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Editor’s Note: The history of the human race has been preserved in written language for thousands of years. In many ways it is become the most accessible yet the most challenging of all communication media. In a world of instant multimedia communications it continues to be the basis of planning and research and the basis of business, entertainment and personal communications. Writing is more than language and culture. It is the essence of art – as in poetry and drama; science and engineering – for research and reporting; and social sciences for documenting the human condition and exploring worlds of the imagination past and future. It can use primitive and accessible technologies such as clay tablets, cave paintings, papyrus and paper. It is challenging because complexities of language and meaning must transcend educational, cultural, and chronological differences and engage the reader in the thought patterns and experiences of the author. There is always more to learn about the art and science of writing. Thank you Brent for sharing your experiences in Journal Publishing with our readers.

Journal Publishing Advice

Brent Muirhead

smart_guy_reading_hg_blk Introduction

People who would like to publish journal articles may wonder how to create quality material. The absence of knowledge about academic publishing can often be traced to education experiences. The author recalls that none of his professors offered publishing advice during his eight degree programs. Yet he is grateful to have over 170 publications including journal articles, books and letters to the editor. This discussion contains insights and suggestions designed to help individuals to have a better understanding of academic publishing and how to become a confident and productive writer.

Getting Started

"To turn toward greatness, you must turn and face your fears."
  Noah Benshea

The first step involves developing a writing plan based on the individual’s personal and professional goals. Writing requires developing short and long term goals that align with personal interests and career plans. Publishing can be an excellent way to develop a set of articles for sharing expertise in workshops, seminars, conferences and books. Online journal articles have a worldwide audience. There is great potential to develop new professional relationships and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Writing is an art and science and each person must identify his or her motivation. Perhaps, individuals have received encouragement to write from college professors, friends and colleagues. Yet, there could be some hesitation because of concerns about time constraints in creating an article or fears about editors rejecting the work. It is important to face these concerns and realize that developing confidence will require taking some risks and developing realistic writing plans (Henson, 1999).

People can have an assortment of writing fears: not finishing the article, editor rejects the work and concerns about the quality of their work. These are fears represent threats to creativity and writing productivity. Successful writers have learned to manage their fears and have cultivated the resilience and discipline to complete projects. An excessive focus on work being rejected will create emotional barriers and generate constant excuses not to write.  Ballon (2007) advocates identifying self-defeating attitudes or thoughts that create writing problems such as trying to write perfectly or becoming depressed after making numerous revisions without finishing the article. Those who procrastinate in writing have developed the habit of delaying work and this could be due to a variety of reasons: low self- confidence, I'm too busy, stubbornness, manipulation, coping with pressures and a frustrated victim (NA, Procrastination, para#5). People can become discouraged when their article is rejected and lose perspective on the publishing process by failing to take personal responsibility. Hallinan (2009, p. 5) observes that, "we learn so little from experience because we often blame the wrong cause." Individuals who take personal ownership of their writing have cultivated a teachable attitude and strive to improve their skills. Editors will share reasons for an article being rejected and it is important to learn from these experiences. Being teachable, persistent and having a passion for a subject are three traits of successful writers.

"He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life."

                  Ralph Waldo Emerson

During my academic journey, a variety of people have encouraged me to publish. Yet, it was not until after completing my second doctoral degree that writing for publication became a major goal. My first attempt at publishing was not successful but was a valuable experience. The topic did not fit the journal's focus. This event prompted me to devote more time to exploring journals to identify subject trends and editor's expectations. It is important to invest time into studying various publications before making a final decision on a topic and place of submission. Ray (2010, para#4) recommends asking the following questions about journals:

1.      What is its purpose?

2.      What regular departments or features does it include?

3.      What seasonal material does it include?

4.      What range of freelance-written topics does it cover?

5.      What topics and articles have been recently pu blished?

6.      What elements and features do the articles include? 

7.      What writing techniques, structure, and organization do authors employ?

8.      How long are the articles?

9.      How deep is the information?  

10.  How do articles and accompanying graphics appear?

11.  How formal or informal are the design, writing, and graphics?

This list of questions will help individuals to identify the top three or four potential journals or magazines that offer the best publication opportunities. The next step is to establish a series of short and long-term writing goals. It is essential that individuals create goals that help them continually write and practice their skills. Learning to write on a regular basis requires being creative, disciplined and having a strong interest or passion for the subject. Journal writing is an excellent way to establish a daily writing routine that creates a reservoir of ideas for future projects (White, 2008). Making reflective observations and recording the thoughts will generate new ideas, create diverse perspectives, enhance critical thinking skills and offer opportunities to increase empathy for others. Being constantly engaged in writing activities will improve the ability to understand and communicate knowledge.

In life you are the painter, the paint, and the painting. On the journey to greatness, you are the archer, the arrow, and the target. Draw your bow and take aim on what you want."   
Noah Benshea

Writing Skills and Research

Success is built through some experimentation to discover the best strategies to effectively produce quality work. Writing skills are improved through self evaluation, practice and feedback. Individuals can share their papers with others and relate their need to have specific guidance (e.g. passive sentences) which encourages more relevant advice. Writing insights on grammar and style issues are available through books (e.g. Royal's (2004) The Little Red Writing Book) software programs such as StyleWriter (2010). Also, learning to use Roget's International Thesaurus will bring new life to narratives. Plotnik (2007, p. 77) shares six advantages to using the thesaurus:

  1. Discover more fitting or more forceful words;

  2. Find those good words you can't quite recall; 

  3. Avoid repetition of words; 

  4. Escape clichés and worn modifiers; 

  5. Help describe the so-called indescribable;

  6. Refine your intended meanings (via related concepts).

Take the time to investigate words, use dictionaries to look up meanings and reflect on why authors select certain terms. The goal is never to impress the reader with large or exotic words. Rather, language should be clear, interesting and informative. Writers must evaluate their use of language by asking questions such as, do the words engage readers or do the terms create confusion for potential readers? Brohaugh (2002) encourages writers to establish a style that enables readers to quickly understand the meaning of the text. Becoming skilled at crafting sentences and paragraphs will help capture the reader's imagination and sustain interest to read the entire article (White, 2008).

"Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure."
  Edward Thorndike

Journal articles should not be wooden and void of emotion. Sadly, some writers can become consumed with being objective and lose connection with their readers. Confident writers will be open and genuine and avoid hiding behind their words. Wilbers (2000, 124) relates that "at its best, your writing should convey a sense of your individuality, your humanity, your warmth." Being yourself will foster genuine communication of thoughts. People long for personal and honest conversations. Using artificial language creates credibility issues because it might not be clear what the author truly believes. Those who struggle with grammar issues can become absorbed with avoiding mistakes which can diminish their message. This can cause the message to become distorted, creates distance from the reader and undermines the writer's credibility. How can writing become more dynamic and personal?  The key is to integrate personality traits into writing by being genuine, lively, somewhat playful at times and even unpredictable. People long to encounter personal narratives where the writer shares the challenges in understanding complex ideas and problems. Readers are able to connect with those who have similar struggles. Writers can infuse personality into the text by using action verbs and visual terms that generate colorful images. For instance, when discussing a major concept, instead of implementing the traditional rational approach, share a metaphor and appeal to the reader's imagination. Developing journal articles is an adventure in creativity as writers seek to engage their readers in original thinking (Wilbers, 2000).

Sharing stories can be a powerful way to relate principles and sustain reader interest. Stories play an essential role in developing contextual information, enlarging personal frames of reference, offering more accurate information and helping readers identify with the subject (Piper, 2006).  A story affirms the human perspective and encourages awareness about social issues and the potential for growth. One way to start a story is to share a quote such as "The real test of character for a leader is to nurture those people whose stars may shine as brightly as – or even brighter than  – the leader's own" (Bennis, 2004 p. 52). The quote could lead to a diversity of leadership discussions. For instance, a writer could reflect on a professional experience involving myths about creativity and how management driven time pressures often fail and demoralize employees (Amabile, Hadley & Kramer, 2002).

“But as you get older, more experienced, and more confident, you realize that your failures aren’t fatal, and your successes don’t completely define you.”
John Maxwell

Reading is one of the best ways to increase vocabulary and generate ideas for articles. Ralph Waldo Emerson would often read five hours a day and the habit helped him produce thought provoking literature (Richardson, 2009). Reading a diversity of materials stimulates thinking about creative ways to organize and discuss subjects. People will use various excuses as towhy they spend little time reading. Yet, reading must be a priority for those who are serious about publishing. Electronic reading books (e.g. Kindle) are growing more popular because books can be downloaded and stored in a small portable device. Consistently reading with a specific purpose reflects having the discipline to learn and being dedicated  to larger goals. Fostering intellectual habits of the mind will promote critical thinking skills and establish the following five life-long learning traits and skills:

  1. quest for knowledge – comfortable with ambiguity, intellectual curiosity

  2. independence – autonomy, self-directed, take initiative, create original research

  3. humility – openness to feedback, receptive  to new ideas

  4. research skills – learn to analyze, synthesize, conduct  research projects

  5. communication skills – share research with diverse groups, becoming a public intellectual

Life-long learners are focused on daily growing and enjoy the pursuit of knowledge. Successful writers have a superb work ethic that enables them to translate their ideas into journal articles.

"Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge, others just gargle."
  Robert Newton Anthony

Technological Resources

Mindtools can provide writers with useful technological resources. Jonassen (1997, para#1 ) defines Mindtools as "a way of using a computer application program to engage learners in constructive, higher-order, critical thinking about the subjects they are studying." Mindtools have a diversity of benefits such as fostering knowledge construction, using computers to design products and become acquainted with new technologies that can increase their productivity (Culley, 2007). A mind map is a learning tool that can help individuals create new perspectives, foster an understanding of complex ideas and develop visual ways to describe past and present knowledge. Inspiration and MindManager are two of the popular mind map software programs. The maps promote the exploration of new ideas, foster creative problem solving skills,  and make knowledge relationships into new paradigms (Jonassen, Carr & Yeuh, 1998). Mindtools foster autonomy and confidence which are essential skills in research and writing.  Editors encourage writers to use graphs, charts and mind maps to provide visual images of knowledge. The visual approach broadens the opportunity to relate ideas to a larger audience.

The eyePlorer is a unique Mindtool. The Web based tool provides a visual picture of search terms. The tool enables the user to select a term or terms and Web sites are generated with basic facts about each site. The notepad feature serves as a place to record basic site data within the same Web page. The tool is designed to help people experiment with various terms to provide new insights into how to investigate their topic. Individuals can use the tool as a visual picture that acts as an information filter and creativity resource for developing journal articles. Figure 1 highlights how the term leadership can produce a visual image of related Internet based sites.


Figure 1 Leadership (eyePlorer.com, 2009)

"A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds."     Francis Bacon

Developing Good Writing Practices

A valuable way to increase publication opportunities is by continually writing and networking with other writers and editors through email communication and attending conferences. There are professional organizations that offer formal and informal formats to meet others who are also involved in research projects and publication related activities. For instance, The International Forum of Educational Technology Society (IFETS) has provided online discussions where individuals can share their papers on educational issues with an international community.  

Writers should cultivate good working relationship with their editors. Editors appreciate those who have carefully followed journal guidelines for submitting articles which helps them focus their attention on reviewing the work. It is surprising how people will neglect to provide updates on article revisions. Individuals who miss promised deadlines create issues for editors who have specific procedures to edit and review material. Writers can operate in a manner that can diminish the possibility of having future writing opportunities because editors can lose trust in their ability to meet deadlines.  Editors want quality articles in a timely manner (Ray, 2010).

Writers can share their knowledge and insights in a literature review, presenting papers at conferences (e.g. Muirhead, 2007a; Muirhead, 2002b), sharing best teaching practices (e.g. Muirhead, 2002a), book reviews (e.g. Muirhead, 2008) and group projects (e.g. Muirhead & Blum, 2005). Editors are looking for creative narratives that reflect a good working knowledge of the literature. Usually, editors will invite individuals who have specific expertise in an academic area to review a book. Fahey (2001, para#20) states that “a book review should not just summarize the book, but should incorporate personal judgments. You should be polite even if you disagree with the author (and especially if you are just beginning your writing/teaching career)." Book reviews and conducting peer reviews of articles can be ways to become acquainted with an editor and publication expectations. Editors want to work with people that they can trust and working on editorial projects is an excellent way to foster a positive relationship and generate potential future publication opportunities.

Individuals can experience times when they struggle with their writing. It is wise to realize that others can have this problem and take a healthy perspective on this issue. Skinner & Policoff, 1994 offer five strategies to jump start the writing process:

  1. Establish a writing routine that creates a specific time and place to write and encourages daily practice.

  2. Change your established writing schedule to a different time of the day.

  3. Read books and articles in your research area with renewed sensitivity because it can promote new ideas.

  4. Write a letter or poem that expresses your thoughts.

  5. Exercise or listen to music to help energize your creativity (Skinner & Policoff, 1994).

Graduate degree programs provide numerous opportunities to learn new ideas, increase knowledge of subject areas and interact with others who have diverse intellectual interests. I recently completed a Master’s degree in Computing in Education at The Teachers College, Columbia University and was able to publish 95% of my course papers. The class papers reflected my interests in cognitive psychology (e.g. critical thinking and creativity) and distance education.  A key to developing a writing plan is identifying ways that can generate article materials. For instance, establish a daily reading routine and explore academic journals, blogs and popular literature. The intellectual interaction with an assortment of sources will foster creative ideas. It is essential to have a way to record new ideas such as writing a note, sharing a voice message on a cell phone or making a journal comment in a Word document. One of the greatest frustrations is losing insights!

"The courage to imagine the otherwise is our greatest resource, adding color and suspense to all our life."    Daniel Boorstin

Practical Ways to Help Others Publish

University instructors can help their students publish by explaining the process to them and sharing examples of their publications (e.g. Muirhead, 2007b). Students appreciate having relevant feedback on their initial article drafts. Faith (2009) shares valuable advice for sharing writing critiques:

  • Carefully read the text several times to be able to summarize the article to identify what ideas were effectively communicated and areas requiring more attention.

  • Share comments indicating strengths, offer suggestions for improvement and close with positive remarks.

  • Avoid using language reflecting bias or personal judgments that require adding details and weaken the writer's message and voice.

  • Relate honestly about the weak areas but avoid excessive criticism.

  • Writers are free to accept or reject your suggestions.

Teachers can offer guidance by highlighting potential journals to seek publication (Ritzhaupt, 2009) and co-author articles with their colleagues and students (e.g. Muirhead & Skelton, 2009; Muirhead & Blum, 2006; Muirhead, Yap & Keffer, 2005). Students appreciate the coauthored projects to share ideas and learn more about the publishing process. Doctoral mentors or chairs can share their writing expertise and help their students to identify potential journal articles from their dissertation research (Heyman & Cronin, 2005). Publications are an excellent way for students to establish a professional identity within the academic community.

Doctoral students can use mind maps to organize literature reviews. A map can highlight the information resources used to study the topic such as libraries, Internet databases (e.g. ProQuest Digital Dissertations), types of journals, newspapers and research documents. Mind maps are growing more popular within the academic community because their ability to share complex ideas in journal articles, blogs, newsletters and email notes. McNichol’s (2008) map reflects how a student can develop  a comprehensive literature review with seven major themes: complexity theory, knowledge management, organizational learning, culture, multigenerational, knowledge barriers and knowledge transfer (see Figure 2).

Literature Review Mind Map

Figure 2 Graphical representation of key themes within the literature review.
McNichols, 2008, p. 27.

Mindmaps are tools that can present information in ways that engage people and prompt reflective thinking and stimulate debate. Piper (2006, p. 23) encourages writers to tackle complex issues in a manner that challenges reader's thinking, "change writers trust that readers can have multiple points of view, contradictions, unresolved questions and nuance."

Striving to read everything remotely related to a topic could result in devoting too much attention to trivial articles and materials. A mind map can help keep the research focused on the most important and relevant documents. Also, individuals can spend so much time reading that they fail to write about their project. There can be a tendency to choose reading over writing because it is less demanding than writing. The writing process is another way to reflect upon ideas and foster a better understanding of information relationships (Language Center, 2004).

"Make the effort to achieve greatness a habit, and doing less will become a discomfort."  Noah Benshea


Editors are always looking for dynamic journal articles that will serve the needs and interests of their readers. Writers should strive to develop positive relationships with editors by submitting quality work, meeting promised deadlines, and responding promptly to their e-mail or telephone messages. Mindtools can enhance research and writing skills and offer unique ways to communicate ideas. Good writers share their personality and connect with readers through stories, metaphors and creative insights.

"The secret to connecting with your reader is to be yourself. It may take confidence, even courage, to reveal who you are, but your reader wants to know. Don't hide behind your words" (Wilbers, 2000, p. 124)


Amabile, T., Hadley, C. N. & Kramer, S. J. (2002). Creativity under the gun. Harvard Business Review, 80(8), 52-61.

Ballon, R. (2007). The writer's portable therapist: 25 sessions to a creativity cure. Avon, MA: Adams Media.

Bennis, W. (2004, January). The seven ages of the leader. Harvard Business Review, 46-53.

Brohaugh, W. (2002). Write tight: How to keep your prose sharp, focused and concise. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books.

Culley, A. (2007). Mindtools. Retrieved April 10, 2009 from http://instructionaldesign.com.au/Academic/mindtools.htm

eyePlorer (2009). Retrieved April 28, 2009 from

Faith, M. (2009). The art of the critique. The Writer, 122(11), 36-37.

Hallinan, J. T. (2009). Why we make mistakes: How we look without seeing, forget things in seconds, and all are pretty sure we are all way above average. New York: Broadway Books.

Henson, K. T. (1999). Writing for professional publication: Keys to academic and business success. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Heyman, B. & Cronin P. (2005). Professional development: Writing for publication: adapting academic work into articles. British Journal of Nursing. 14 (7): 400-4.

Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yeuh, H. P. (1998). Computers as mindtools for engaging learners in critical thinking. TechTrends, 43 (2), 24-32.

Jonassen, D. H. (1997). Mindtools. Retrieved January 1, 2010 from http://www.quasar.ualberta.ca/edpy485/edtech/mindtool.htm

Language Center (2004). Writing up research: Using the literature. Asian Institute of Technology. Retrieved April 29, 2009 from http://www.clet.ait.ac.th/EL21LIT.htm

McNichols, D. (2008). Tacit Knowledge: An Examination of Intergenerational Knowledge Transfer Within an Aerospace Engineering Community, p. 27. University of Phoenix. Phoenix: AZ. Retrieved April 25, 2009 from ProQuest Digital Dissertations.

Muirhead, B. & Skelton, J. (2009). [Review of the book Born Digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives]. i-Manager’s Journal of Educational Technology, 6 (1), 89-90.

Muirhead, B. (2008). [Review of the book, Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines]. Teachers College Record, Columbia University.

Muirhead, B (2007a, September). Interactivity challenges facing online educators. 12th Cambridge International Conference on Open and Distance Learning. Cambridge University, Cambridge, England.

Muirhead, B. (2007b). Integrating Creativity into Online University Classes. Educational Technology & Society, 10 (1), 1-13. Retrieved October 8, 2009 from http://www.ifets.info/journals/10_1/1.pdf

Muirhead, B. & Blum, K. (2006). Advising Online Dissertation Students. Educational Technology & Society, 9(1), 1-8. Retrieved October 8, 2009 from: http://www.ifets.info/journals/9_1/1.pdf

Muirhead, B. & Blum.K. (Eds.) (2005). Conquering the mountain: Framework for successful chair advising of online dissertation students. Publisher: International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning.

Muirhead, B., Yap, R. & Keffer, J. (2005). Blog RUBRIC: Designing your business blog. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2 (11), 53-59.      Retrieved October 8, 2009 from: http://itdl.org/Journal/Nov_05/

Muirhead, B. (2002a). Effective Online Assessment Strategies for Today's Colleges & Universities. Educational Technology & Society 5 (4).
Retrieved October 8, 2009 from: http://ifets.ieee.org/periodical/vol_4_2002/discuss_summary_october2002.html

Muirhead, B. (2002b, June). Enhancing Interactivity in Online Graduate Classes. Virtual Learning: Academic and Corporate Conference at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City.

Pipher, M. (2006). Writing to change the world. New York: Riverhead Books

Plotnik, A (2007). Spunk & bite: A writer's guide to bold, contemporary style. New York: Random House.

Procrastination (nd). Student Academic Services, California Polytechnic State University. Retrieved April 6, 2010 from http://sas.calpoly.edu/asc/ssl/procrastination.html

Ray, D. S. (2010).  Freelance article writing: Tips for establishing and maintaining good relationships with magazine editors. Retrieved April 2, 2010 from: http://www.sawn.co.za/magtips.htm

Richardson, R. D. (2009). First we read, then we write. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press.

Ritzhaupt, A. D. (2009). Educational Technology and Distance Education Journals. Retrieved October 15, 2009 from http://aritzhaupt.com/?page_id=45

Royal, B. (2004). The little red writing book. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books.

Skinner, J. & Policoff, S. P. (1994). Writer’s block—and what to do about it. Writer, 107 (11), 21-24.

StyleWriter (2010). Retrieved April 12, 2010 from http://www.stylewriter-usa.com/

White, F. (2008). The daily writer: 366 mediations to  cultivate a productive and meaningful writing life. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books.  p. 93 another perspective on managing time

Wilbers, S. (2000). Keys to writing. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books.


Billingham, J. (2002). One Step Ahead Editing and Revising Text. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Clark, R. P. (2006). Writing tools: 50 essential strategies for every writer. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Johnson, W. B. & Mullen, C. A. (2007). Write to the top: How to become a prolific academic. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Liu, E. & Noppe-Brandon, S. (2009). Imagination first: Unlocking the power of possibility. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Rankin, E. (2001). The work of writing: Insights and strategies for academics and professionals. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Silvia, P. J. (2007). How to write a lot: A practical guide to productive academic writing. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

About the Author


Brent Muirhead has a BA in social work, master's degrees in religious education, history, administration, e-learning, computing in education and doctoral degrees in education (D.Min. & Ph.D.). He recently completed an MA degree in computing in education at The Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Muirhead teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in Atlanta, Georgia and online for the University of Phoenix. He leads online workshops on journal publishing for doctoral faculty and he is mentor for dissertation students. He is an Associate Editor for Educational Technology and Society; Senior Online Editor of International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning and has worked as a visiting research fellow to Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland. A Reader in Online Education, is a book that contains 37 of his journal articles on distance education.

Email: brent.muirhead1@gmail.com


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