Publish and Persevere: Top Tips for Qualitative Writing and Publication
Along with the bounty of resources and advice that Academic Writing Month brings, it is important to acknowledge the frustration and deep worry about failure that is part of the process. Towards that end, I advocate getting rid of the saying publish or perish and replacing it with Publish and Persevere!
Cross published on the NVivo Blog
Top Tips for Writing and Publishing Qualitative Research
1. Organize Before Starting
Is there any feedback you should incorporate from prior drafts or conference presentations? If there are co-authors, is there a clearly written statement of who will do what and what the author order is? How will you write virtually with co-authors? How will you organize your literature review and references? (NVivo has helpful strategies for this) What is a reasonable timeline? Develop a chart where you keep track of all of your writing.
2. Conduct a Journal Search
This is a piece of advice I give that is rarely followed. Save time and identify a few journals you can send your manuscript to before writing. What journals have the best match not just for your topic but for the sample size and methodology of your study?
3. Identify a Model Article
Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Read articles in the journals you want to publish in. Choose one as a model that has a similar research design and amount of research participants and model your manuscript after it. If you cannot find one, the journal is likely not a good match for your research.
4. Avoid the Blank Page
What writing have you already done in areas such as the literature review, theory, or methodology? Paste this writing into a document and paraphrase it. Be sure to mark writing that needs paraphrasing in red so you don’t plagiarize yourself! Do you have a reference list you can add? A blank page can be daunting so add some content before you start first draft writing.
Wow! I have collected way too many horror stories about this topic. From the student who lost a thesis in an apartment fire to a squirrel causing a power surge that burned a computer, the same lesson was learned—back-up in several places.
6. Write the Abstract First
Writing the abstract helps identify tangents to edit out and ensures all aspects of the article are covered. See forthcoming information on my website or blog post on writing abstracts at Methodspace or an extensive entry in my book.
7. Utilize Headings
Headings are said to be the signposts of an article, providing direction for the reader. Well-structured headings allow readers to get to the exact information they want. They also assist us as we write. Headings should reflect the section you detailed in the abstract and the model article you have identified.
8. Dwell in the Data
Data should comprise the bulk of an article—rich data quotes, vignettes from field notes, and context descriptions of the study. Access to data is the main way readers can co-construct with you their understanding of the research.
9. Revise, Revise, Revise
Publication comes through revisions. Set the manuscript aside for a day, and then try some of these strategies. Read your manuscript out loud. If you write in Microsoft, have the Read Aloud function (in the review pane) read your manuscript to you. Put the manuscript in single space and review it. Print the manuscript and edit a hard copy. Ask a friend to edit, and if you have the resources, pay for a computerized editing service such as Grammarly or an editor.
10. Promote Your Research Accounts
Celebrate publication and then promote your work. Don’t be shy! Think of how much time your research participants invested in the study and how important you think the topic is—then tell people about it through your institution’s outlets and more extensive social media. Email a copy to people whose work you heavily utilized in the literature review and say thanks.
While I am providing tips from my 20-plus years of teaching about qualitative writing—tips don’t always work for everyone. QSR, other readers, and I would be interested to hear what works for you.
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Editors Note: This post was first published in November 2021 and with minor updates in February 2022
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maria K. E. Lahman is a professor of qualitative research methodology at the University of Northern Colorado, Colorado, USA, in the Department of Applied Statistics and Research Methods, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences. This blog highlights major points from her just-released text Writing and Representing Qualitative Research, published by Sage. See textbook here. Go to Maria’s website to opt-in to her communications on qualitative research. You can also follow Maria on Twitter: @lahman_maria