first assessed by an editor who must decide whether it will fit in with the tone of the journal in question. This is a key point, when looking at which journal to publish in. Moreover, it is incredibly important to look at articles already published in that journal. If your work is much longer, or if you struggle to find an article in the same area of content, then you are unlikely to be published in this journal, since you are not the main group of interest for this journal.

The review process: There might be criticism

If the editor agrees that your work would fit in the journal, your paper will be reviewed by experienced reviewers usually experts in the field. If you are asked to revise your article, try not to take the reviewers’ comments personally. As they (probably) do not know you, they are just giving their honest (you hope) opinions regarding your research. It can be very difficult to take criticism at the best of times, but when you have worked for so long on something, it is very easy to ignore everything negative said about your paper.  Even if it may seem to you that the reviewer clearly doesn’t know what they are talking about, unfortunately for you, they do. Do your very best to look at the paper from the reviewers’ point of view, and if you think it will improve your work change what they have asked you to change.

Furthermore, as it is very likely that you will have referenced at least one of the reviewers in your work, be very cautious. The nature of scientific research is that theories are made and are supported by some evidence and contested by others. If you are contesting a reviewer’s theory it is not a good idea to talk about how poorly the author has performed their research. Remain very respectful and discuss the research rather than the author.

One of my professors offered a pearl of wisdom to me. They told me, that while being asked to rewrite a section of an article or change a part of an experiment is very annoying (and you nearly always disagree with the reviewers points), once you have rewritten the paper you will almost never prefer the original. In the end, reviewers are not trying to degrade your paper so treat the review as advice and take the chance to make your piece of research stronger.

During the review process of mine and my professor’s paper one of the reviewers held an alternative view to the one that my research reported and so disputes were inevitable about the interpretation of the results and the conclusions we had drawn. While it is important to take on board what is being said by the reviewers, the work is your own and so you should make the final decision about it. Although you can disagree with the reviewers, do not make them angry. Reviewers do have the right to deny reviewing your work, in which case another reviewer will be sourced. However, this only slows down the entire process. But if the editor asks you to change something, make sure you do, no questions asked. The best you can do is hope that the change you need to make is a small one. This of course is not always the case.

When we heard back from the reviewers, the changes we, were not small. In fact, we were asked to submit a long article instead of a short one which required us to run two additional experiments. So there I was, coming back from my travels delving straight back in to running more experiments. Luckily, we had discussed and thought about additional experiments before receiving such feedback which sped up the process a little so we could collect additional data right away. Once the new data had been analysed and the paper rewritten, it was ready to be submitted again, after satisfying the reviewers by correcting all of the key points and concerns raised before. The experiments were finished and the writing up complete by October of 2012. The journal article was accepted in December of 2012 and is now available online and will very soon be in print. As you can see, it can take several months for you to hear anything back about your work. The best advice I can give you is to forget about your paper after having it submitted and move on to the next project. Therefore, you will not get the impression that you have waited for a long time.

The decision – what if it is rejected?

When you do hear back from the journal you will either be told that the article has been accepted and then you can celebrate. Otherwise the reviewers/editor have concerns and raise doubts that the article will not be accepted. The worst that can happen is a rejection of your paper.  Throughout the course of my PhD I have learned that journals have a high rate of rejection. While your work may not be a good fit for that particular journal, it may fit elsewhere but you cannot reply to more than one journal at once. One very valuable piece of advice I have received (this may seem obvious, but apparently it happens a lot) is that you should make sure that the work you submit to a journal is formatted in the way the journal requires you to. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from annoying an editor by submitting an article that has clearly been formatted for a different journal. This is like being rejected by your crush for prom and then turning straight to their friend and asking them instead.

Who are the authors?

Finally, a really tricky aspect of writing a research paper is the decision about who gets to be an author and the order in which the names should appear on paper. You might say this is obvious and it should just be based on contribution and you would be right. But what is contribution? I am not going to go into this here. But here is a pretty good article discussing it . It is indeed a difficult decision, but remember that just collecting data for an experiment is not enough to be considered an author. This can be a real problem when students who have completed projects as part of their dissertation are not considered authors of the final paper which is submitted to the journal.

Conclusion

Publishing your thesis in a top journal requires many steps and aspects, writing up the paper (usually by or with the help of someone experienced like your supervisor), choosing the right journal, extending and doing additional work, dealing with reviewers all of which can take up quite a bit of time.  If you endure through this process, it is a great feeling to have made a contribution to science and the knowledge of the world!

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Daniel Gunnell is a PhD student at the University of Warwick, Coventry in the UK and has been successful in getting one of his papers published in an APA journal.

About the author

Daniel Gunnell

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