How to Write Scholarly Articles: Tips from the William and Mary Quarterly

WMQ COverLast week, I attended a talk given by Chris Grasso and Karin Wulf about how to publish articles in academic journal. Grasso and Wulf serve respectively as the Editor and Book Review Editor for The William and Mary Quarterly. Their helpful presentation really shed light on what goes on behind the scenes at a peer-reviewed journal. In this post I will recap Grasso's advice for submitting a scholarly journal article.

Grasso outlined the general procedure for publishing in a scholarly journal and specified when the process at the WMQ differed from other journals. In general, the author submits an article to a journal. The journal editor then reads the submission and considers whether or not their journal would publish on the proposed topic.

If the editor believes that the proffered topic could be a good fit for their journal they arrange to send the submission on to the next round: peer review.

Editors ask scholars with expertise in the tendered subject matter to review the piece. The number of reviewers depends on the journal. The WMQ uses 3-5 referees and asks them to complete their review within 6-8 weeks.

Grasso mentioned that all referees take their job seriously and spend hours looking over and commenting on a piece; journals do not pay referees for their time. With that said, he mentioned that some scholars can be severe critics, but if authors can take the criticism, they will find that they can use even the harshest feedback to their advantage as they revise and resubmit their work.

Once the editor receives feedback from all the referees, they decide whether or not to publish the article, reject it, or offer the author the opportunity to revise and resubmit. Grasso stressed that referees do not "cast a vote" as to whether or not an article should be published, that decision lies solely with the editor. Editors base their decision on whether or not they agree with the referees' feedback.

Before giving the article and his decision back to the author, Grasso reads and distills the referees' feedback so he can tell the author exactly what they need to revise in order to publish in the WMQ. He feels that this guidance is important, especially as the WMQ allows authors to revise and resubmit only once.

Grasso mentioned that The William and Mary Quarterly receives about 100 submissions a year, that 50-75 percent of the submissions move on to the peer review process, and of those he publishes about 12 percent. Of course, this last number depends on how many authors revise and resubmit their pieces to the journal.

Grasso aims to keep the initial review process to 3 months, but it can take up to 4 or 5 months. Once accepted, The William and Mary Quarterly moves fast and authors can expect to see their work in print within about 6 months.

Grasso also provided useful advice for submitting scholarly articles.

First, authors need to read and conform to the submission guidelines for their chosen journal.

Second, if authors receive a revise and resubmit decision and remain unclear about what they need to revise for publication, they should email the editor and ask for clarification. Grasso warned that asking for clarification does not mean that authors should ask editors to review their revision plan; most editors have too much to do to read revision proposals.