Writing for Historical Archaeology – Part 2. Thematic Issues
To follow up to an earlier blog post on the process of publishing an article…
By Lydia Wilson Marshall
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, DePauw University
While knee-deep in your dissertation, it’s easy to let publishing plans fall by the wayside. You might think, “How can I possibly do one more thing?” or “Let me finish my degree first and I’ll worry about the rest later.” However, students who receive a Ph.D. without any peer-reviewed publications are at a considerable disadvantage. The academic job market in archaeology is both generally dismal and ultra competitive. Now more than ever, publishing is an essential career move before the degree is in your pocket. Here’s the good news: writing an archaeology article and moving it through peer review to publication in a journal can be a highly rewarding process, both personally and professionally. Here are some tips to get you started.
A journal article is different from many papers you may have written in graduate school in that it must include original research. An excellent seminar paper synthesizing several secondary sources is not the same as an academic journal article. Of course, neither can an article accommodate the entirety of your dissertation’s data and analysis. Consider if your master’s thesis could be transformed into an article or if there is a subset of data from your dissertation that might work. Perhaps you collaborated on a project with your graduate advisor; he or she might be amenable to letting you publish your interpretation of a subset of the data. Or maybe you completed a small research project as part of one of your graduate courses. Perhaps you have worked with archaeological collections at your institution or a nearby institution.
This step to the publication process is the most foundational: you must have something new to say.
Where you choose to submit your article for review will have consequences for the likelihood of publication, the quality of the feedback you receive from reviewers, and how favorably colleagues and potential employers view the publication.
Be wary of predatory publishers. An invitation from a predatory publisher is likely to end up in your email inbox before you graduate and more of them will keep coming the more you publish legitimately. The hallmarks of a predatory journal are an upfront publishing fee charged to authors (often ostensibly to support the journal’s open access format) and a shoddy or sham peer-review process. A publication with a predatory publisher is worse for one’s academic credentials than no publication at all; at best, it signals an author’s naivety and at worst his or her desperation and complicity with the journal’s pay-for-play tactics. Of course, not every invitation from a journal that comes into your inbox is necessarily from a predatory publication.
The best advice to avoid illegitimate journals is to be on your guard and carefully research any journals that contact you.
Consider fit. When choosing where to submit your article, visit each journal’s website and read its stated mission and focus. Then, peruse recently published issues to get a feel for whether your article might fit or not. Most of all, you should think broadly. Beyond Historical Archaeology and International Journal of Historical Archaeology, there are many other journals publishing historical archaeological research that are also well respected and maintain a robust peer review process. These journals often have more specific missions or foci, so it’s important to determine whether your research fits. Does your research involve collaboration with community stakeholders? Consider the Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage. Does your research focus on social relationships and use social theory? The Journal of Social Archaeology might be a good fit. Some journals center their attention on specific research topics like the Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage or the Journal of Conflict Archaeology. Others focus on methodology, such as Ethnoarchaeology. Some history journals also publish historical archaeological research, though you should realize that historians bring their own disciplinary conventions and expectations to the review process.
Above all, don’t limit yourself to considering just one or two possible target journals. So long as they are associated with reputable publishers, don’t discount smaller or more recently founded journals. Many of these journals have editors experienced in working closely with new authors to guide them through the review, revision, and publication process.
Pay attention to journal style and submission guidelines. Editors may view an article submission that does not follow journal-specific style rules as lacking in care or effort. Also, proofread carefully for grammar and citation errors. Sloppy writing and citations annoy reviewers because they make it harder to understand the ideas in your article. These low-level errors also make it easier to dismiss your work since reviewers will reasonable assume that laxity in writing indicates a broader carelessness in your research and interpretation.
Before you begin publishing, it’s easy to imagine peer reviewers as a faceless cabal of scholars who delight in cataloguing your errors and expounding on your shortcomings. In fact, as I have recognized more and more through my editorial work at the Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage, peer reviewers are highly generous. They share their expertise and time for your benefit. Even when a peer review is negative, try to recognize the effort that it represents on the part of the reviewer. Your reviewers made time for you. Doing peer reviews counts very little toward promotion or tenure and so offers scant benefit to your reviewers themselves. Be grateful for your reviewers, even when they hurt your feelings.
To make the most of peer feedback, take a few days to digest your reviews and to get over any defensiveness. Recognize that your reviewers are trying to help you. Assume their goodwill and approach their suggestions and comments with as much impartiality as you can muster. If you feel the reviewer mischaracterized your work, consider why your ideas were hard to understand and try to clarify them. When revising, pay particular attention to any observations or suggestions made by multiple reviewers. Also, remember that reviewers can be wrong. You may, for example, receive contradictory feedback from different reviewers or you may vehemently disagree with a suggested revision. If this is the case and your article is accepting pending revision, many journal editors will understand if you explain why you chose not to complete a specific suggested revision so long as it is clear you are not simply rejecting all critical feedback.
Above all, recognize that peer review is a learning process that can benefit you rather than simply a litmus test.
If you stay in academia, you will fail over and over. We all do. You will fail in grants, in the classroom, and in publications. Indeed, most of my professional successes have been built on multiple failures. The first article I submitted to peer review was rejected outright. In summing up the reviewers’ responses, the journal editor remarked, “I wish I could be more positive.” The second article I submitted to a journal had to be revised and resubmitted before its eventual publication. While these failures were painful at the time, I learned from them, and they made my eventual publications stronger.
Once an article has been accepted through peer review, the author typically has to choose between transferring the copyright to the publisher and paying a fee to publish open access. Open access fees, which can run to a few thousand dollars, are far out of reach for most graduate students. However, you should know there is a third way. Even publishing behemoths like Springer and Taylor & Francis have what is called a “green open access” or “self-archiving” policy. What this means is that when you transfer copyright to the publisher, you still retain the rights to a post-peer review version of your accepted article prior to its copyediting and typesetting by the journal. You can post this version of your article in your university’s institutional repository online after an embargo period set by the publisher, typically one year. Doing so helps scholars and students worldwide benefit and learn from your research. For assistance with this process, I have found university librarians to be exceptionally helpful.
Publishing your research not only benefits you but also the broader field of historical archaeology. Publish not only for yourself but also for your colleagues. Don’t underestimate the value of what you have to say and contribute.