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PUBLISHING IN SCHOLARLY JOURNALS: PART II--
IS IT AN ATTITUDE OR TECHNIQUE?  IT'S A TECHNIQUE



Marlowe Smaby
Judith Crews
Trae Downing

(Originally published in CE&S, June 1999, Vol 38, No. 4., pp. 227-235.)

Abstract:
Focuses on the technicalities of writing for publication in scholarly journals. Common technical errors reported by editorial board reviewers; Changing attitudes and actions regarding writing problems; Self-statements made toward problems with writing.
 

This is the second in a series of two articles on publishing in scholarly journals. The series began with "Publishing in Scholarly Journals: Part 1 -- Is it an Attitude or Technique? It's an Attitude" (Smaby & Crews, 1998). We proposed overcoming doubts about one's ability to write successfully by considering publishing as the prime component of professional development for career academicians. Second, aspiring authors should develop self-discipline for targeting, conceptualizing, organizing, and managing their writing efforts. Third, beginning writers need to understand and accommodate to the editorial and publishing process.

In this second part of the series, we focus on the technicalities of writing for publication in scholarly journals. We believe aspiring authors need to know the common technical writing errors reported by editorial board reviewers. This knowledge, combined with behavioral changes, will aid the aspiring author to improve the quality of manuscripts they submit for publication. These behavior changes, described by Smaby and Tamminen (1985) as a self-control method, were developed to help school counselors take charge of everyday problems they faced in their jobs. The method was based on previous studies by Bandura (1982), Goldfried and Merbaum (1973), Mahoney and Thorsen (1974), Watson and Tharp (1973), and Westling and Louis (1978). This self-control method involved redefining problems so counselors could take responsibility for changing their attitudes and actions toward problems, assessing ineffective behavior, and setting up plans for positive change. In this article, we have adapted the self-control method to help aspiring authors anticipate and correct technical writing problems when submitting manuscripts for publication.

CHANGING ATTITUDES AND ACTIONS REGARDING WRITING PROBLEMS

Dies (1993), Henson (1991), and McGowen (1997) have described common technical writing errors made by aspiring authors and practical strategies for correcting them. Generally, these problems involve selecting topics to write about, describing research methods, following American Psychological Association (APA) format, citing related research, using an appropriate writing style, and responding productively to feedback on manuscripts from editors. We considered these writing errors as well as reviews of 180 Counselor Education & Supervision (CES) manuscripts in identifying five common technical writing problems.

On the basis of our integration of writing problems identified in the literature and our research, we have formulated unproductive self-statements writers may make after receiving negative feedback on their submitted manuscripts (see the Appendix, Column A). In addition, we have developed more productive self-statements aspiring authors may use to enhance self-control in their writing process (see Appendix, Column B). When thinking about writing problems that seem impossible to resolve, it is easy to fall into one of two unprofitable ways of reasoning. We feel either (a) that factors beyond our control prevent our ability to change (such thinking is implied in the comments in Column A in the Appendix), or (b) that we ought to be able to bring about change by force of willpower and then fault ourselves for being unable to do so. Either way, we are defeated before we start.

In most cases, the path to managing writing is blocked by neither uncontrollable external factors nor lack of willpower. Dissatisfaction with writing and publishing performance is more likely a function of attitude, perceived lack of effectiveness, and lack of understanding of the conditions for change. As Bandura (1982) stated, "[e]xercise of influence over one's own behavior is not achieved by a feat of will power" but by discovering and learning to use "tools of personal agency" and having 'the self-assurance to use them effectively" (p. 129). By "personal agency," Bandura meant the capacity to act or use one's own ability to bring about change. The confidence to use tools of personal agency depends largely on the understanding of one's needs as well as how one responds to the environment in seeking to satisfy them.

The general purposes of this article are to describe how to define writing problems so they can be solved, assess behavioral factors that block effective writing performance, and set up an effective program for publishing. The specific purpose is to help writers submitting manuscripts to CES to improve their chances of publishing by becoming aware of common writing errors cited by editorial board members of CES in their evaluations of manuscripts.

Redefining Writing Problems

First, redefine writing problems as what you can or ought to do to bring about positive change. Personal agency, the capacity to act, begins with assuming personal responsibility. Rather than defining writing problems as being governed by factors you do not control or as a lack of willpower, define them in a way that allows you to take responsibility for change (see Appendix, Column B).

Assessing Ineffective Behavior

The next step is to assess ineffective behavior related to those problems. This is accomplished by using the new definition of the writing problems to identify ineffective behavior and the cues that precipitate the behavior you want to change. In other words, think not only about what you are doing but also how you are feeling before behaving in an ineffective manner. For example, if an editor has just rejected your manuscript because it was deemed inappropriate for that particular journal, if you are like many of us you may feel defeated, humiliated, and angry and vow never to write again. Give yourself a few days for "cooling-off" and then assess your attitude and feelings about having your manuscript rejected.

During your reassessment, consider the long-term consequences of continuing to respond with negative or self-depreciating self-talk. Obviously, the long-term effects of these attitudes and behaviors will be to feel pessimistic about the writing and publishing process and to avoid writing. If these consequences are not acceptable to you, consider how to interrupt the sequence of cue-behavior-reward that maintains the old behavior pattern. In monitoring your behavior and feelings, recognize that nothing will change as long as you allow rejection of your writing to result in anger, discouragement, and withdrawal. This recognition can then lead to the next step in the program for change.

Setting Up a Program for Change

Design a plan and a set of rewards for establishing objectives and methods to achieve your writing and publishing goals; that is, decide on what you want to accomplish and how to reward yourself. It is important to determine rewards for the various steps in your goal attainment. For example, after correcting the manuscript for several hours, reward yourself by taking a walk, sharing your new ideas with an interested colleague, or feeling good about your progress. As a suggested method for obtaining the goal of publishing, first put the manuscript aside for a few clays and attempt to recognize, redefine, and control self-defeating attitudes and behaviors. Then, carefully review the journal publication guidelines and a recent copy of the journal and the articles within. After that, reread carefully the editor's disposition letter and the reviewer's evaluation forms and comments and attempt to put yourself in the position of the editor and try to determine the reasons for rejecting your manuscript. Research other journals and their guidelines to identify a more appropriate publication for your manuscript. Then, outline a manuscript revision plan based on the evaluations and comments you have. Finally, rewrite the manuscript and submit it to a new journal.

In addition to changing behavior that hampers success in publishing, there are several technique-related issues to address in your writing. The following section presents data based on an analysis of manuscript evaluation forms completed by CES editorial board reviewers during one year.

METHOD

The data for this study were based on manuscripts submitted during one year to CES under the editorship of Marlowe H. Smaby. This descriptive study assessed the degree of association between various evaluative components and acceptance or rejection of manuscripts during the review process.

Sample

One hundred and eighty manuscripts submitted or processed, or both, during one year (July 1997 through July 1998) were analyzed and coded following the standard manuscript review form used by the CES review board members. Because of postreview editorial recommendations for revisions, there were frequently multiple submissions among the 180 manuscripts; therefore manuscripts were coded as first, second, third, and fourth submissions.

Before being coded, each manuscript underwent blind review by two to three reviewers (M = 2.69). The evaluation criteria included various components of a research or scholarly manuscript. For each submission, reviewers filled out a manuscript review form listing their rating of these components. Further written comments were often made by reviewers, but these data were not included in this study.

Overall, the data for this study include 180 manuscripts (coded for demographic and general formatting information) and 485 editorial board member manuscript evaluations. Of these, 321 evaluations were completed on first submissions, 86 evaluations were from second submissions, 60 evaluations from third submissions, and 18 evaluations were from fourth submissions.

Instruments

Manuscript review forms. Reviewers for CES use separate manuscript review forms for qualitative and quantitative research designs; non-data-related components were included on both forms. Reviewers used the non-research component sections of the forms to evaluate position papers and literature review manuscripts.

Coding forms. For the purposes of this study, a coding form was created that mirrored the evaluative elements included on the manuscript review forms. Each submission's coding packet included forms for each of three reviews of a submission.

In addition to data related directly to manuscript evaluation, the coding packets included a section on demographic data specific to the first author of each manuscript. These data included elements such as the sex, work setting, rank, degree, and geographic setting of the first author. Finally, the coding packets included a section related to the format (quantitative, qualitative, nonresearch), the subject category (counselor preparation, supervision, current issue, innovative methods, book/media review, and comments), and final disposition for the submission (pending, not published, published).

Procedure

The processing code number assigned to it upon receipt by the journal editor identified each manuscript's first submission. Subsequent submissions used both this original code number and a number identifying it as a second, third, or fourth submission. Reviewers' ratings on each of the 16 possible evaluation criteria were assigned numerical codes. For example, if a component was rated by a reviewer as not acceptable, it was assigned a 1, an uncertain ratings was assigned a 2, and an acceptable rating was assigned a 3. Two graduate assistants carried out data coding, collection, input, and analysis.

Analysis

A series of cross-tabulation procedures were run to uncover patterns in the data that contribute to significant correlations (Statistical Program for Social Sciences [SPSS], 1996). A series of Pearson product-moment correlation analyses were then computed to assess for relationships between various evaluative components in manuscript submissions and reviewers' recommendations for disposal (accept, modify and accept, revise and review, rewrite and resubmit, reject [unsound] and reject [inappropriate] for CES) as well as with the final dispositions (nonpublished, pending, published).

RESULTS, DISCUSSION, CONCLUSIONS, AND IMPLICATIONS

The results of the analysis of the study are as follows:

1. There is no significant correlation between the final disposition and article format of quantitative research, professional issues, or qualitative research (r = .058, n = 485, p > .05). Second, there is no significant correlation between final disposition and subject category/ topics of counselor preparation, current issues, innovative practices, or commentary (r = .030, n = 485, p > .05). However, there is a significant correlation between the quality of the introduction and the final disposition of the manuscript (r = .411, n = 485, p < .01). Fifty-five percent of the manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on the quality of the introduction section. It seems that the quality of the manuscript, as determined by the reviewers and editor, is more important than the type or subject or category of the manuscript submission. Therefore, writers submitting to CES for publication consideration need to ensure that their manuscripts are well written and organized regardless of the type or subject of their research. Also, aspiring CES authors need to focus on writing introductions that clearly delineate the importance and relevance of topics for counselor educators and supervisors.

2. There is a significant correlation between the sample reported by authors and the final disposition of the manuscript (r = .485, n = 254, p < .01). Sixty-five percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on the authors' description of the sample used. Second, there is a significant correlation between research design and final disposition of the manuscript (r = .390, n = 252, p < .01). Fifty-four percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on the description of the research design. Third, there is a significant correlation between instrumentation and the final disposition of manuscripts (r = .588, n = 247, p < .01). Eighty percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on the use or description of instruments as reported by authors, including failure to provide reliability and validity data. Fourth, there is a significant correlation between research procedures and the final disposition of manuscripts (r = .373, n = 253, p < .01). Fifty-one percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on the presentation or choice of research procedures. Fifth, there is a significant correlation between the presentation of statistical analyses and the final disposition of manuscripts (r = .411, n = 244, p < .01). Sixty-four percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on use and description of statistical analyses. These results suggest that authors must clearly provide a rationale for their research as well as provide a focused and appropriate description of the sample, design, instrumentation, and research procedures.

3. There is a significant correlation between the critiques of relevant research in the literature review and final disposition of manuscripts (r = .587, n = 193, p < .01). Eighty-six percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on critiques of relevant research studies. Second, there is a significant correlation between the focus and organization of the literature reviews and final disposition of the manuscript (r = .447, n = 208, p < .01). Sixty-eight percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on the focus and organization of their literature reviews. Third, there is a significant correlation between the presentation and discussion of results and the final disposition of the manuscript (r = .390, n = 236, p < .01). Fourth, there is a significant correlation between the logic of conclusions presented and final disposition of manuscripts (r = .757, n = 206, p < .01). Eighty-one percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings of conclusions drawn logically from results reported in their manuscripts. Fifth, there is a significant correlation between the description and practicality of implications delineated and final disposition of manuscripts (r = .468, n = 209, p < .01). Seventy percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on the practicality and descriptions of implications in their manuscripts. Sixth, there is a significant correlation between the description of directions for future research and final disposition of manuscripts (r = .630, n = 184, p < .01). Ninety-six percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on the description and integration of relevant directions for future research.

These data suggest that, through critique, authors should use existing research as a rationale for the research undertaken. In addition, their literature review should be focused and, if possible, include recent publications (generally speaking literature published within the past 3 to 5 years). Please note that to have strong discussion, conclusions, and implications sections it is necessary to have established a strong and integrated foundation in the introduction and method sections.

5. There is a significant correlation between the proper use of APA format and writing style and appropriate grammar, punctuation, and spelling and final disposition of manuscripts (r = 324, n = 460, p < .01). Fifty-one percent of rejected manuscripts had unacceptable or uncertain ratings on the proper use of APA format and style and appropriate grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Aspiring authors should refer to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, fourth edition (American Psychological Association, 1994) to ensure they are using appropriate writing style while also making sure to carefully proofread and edit their manuscripts before submitting them for publication consideration. In addition, many writers may want to consult a local expert writer to review and edit any final draft manuscripts submitted to CES.

6. There is a significant correlation between the submission number and final disposition of manuscripts (.661, n = 484, p < .01). A paired samples t test reveals that there is a significant difference in reviewers' evaluations between the first and second submission of manuscripts which indicates that improvements were made in the quality of the manuscript between these submissions (t (483) = 36.483, p < .01). If the writer(s) decide on resubmission, they need to carefully and thoroughly revise their manuscripts detailing to the editor and reviewers the steps they have taken to improve their submission. In cases in which a recommendation detracts from the intent or content of the manuscript a clear and concise explanation of the problem should be given.

SUMMARY

Aspiring authors who want to publish in scholarly journals such as CES should develop self-control techniques upon receiving feedback on their manuscript submissions. In addition, they need to consider using positive self-statements and CES data on common writing errors presented in this article to establish a foundation for productive publishing performances and career advancement as counselor educators. Finally, given these data, aspiring authors might choose to view recommendations for article revisions as something that facilitates their opportunity for publication because 100% of fourth submissions in this study were published in CES.

REFERENCES

American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Bandura, A. (1982), Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37, 122-147.

Dies, R. (1993). Writing for publication: Overcoming common obstacles. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 43, 243-249.

Goldfried, M. R., & Merbaum, M. (1973). Behavior change through self-control. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Henson, K. (1991, September). How to write for educational journals --and get published. National Association of Secondary School Principals Bulletin, 101-106.

Mahoney, M., & Thorsen, C. (1974). Self-control: Power to the person. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

McGowen, A. (1997). American Counseling Association branch journals: Viable, scholarly means for publishing. Journal of Humanistic Education and Development, 32, 146-148.

Smaby, M., & Crews, J. (1998). Publishing in scholarly journals: Part 1 -- Is it an attitude or technique? It's an attitude. Counselor Education and Supervision, 37, 218-223.

Smaby, M. H., Tamminen, A. W. (1985). Taking charge of your life. The School Counselor, 32, 195-204.

Watson, D., & Tharp. R. (1973). Self-directed behavior. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Westling, Do, & Louis, M. (1978). Self-help skills training: A review of operant studies. The Special Education Journal, 12, 253-283.

(Appendix on following page)

APPENDIX Self-Statements Made Toward Problems With Writing

Column A

1. Trying to come up with a publishable topic for CES with an acceptable introduction is impossible.

2. My former professors did not explain to me how to properly describe research methods and procedures.

3. Nobody told me I had to integrate related research when reporting results, discussing results, drawing conclusions and implications, and providing directions for future research.

4. In my graduate program I was not prepared to write according to APA style and formal rules of sentence structure, grammar, and spelling.

5. I get angry and discouraged when reviewers and editors criticize my research and writing efforts.

Column B

1. I need to identify a publishable topic for CES and write an introduction that is rational and meaningful to readers.

2. I have to learn to follow and describe standard research methods and procedures accurately.

3. I have to figure out how to describe and integrate relevant related research, results, discussion, conclusions and implications, and directions for future research.

4. I need to learn and use APA writing style and follow standard rules of sentence structure, grammar, and spelling.

5. I must convince myself that reviewers' and editors' critiques of my work are aimed at trying to help me produce a publishable manuscript.