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Kristi S. Multhaup
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Univ. of North Carolina at Charlotte
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Publishing research in journals is among the most trying, most difficult, and most important facets of our careers. Graduate students understand that to be marketable, they need to publish in reputable peer-reviewed journals. Obtaining, and keeping, a junior faculty position is also largely dependent on a strong publication record. Junior faculty members understand that “publish or perish” is a truism: tenure is virtually impossible without top publications.
For many of us, the only time we will converse with the editor of a top journal is during the review process – hardly the time to be asking for tips on how to be published. For these
reasons, we decided that for this issue, we would poll a number of top journal editors in search of tips we all can benefit from – how to “grease the wheels” in getting a manuscript published. We thank all of the contributing editors for taking time out of their extremely busy schedule.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Briefly, I'd emphasize two points: (a) choosing the right journal and (b) writing the manuscript appropriately for that journal. With regard to the first of these points, your aim is to publish the work in the best-known journal that would feasibly accept it. Choose the journal partly based on content fit (e.g., observational research will probably not fly in a journal with the word "experimental" in its title) and partly based on quality fit (e.g., no sense wasting time by sending a less-than-breathtaking work to Science, but also no sense burying good work in an obscure outlet). With regard to writing, pay attention to the style favored (perhaps prescribed) by the journal to which you intend to submit the work and conform to that style. And for goodness sake have your work proofread by a skilled and sharp-eyed critic before you submit it! Another thing that comes to mind: It may be helpful to keep in mind that the Editor's primary motivation is to enhance the reputation of his or her journal by publishing works that attract readers, subscriptions, publicity, and citations. Fashion your manuscript in such a way that the reviewers and editor are likely to see it as fitting with those aims.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
If it were possible to convey in one paragraph what it takes to get work accepted for publication, the acceptance rate at most journals would be much higher than it is. It takes a long time to learn the ropes. Nevertheless, the following guidelines are worth keeping in mind:
1. Read the journal to which you are submitting. Become thoroughly familiar with the literature and with the style of work that is reported there.
2. In preparing your work for submission, familiarize yourself with the required submission format, as described in the APA Publication Manual.
3. Don't be afraid to let your perfectionist side show as you prepare the manuscript for submission. Revise and refine the work until neither you nor your trusted senior colleague can find any fault with it. When you have gotten to that point, set the manuscript aside for 24 hours and look at it again to make sure you haven't missed any mistakes.
4. Prepare a professional cover letter to accompany the submission. Convey in the letter that you will be prepared to work with the editor and reviewers once you get feedback.
5. When you do get feedback, don't be surprised if your work isn't accepted. Hardly any papers are accepted immediately, and a great many papers (by some of the most famous and highly respected investigators in the field) are turned down without an invitation to revise and resubmit. If your work isn't accepted, don't crumble. You're in good company.
6. If you are invited to revise and resubmit, do as thorough a job as you can. Prepare a revision that deals with every comment you received and prepare a cover letter that indicates how you tried to deal with each point raised by the reviewers and the editor. You may feel that some of the points were wrong-headed. If you feel that way, say so as politely as you can. Take your time on the revision. Perfectionism will pay off again.
7. Well formatted papers and polite cover letters can get you only so far. Discoveries that open new vistas or that make people rethink what they thought they understood will not only get you published; they will also get you noticed. Do the most interesting, path-breaking research you can, knowing that one important publication is worth a dozen unimportant ones.
Action letters and reviews are hard to deal with. Criticism cuts to the quick. You are your research, and you are easily wounded. When I receive an action letter and reviews about a paper I have submitted, I quickly peruse for the punchline-was it accepted? was it rejected? was resubmission upon revision offered? If one of the latter two, I put the package away, often for a week or more, and think. I need distance. Then, over the course of time, I carefully read the action letter and reviews, re-read them, and read them again-but often only a paragraph at a time. If responses are negative it is too easy to dismiss the writer as uninformed, biased, politically of the wrong camp, etc. Don't do this. Don't assume anyone is more unreasonable than you are. Always assume that your submission is part of a larger dialog, and that reviewers are responding to what you have said. In most cases you have probably not been clear, or have been infelicitous. Learn to deconstruct the action letter and reviews. What have they left omitted among the things they could have said? With these in hand, deconstruct your own work. What might you have said, but didn't.
All of this is about framing the research. Where does it fit? How important is it? Who would be interested? Frankly, everything can get published eventually, it is just a matter of where. As a younger research professional one must begin to gauge where a paper or a piece of research will fit best. Don't aim too high-not every paper should be first submitted to Nature Neuroscience, then Science, then Psychological Science, then wherever. This process wastes too many people's time, and yours too. But don't aim too low either. No one is going to read your paper in Psychological Reports, and probably none that chapter you've been invited to write for the 7th volume of an edited series on Advances in Psychological Theory and Research. Over time, patterns of reviews will help tell you where your research fits. If it fits poorly, change the research; go in a different direction. Use the reviews as a source of information to guide you. They are offered free, and they are the greatest gift our discipline offers-direct, and hopefully honest, feedback on what you regard as most dear.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology
I would recommend that graduate students and junior faculty work closely with a mentor when possible, seek detailed critical feedback (from many people!) prior to submitting a paper for publication, view the publishing endeavor as a process that will involve unsuccessful attempts that should be viewed as learning opportunities, and be very open to the comments of the reviewers. I am sure that almost all successful scientists have had papers rejected and have received very critical reviews. (I certainly have!) One set of reviews does not reflect one's worth as a person or even one's potential as a scientist. Reviews should be used as feedback that will help improve a paper and one's approach to a research topic. A person must be both open to criticism and resilient in order to be successful. Also, a person should not believe that s/he must be totally independent – one should try to involve those who are already skilled and accomplished researchers.
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
The formula for having a manuscript accepted for publication is simple: Good idea + appropriate design + convincing results + clear writing = publication. A manuscript that has all of these elements will probably be accepted. But many fall short on one or more criteria, particularly the first or the third. That is, manuscripts are often rejected because they address an issue that's been studied ad nauseum and consequently the incremental value of the study to the literature is very small. And manuscripts are frequently rejected for having equivocal results. That is, the results do not shed new light on the issue that was studied (often because the design lacks power or because experimental manipulations do not map readily onto constructs). In contrast, unclear writing is never a fatal flaw; it can usually be improved and most editors are happy to work with inexperienced authors. Finally, new authors should remember that hardly any manuscripts are accepted in the first round; "revise and resubmit" is almost always the first step toward publication.
Journal of Applied Psychology
i. Learn what content is published in the journal
ii. Learn what the format is
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes
First, think carefully which journal to submit your article to. Do not send in a report of a single small experiment to one that normally publishes multi-experiment articles. Be honest: if your experiments leave loose ends open, do not try for a top-rank journal until you have tied them up, and if you can't, then think of another journal. Make sure that your article really does match the interests of the journal and its readers (you'd be surprised how many papers are submitted to JEP-ABP that would be very much more appropriate for another journal). Secondly, seek advice. Give an informal talk about the work you are writing up, and see how your audience reacts: if they have criticisms, it is likely that the journal editor and reviewers will too. Ask a friend or slightly more senior colleague to read your draft through - and NOT to spare your feelings. You are looking to improve your paper - not just to get a warm glow of satisfaction. As above - be self-critical: it is always better to see your faults for yourself rather than have them pointed out to you by a stranger. Finally (and this is the hardest one): if your paper is rejected, do not just feel aggrieved. Try to understand the criticisms, and see what you could do to respond to them. If this calls for more work - then at the end of the day you should have a better paper!
Please address all comments and suggestions for future articles to Rich Heitz or Nash Unsworth: