Publishing the Scholarly Article in Classical Studies

A Guide for New Members of the Profession

By Ruth Scodel and Marilyn B. Skinner

The following guide to scholarly publishing has been compiled by two former editors of TAPA. It is designed to help a graduate student or recent Ph.D. write a good first article, choose the right venue for it, and successfully submit it for publication. While our opinions are strictly personal, and may on occasion seem idiosyncratic, they represent what we would be likely to say to any of our graduate students who asked us for tips about publishing in this field. We hope you will find at least some of the advice useful.

Writing the Scholarly Article

Scholarly articles belong to the larger genre of expository writing. A piece of expository writing tries to present information and arguments as clearly as possible. Consequently, it is the author's obligation to articulate his or her meaning explicitly, instead of asking the reader to infer it, as the literary artist does. In a scholarly article, the author sets forth a thesis about a given topic and attempts to convince an audience of its validity. If the author makes a lucid and persuasive case for his or her opinion, the article is successful. While the boundaries of scholarly style have expanded in recent years, most editors and readers evaluate articles by these traditional criteria.

Published articles may begin their lives as seminar papers. If so, they need to undergo a long conversion process. For tips on how to set it in motion, see Appendix B.

An article is not the same thing as a dissertation chapter. While both may deal with the same set of issues, they appeal to different audiences and serve different purposes. Your dissertation was composed for the members of your thesis committee, especially your dissertation director. There you needed to demonstrate to your professors that you had full control of the relevant primary and secondary sources and had grasped all the positive and negative implications of a given scrap of evidence. Consequently, you spent a good deal of time explaining, and reacting to, the views of virtually every scholar who had dealt with this question earlier.

The article, on the other hand, is addressed to a wide audience of fellow classicists--a group that may well include high school, undergraduate, and graduate students as well as your professional colleagues. It may also be of interest to scholars in other disciplines and to members of the general public. Relatively few of these readers will know more than you do about the topic, or even as much as you do. Your mission is to educate them, to give them the gift of your knowledge and insights, not to defend yourself against their potential criticisms.

When you go on the job market, a well-meaning mentor may urge you to send off a chapter of your dissertation "as is" so that you'll be able to list an item "under editorial review" on your curriculum vitae while getting feedback from referees. We suggest you politely ignore that advice. The listing won't carry much weight with a search committee, and you'll be wasting the referees' time, as well as postage. While you can certainly base an article upon research you've done for your dissertation, the material should be set forth differently in keeping with the above guidelines.

An article should deal with one, and only one, scholarly issue, presenting your arguments and conclusions as succinctly as possible. Keep your thesis firmly in mind and don't digress. You may need to correct an earlier interpretation; if so, do so briefly and tactfully, ideally in a footnote. Sarcasm and extended polemic are out of place. In fact, you need not, and should not, concentrate upon demolishing prior views but rather on expounding your own reading in the most positive and compelling light; if your conclusions can be readily integrated into the current communis opinio, so much the better. Nor do you need to cite every last obscure or peripheral secondary source. Experienced scholars reference all items in the literature that bear on the topic under discussion--and none that do not. (For advice on proper acknowledgment of indebtedness to others, see Appendix A below.)

If you're revising a paper originally given as a talk, remember the difference between oral and written communication. Oral arguments are usually simplified so that the listener can follow them more easily; in written form, they must be fleshed out with further examples, while the evidence itself is given a more nuanced consideration. A lively, conversational tone is often appropriate in presentation, but the style of a printed article is almost invariably formal. The sole exceptions to that rule are plenary addresses (for example, the APA Presidential Address) and, on occasion, the scripts of entire panels published together as a collection, often with invited commentary and audience discussion.

Once you have revised accordingly, think of a compelling title, one that arouses reader interest. If you cannot be both lively and clear, however, choose clarity. Remember that the published article will be listed in non-annotated databases such as TOCS-IN; you will do hurried researchers a favor by providing a title that clearly indicates subject matter. You will also do bibliographers a favor by keeping it relatively short. (One of the authors of this guide has a penchant for two-word titles hinting at approach, e.g., "Pretty Lesbius," Roman Sexualities, "Sapphic Nossis." She concedes, however, that this strategy may not be feasible in every instance.)

Regarding footnotes, you may find S. Nimis, "Fussnoten: Das Fundament der Wissenschaft," Arethusa 17.2 (1984) 105-34 amusing and insightful. W. M. Calder, III, "A Scholar's First Article," CW 77 (1984) 361-66 offers some helpful advice, but also contains information about submission and refereeing that is no longer current. Use with caution.

Selecting a Journal

Selecting the appropriate journal for your submission is an art. Don't rely exclusively on the advice of teachers and colleagues; explore current editorial preferences at specific journals yourself. Spending time in the library and developing a list of three or four likely venues will have a long-term payoff. You should read both the policy statements issued by editors and the tables of contents in recent issues of the journals to which you plan to submit. (Both are often available on journal websites; a list of sites is given below.) Consider the following factors:

Restrictions
Some journals receive submissions only from members of the associations that sponsor them.

Subject Matter
Is the topic of your article within the basic scope of a particular journal? Don't submit a fundamentally historical essay to a journal that specializes in literary criticism.

Length
Many journals have length limits, so if your article is long, your choices will be limited. If your article is too long for journals that would otherwise be ideal, you should think about whether it could or should be shortened. Conversely, some journals regularly publish very short articles; others avoid them. Typically, quarterlies are likelier to publish brief notes than are annuals.

Breadth of Appeal
Is your article likely to interest a large audience within the profession, or is it more specialized or technical? Some journals expect all articles to be of general interest, while others present a mixture of broader and more specialized works, and others are aimed at particular subdisciplines. Audiences for some journals include both professional scholars and secondary teachers, so editors look for articles that will interest both groups.

Scholarly Approach
Some journals prefer submissions that showcase new methodologies or topics, while others are more traditional, and some try to represent the greatest possible variety of approaches. If your article participates in an ongoing scholarly dialogue or controversy, it makes obvious sense for it to appear in the same place as other contributions to that discussion.

Illustrations
Not all journals are able to publish graphics. Journals of archaeology and art history invite illustrated essays, as do some literary journals with a decided orientation toward the humanities (e.g., Arion). Otherwise, check with the editor before you send off an essay containing pictures, drawings, charts, or graphs.

Refereeing Policy
Most American journals use anonymous refereeing. Some rely on editorial boards both to read articles themselves and to select referees, while others have single editors who select referees. Some European journal editors referee all submissions themselves. Know the scholarship of the editors and board members. Your goal should be to find rigorous but sympathetic referees. Weak publications can be worse than none in the job market or a tenure case.

Decision Time
The time from submission to acceptance or rejection may be as short as a month or as long, unfortunately, as nine months. E-mail has speeded up the process of finding referees and receiving reports from them. While a conscientious editor will make every effort to give you a timely decision, some factors are beyond his or her control: referees become ill and computers crash. Feel free to ask the editor beforehand how long the refereeing process takes on average, but be prepared for an underestimate.

External factors affect decision time. It's harder to place a long essay with referees (another reason for keeping the paper short). Extremely specialized papers are also hard to place. Referees are more willing to undertake this obligation at certain times of the year. The absolutely worst time to send off an essay expecting a quick decision is between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the new year. Prospective referees are deliberating on search and tenure committees, trying to write their annual meeting presentations, and making holiday preparations, all at once. Wheels of adjudication at journals also tend to grind more slowly during the summer months. The best period for submitting is usually between September and November, when relatively fewer contributions come in.

Sometimes editors themselves inform a contributor of circumstances that are delaying a decision. Otherwise, it's proper to make a polite inquiry if you've heard nothing after four to six months.

Publication Backlogs
There are journals where a piece may wait two years to be printed after it is accepted. If this is a concern, find out what the situation is before you submit by e-mailing the editor. Editors will not deceive you about the existence of a backlog. Consider, too, how often the journal appears and how many articles are usually published in each issue.

Overall Prestige
There is a hierarchy of journals, but it is unofficial and varies from subject to subject. It is based less on the average quality of articles than on the number of especially important articles recently published and on the reputations of the scholars who regularly appear there. Also, prestige tends to accompany age: after a century or so, a journal has probably acquired respect based on tradition. Leading journals naturally set higher standards. To be suitable for a journal of the first rank, a contribution must advance discussion of a problem significantly, e.g., by bringing previously unconsidered evidence to bear, and must also present a well-reasoned and highly compelling argument. Less prestigious journals are often less rigorous in their refereeing. Be very realistic about the quality of your own work, and don't send a "B"-grade essay off to an "A"-grade journal hoping for a miracle.

Alternative Outlets
Remember that there are journals outside classics that welcome interdisciplinary work. If your article could interest non-classicists who study the same literary genre or historical phenomena, or presents issues of method, consider one of these. The article will need to be written or revised with a view to this wider audience. If you publish in such a journal, you will need to consider whether you need to make a special effort to bring your work to the attention of classicists who might find it interesting but would not necessarily see it. An oral presentation at a scholarly meeting of classicists is one strategy for increasing awareness of your work. You can also send offprints to scholars who are likely to find your work useful (especially those you have cited favorably--just be mindful of the gray area between networking and flattery).

Special Factors
Finally, consider connections or personal ties you or your mentors have with particular journals or their editors. While a journal connected with a department may not confine itself to submissions from former faculty and students, such submissions may be especially welcome and could induce the editor to provide a little extra help to improve the article. If an editor is an authority on your own topic, you may receive special advice and assistance. Personal connections are a very delicate area. Editors will resent any pressure to relax their professional standards, and they dislike having to reject the submissions of their friends and their friends' students. On the other hand, a friendly eye is always better than a hostile one.

Preparing the Essay for Submission

First and most important: read the style sheet and directions for submission contained in the journal to which you have decided to offer your essay. They will be found at the front or back of each issue, and on the journal website. Follow those instructions rigorously. For example, if you're asked to employ footnotes, don't use endnotes instead; if abbreviations of ancient authors and texts should conform to OCD, don't abbreviate according to OLD and LSJ. Some journals have a prescribed form of citation, e.g., putting only author's name and date in the note, with full reference supplied in a bibliography at the back. Try to follow that form as closely as you can. If the stylistic instructions don't tell you precisely what to do, read over the articles in the latest issue and model your practice on what you find there.

Second, do a thorough audit before you send off the essay. Typos are bad form, and some referees make a point of noting spelling errors. Check all quoted Greek and Latin passages against the original text (use standard editions, and the same edition throughout). .Make sure quotations from secondary sources, titles, dates and page numbers are correct. Don't put this task off until galley proof stage; you won't have sufficient time to do it then.

Familiarize yourself with the regulations concerning "fair use" of copyrighted material. Giving appropriate credit is not enough. Generally accepted standards for what constitutes "fair use" must be observed. Most presses define "fair use" as no more than 350 words of prose text quoted from any one source. Otherwise, permission to reproduce has to be obtained from the copyright holder. You, the author, may be held responsible for obtaining such permission and paying any fees required; if so, you should provide the editor with a copy of the signed permission form before your essay goes to press. It's better to avoid using large amounts of copyrighted material, if possible. For example, if you are citing the Loeb translation to an extent that copyright becomes a concern, you may be quoting excessively: supply enough to enable the reader to follow the argument, but no more. Alternatively, consider providing your own translations of Greek and Latin passages rather than quoting the Loeb.

Do not submit the same article to more than one journal at the same time. Violating that rule is a fundamental breach of professional conduct. For good reason, you may withdraw the ms. after submission but before an editorial decision is reached.

Unless specifically instructed otherwise, send three copies of the essay. If the journal requires anonymous submission, remove all personal references and indicators of your identity from running text and notes. On a separate page, give the title of the article, your name, academic address, telephone number and e-mail, and any other contact information that may be relevant. If you will be away during the following six months, specify dates of absence and provide alternative contact information, if possible. Making it as easy as possible for the editor to find you can shorten decision time considerably!

Your cover letter should be brief, simply indicating that you are submitting the enclosed essay for editorial consideration. If someone has read the piece in manuscript, please tell the editor, since in all fairness that person should not be asked to referee it.

Never, never fax a submission to a journal. Some journals will allow you to submit the ms. as an e-mail attachment; check with the editor first. If you are sending hard copy, don't include a diskette unless asked to do so. Usually you will not need to supply one until the article is accepted.

Editorial Response

Some time later--ideally, between two and three months--you will receive copies of the referees' reports, together with a letter from the editor informing you of the final decision. Several outcomes are possible:

  1. Straightforward acceptance, without any stipulated changes. This almost never happens, so don't expect it.
  2. Conditional acceptance. Your article will be published contingent on revisions suggested by one or more referees and/or the editor. Very often you will be asked to shorten the essay. Once you have revised according to instructions, the editor will read over the new version, and, if s/he deems it satisfactory, send you a firm acceptance.
  3. Rejection, with invitation to revise and resubmit. The referees think your article shows promise, but conclude "it isn't there yet." In their reports, they will often include very detailed instructions for strengthening your argument. The editor will explicitly invite you to resubmit the piece, sometimes giving you a deadline to meet. When you return a revised version, the editor may ask at least one of the former referees to reread it. One of the things s/he will want to know is whether you have adequately addressed problems identified in the first draft, so s/he will usually send the earlier referees' reports out with the new version. A common misapprehension of inexperienced scholars is to think that "revise and resubmit" is tantamount to acceptance, and thus to pay mere lip service to referees' advice. Be aware that referees frequently take offense when their painstaking efforts are not heeded, and that "revise and resubmit" carries no guarantees whatsoever. If you do an inadequate job of revision, your article may still be rejected. Normally you shouldn't expect a third chance.

    Perhaps you disagree with a referee's suggestion. When resubmitting, explain your reason for not adopting that particular proposal; leave it up to the editor to weigh the difference in opinion with the referee. However--and it's sad that we feel it necessary to give the following advice, but we do--never question the referee's objectivity or professional competence. When editors receive a genuinely unfair report, they normally solicit another evaluation; if particular comments seem unhelpful, they will inform the author that they themselves do not agree. Since an editorial invitation to revise and resubmit is based upon the premise that the author will attempt to correct whatever weaknesses prevented the referees from recommending acceptance originally, you might do better to try another journal if a reader's criticisms appear wholly objectionable and the editor seems to accept them.

  4. Rejection, with the suggestion that the essay be offered to a different publication. Although an essay strikes the editor as unsuitable, s/he may nevertheless send it out to obtain referees' reactions. If they aren't enthusiastic, s/he could advise you to send it elsewhere. Sometimes this is a polite way of saying that the quality of the contribution doesn't measure up to the standards of the journal. At other times, the essay, while well written and argued, may be too narrow in focus, too theoretical, or too specialized for that particular venue.
  5. Rejection, with no invitation to resubmit. The referees will identify fundamental problems with the thesis, and the editor will firmly turn the essay down. Read the reports over carefully and give serious consideration to the points they raise before sending the piece elsewhere. At the same time, don't become discouraged! Good articles have been rejected, and distinguished scholars have written articles that were deservedly rejected.

Even if your essay isn't accepted, it's a nice gesture to e-mail the editor thanking her/him and the referees for their efforts on your behalf. If it is accepted, definitely express your thanks and confirm that a final version will be returned by the stipulated deadline.

Finishing Touches

Hallelujah, your article was accepted with relatively few, minor changes. You were asked to send the final draft in by a certain date, and you're about to mail off hard copy together with a diskette. Alternatively, the editor may have asked you to e-mail the draft as an attachment--although this can wreak havoc with formatting and is not recommended for essays containing Greek.

Sooner or later you'll receive page proofs (a corollary of Murphy's Law provides that it must happen during finals week). It is your obligation to return them within the time-frame specified by the editor. This can be as short as 48 hours. Read proofs over thoroughly at least twice. One time-honored trick is to read the essay backward, starting with the last word. Another is to read aloud to a friend (or paid assistant) who follows the text in a second copy.

The editor may have modified your prose in the interests of clarity or smoothness. If you're not happy with the new wording, explain your concerns in a cover letter. Do not, however, quibble over every change as if your prose were deathless--editors have enough work to do without being pestered in this way. She or he may have attached queries on Post-It notes or written them in the margins; respond briefly but clearly to every question. Buy a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, fourteenth edition, and follow its conventions for marking page proof. If you have employed cross-references (a practice editors discourage), make sure that pages or note numbers are correct. Double-check accents and breathings in Greek, spellings and diacritical marks in titles and quotations in modern foreign languages. Do not, repeat do not, make substantial revisions to content in page proof. You could be charged for each word changed. At the very least, you will incur the wrath of the editor, and a wrathful editor is no fun to deal with.

And Then...

Under the rubric "Publications" on your CV, enter the title of your essay and add "forthcoming in [journal title]." Pat yourself on the back; you deserve it. Then get to work on that second article.

We regard these guidelines as a work-in-progress. If you would like us to develop a point further or have ideas for possible topics not discussed here, please e-mail us!

Ruth Scodel - rscodel@umich.edu
Marilyn Skinner - mskinner@u.arizona.edu

Journal Websites

Below are links to the guidelines for prospective contributors posted on websites of representative American classics journals. We have tried to make the list as up-to-date and comprehensive as possible; do inform us of additions and corrections. Thank you!

American Journal of Archaeology
http://www.ajaonline.org/shared/s_info_contrib.html

American Journal of Philology
http://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/american_journal_of_philology/guidelines.html

Arethusa
http://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/arethusa/guidelines.html

Arion
http://www.bu.edu/arion/submit.html

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (reviews only)
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/review.html

Classical Antiquity
http://www.ucpress.edu/journals/ca/edsub.html

Classical Journal
http://www.camws.org/CJ/contributors.html

Classical and Modern Literature
http://www.missouri.edu/~classwww/clmjournal.html

Classical Outlook
No website. Contact the editor, Mary C. English (englishm@mail.montclair.edu)

Classical Philology
http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/CP/instruct.html

Classical World
http://www.caas-cw.com/contribu.html

Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies
http://www.duke.edu/web/classics/grbs/submissions.html

Harvard Studies in Classical Philology
http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~classics/hscp.html#Marker3

Helios
No website. Contact the editor, Steven M. Oberhelman (s-oberhelman@tamu.edu)

Illinois Classical Studies
http://www.press.uillinois.edu/journals/ics.html. Contact the editor, Antony Augoustakis (aaugoust@illinois.edu)

Ramus
http://www.bendigo.latrobe.edu.au/publicat/ramus/stylesheet.html

Syllecta Classica
http://www.uiowa.edu/%7Eclassics/syllclass/guidelines.html

Transactions of the American Philological Association
http://www.apaclassics.org and follow links from "Publications"

Vergilius
Questions should be directed to the editor, Patricia A. Johnston (johnston@brandeis.edu.)


APPENDIX A

Thoughts on Footnotes:
Some Considerations for Proper Acknowledgement*

By Maud Gleason

From preface, text, and notes, a reader not familiar with the book's topic should be able to reconstruct the "history of the question," the antecedents of and influences on the author's approach.

To unpack this a bit:

First and foremost, consider the reader:

  • The reader needs general information about the "history of the question": the works that opened up the question originally, and those works that constitute antecedents of the approach used by the present author.
  • The reader also wants to know more particularly the history of the present author's involvement with the question. Whose work is this author building on? This has to be clear from the text and footnotes; a reader should not have to read works cited in a book's footnotes to appreciate both the general outlines and the specific details of what the author owes to the work of other scholars.
  • The author may acknowledge intellectual debts of a more general kind in a preface and recount briefly the development of his/her own thinking on the subject.
  • Notes that give only an author's name and date without page numbers (Smith 1990) are not very helpful to the reader, and so appropriate only for very short articles, or where you are referring to the entire argument of a work.

Then consider your own procedures as an author:

  • What should one acknowledge in the text, and what in the notes? The more influential the work of another scholar has been on one's own approach, the more it belongs in the text. Scholars mentioned in the text usually make it into the index (and thus are more likely to be included in any future "history of the question"); those mentioned only in the notes often do not.
  • What if I am building on an idea mentioned by someone else in print, at a conference, or in conversation? Ideas that are fundamental to one's argument, without which the argument would not have taken the shape that it did, should be acknowledged by name ("Following up on a suggestion by Professor X...") in the text, with a footnote showing the source or "personal communication". Minor suggestions may receive general acknowledgement in a preface or opening footnote ("With thanks to my colleagues X and Y and to audiences at Princeton and UCLA for their stimulating feedback").
  • What if a junior scholar has received a great many suggestions from a dissertation advisor or senior colleague? A general acknowledgement in the preface is definitely in order. As to specific points, the junior scholar should ask the senior scholar how they would like such contributions to be footnoted, both in the dissertation and in subsequent publication.
  • What if I am using an original Greek or Latin source that I found cited in someone else's work? Here it is best to acknowledge the source of the citation if one is unlikely to have found it on one's own. Using the Georgics to gloss the Aeneid is something everyone is expected to do. Using Artemidorus' Oneirocritica to solve a crux in the Aeneid is more likely to have originated with a particular individual's diligence or imagination. Credit should be given to that person.
  • Avoid plagiarism by paraphrase. A "decoy footnote" that mentions the name of an author to whose work you are indebted, but manages to conceal the extent of one's debt to that person's work, is not sufficient acknowledgement.

Finally, consider professional relationships:

  • On strictly prudential grounds, generosity in acknowledgements protects the reputation of the author and the reputation of the Press. No one's scholarly career has been hindered by generous acknowledgement; failure to acknowledge however can have serious professional consequences.
  • Professional seniority confers special responsibilities. Senior scholars have access to the unpublished work of graduate students and review the manuscripts of other scholars seeking publication. Ideas or approaches encountered in this fashion remain the intellectual property of the original author and should be acknowledged as such after the original author has published them, or, with the author's permission, cited as "forthcoming" or "in manuscript." Not every instance of two scholars developing similar ideas should be attributed to malfeasance, however. Two individuals may be responding simultaneously to intellectual trends current in the discipline.
  • A final test: when the scholars you cite read your book, will they feel their work has been exploited unscrupulously or acknowledged fairly?

And bear in mind: the difference between copyright violation and plagiarism:

  • Plagiarism is the appropriation of all forms of intellectual property without due credit. It goes beyond borrowing phraseology to include the theft of ideas. Copyright violation, however, involves the use of words or images not in the public domain without permission, whether credit is given or not. There are recognized limits on quoting a song, poem, book, etc., verbatim and on reproducing a picture. Adding a footnote giving the source is not enough; it is the responsibility of the author (not the publisher) to seek out the copyright holder and solicit permission, which often involves paying a fee. In addition to being scrupulous about attribution, the conscientious author has familiarized herself with the general rules surrounding "fair use" (if only to avoid a lawsuit).

APPENDIX B

Seminar Paper into Article

Many fine articles have originated as papers in a graduate seminar (and some as undergraduate essays). Turning that paper intended to meet an assignment into a publishable article that contributes to knowledge of the ancient world can be both a challenge and a rewarding learning experience. Here are some suggestions on how to go about it.

First, think about the various papers you wrote for your courses. They will be on both Greek and Latin topics and deal with a variety of subjects and issues. For most people who are building a career, it is best to have one recognizable field of interest without being too narrow. There are, of course, exceptional scholars who publish in a broad range of fields, but, as a rule, they are senior people who have branched out after receiving tenure. Alternatively, a researcher may choose to devote her efforts to a single set of problems, if they are complicated enough. So as you select papers that might be the basis of future publications, think about the profile you would like to present to potential colleagues. Keep in mind that your best work as a student is likely to have been on a subject you yourself found, and still find, intriguing.

A professor may inform you that you have a publishable idea. When that happens, make an appointment to discuss the paper in more detail. Ask practical questions as well as scholarly ones. Take ample notes. You may already get good advice about where to submit it. However, a paper might be worth publishing even if the professor for whom it was written does not seem unduly impressed. If you think you have come up with an original and sustainable insight, hang onto it.

No matter how glowingly the professor praises your insight, it is usually not prudent to rush it into print. Shorter treatments of technical or precisely defined questions may well be in finished form, and supplements to a newly-published papyrus should appear as soon as possible, but most seminar papers will be better if you wait. Let your thinking steep.

There are two good reasons to delay. First, even very good student work almost always needs substantial revision. As a student, you were only beginning to understand the issues in a particular field. You may still have been weak in the modern languages you need for reviewing secondary literature or possibly not familiar enough with material evidence or the general historical and cultural context. Certainly your grasp of the ancient languages will have improved after reading additional texts closely. Writing a dissertation has probably made you a more fluent writer.

Second, if you are in a tenure-track position or even trying to get one after a year or more in temporary jobs, you will find yourself under pressure to develop a record of publications. You can save a little time by building upon the preliminary research you did a few years back. If you are lucky, you may now be asked to teach the same subjects about which you previously wrote papers, so preparing your classes will also allow you to refresh your memory of the topic and expand your research.

Begin the revision process by re-reading the paper cold. Distance yourself from it; try to be critical and objective. Since you haven't seen it for a while, its weaknesses should leap out at you. Make copious notes on points to check, additional arguments to supply, etc. Don't assume a claim is acceptable because your instructor didn't question it. Then do a first rewrite. If you have a more experienced colleague with some knowledge of the topic, ask him or her to read the paper. Weigh suggestions carefully.

You will need to give some thought to the rhetorical organization of the article, as distinct from the seminar paper. In the seminar, you and your reader(s) have shared background and assumptions. The article needs to clarify its place in scholarly discussion. You may not have been under pressure to be concise in the paper, but efficiency is important for articles. Also, professors have to read seminar papers, but readers can ignore articles, so you need to attract the reader's interest. Dull beginnings are a turn-off; try not to plod. If your thesis is daring, state it firmly and immediately so that the reader will want to see if you can sustain it. Strike a balance between making it clear where you are going and keeping readers in some suspense.

At this juncture you should consider presenting the paper at a conference, particularly one for which submissions are reviewed anonymously. Acceptance of your paper for the program is a promising sign that the fundamental idea has merit. Start writing the abstract well in advance of the deadline. Weaknesses in argumentation often show up as you try to summarize your thinking, and you may have to put in additional library time to strengthen a point. Even after you've completed the abstract, let it sit for two or three days and reread it carefully once again before sending it off. In an abstract, every word counts and inaccuracies may mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. Try not to write the paper at the last minute (but don't feel bad if you do: you aren't alone!), and time your delivery (crucial: running overtime will win you no friends!!!).

At the conference, your paper will probably be grouped in a session with others in the same general area (e.g., Latin Literature of the Augustan Age). Pay close attention to the other presenters' remarks, because their conclusions may bear on yours. Download their abstracts from the program web site (or buy the abstract book) beforehand and respond to their contributions with useful comments (follow the Golden Rule). Exchange e-mail addresses with them after the session. If your session is poorly attended--and it happens--or if the audience isn't lively, the other panelists may be your best source of help. Even if you aren't impressed with someone's paper, his or her criticism may be helpful to you.

Questions from the audience at a paper session are frequently directed at matters that need clarification. Never become defensive, even if the questioning seems hostile. Often it's best simply to admit that an issue is one you hadn't considered and thank the participant for calling it to your attention. Meanwhile, have a friend in the audience taking notes about points raised and your responses to them. Don't rely on your own memory, because stress causes forgetfulness. If you don't have a friend available, try to write up your notes on the session the same day, before you forget.

Now that you've revised your seminar paper to the best of your ability, shown it to helpful colleagues, and shared your ideas orally, it's time to subject your ms. to editorial review. Follow the directions we've given for submitting an article.

Last updated: September 2004
* Note: These guidelines are directed at books, but the principles apply also to articles, although one needs to be briefer in situating the work.

Share This Page

© 2017, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy