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Advice for new scholars looking to publish from a seasoned journal editor

headshot of Jim Skibo

Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology James Skibo

Intimidating might be the feeling for young and new scholars who are looking to publish in national and international journals. The pressure to “publish or perish” in a recognized publication can cause scholars to make mistakes.

“I’ve seen a lot of first-time submissions, and there are simple rules you can follow to make sure your paper is not cast aside right away,” said Distinguished Professor of Archaeology James Skibo.

After 18 years as co-editor of Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Skibo will be stepping away from editing the top international journal in his field. But not before offering some advice to new scholars on what to avoid when looking to publish in journals.

Keep to the rules
According to Skibo, it’s the little things that get you into the door. “Every journal will have rules about what kind of paper they want. Every journal will have a house style,” he said. “It makes editors mad when scholars do not follow that.” He encouraged scholars to study the publication and look at everything from the formatting of citations to tenses. “With word processing programs, it’s simple to get papers in the correct style, and it looks just plain lazy if people are not following that.”

cover of of Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory with a relief map of the world and photos from different continents

James Skibo began as a co-editor of the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 18 years ago.

Keep to the mission
Understand the mission and goal of the journal. If the journal is international, know a regional subject might not fly. “The primary reason we reject a paper is that it is too regional,” said Skibo, whose publication is in more than 8,000 libraries around the world. “We’ll get papers studying the woodland period of the upper Great Lakes, which will have no interest for someone working in Europe, Africa, or Asia. A paper talking about a particular technique for analyzing artifacts, a new theory, or new computer application will have a broad appeal.”

Keep the process in mind
Some institutions require faculty members to publish in a journal that has a high ranking from the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). That can be even rougher depending on the field. “There are few highly ranked ISI journals in archaeology,” noted Skibo, whose journal carries a high rank of 2. With a high ISI ranking comes high rejection rates, and generally a strenuous review process. In a peer-reviewed journal, editors could look for multiple reviews for every paper.

“If the paper is about a new theory or process, it is bound to be controversial, and that means people will debate,” said Skibo. “Be ready to defend your paper and answer questions.”

Keep working
If a paper is accepted for review, generally it is headed for publication, but not before the author receives suggestions from reviewers. Skibo’s advice? Answer the questionsall of them. “You might not agree with the reviewer, and that is fine, but make your case,” said Skibo. “Remember that the reviewers are experts in their particular field, so more often than not, authors are able to find things they can change or edit in a way that the reviewer will then agree upon.”

Note: Skibo added that—depending on the publication—authors can request not to have certain scholars as reviewers. “This may surprise you, but not everyone gets along in the academic world,” he said with a chuckle. “There are factions and schisms, and people who live and die by one theoretical approach.” Though the reviews for his journal are “blind” or unsigned, it can be easy to tell who is doing the reviewing. “Actually, I typically sign my reviews anyway, because that means they can contact me directly with questions.”

Keep the faith
The road for a new scholar to be published can be long, and trying. “What I have discovered over the years is that new Ph.D.s get hit really hard in the reviews,” said Skibo. “They are not members of the club yet. Their network is not built up enough. They don’t have enough political capital.”

He noted that editors have to be committed to getting new scholars published, and scholars need to be prepared for a long haul. One tip is to look for publications that accept new authors. “Recently, (co-editor) Cathy Camerons and I went through four revisions with a first-time author. I think he gave up before we did. We just kept sending it back to reviewers until it was approved for publication.”

Skibo recommended scholars contact editors directly to ask about turnaround time and acceptance rates. This also goes for scholars who are pulling together tenure packets. “My co-editor and I are very sympathetic to scholars trying to get things published on their way to tenure,” he said.

The academic payoff can be greatarticles from the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory were downloaded more than 50,000 times by scholars across the globe in 2016. The quarterly journal, however, can only accept a fourth of the 160 annual submissions for publication.

The bottom line? “Keep trying, and know all scholars were once where you are now,” said Skibo.

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