The Down-and-Dirty Article

In March, I have two articles coming out in academic journals.  One is based on a conference presentation I did in 2005.  In 2006, I spent the summer turning that presentation into an article.  One journal rejected it, so I did some revising and sent it to another in 2007.  They requested a revise-and-resubmit, which I completed in 2008.  After a few emails, the editors accepted it in March 2009, saying it would be published in 2010.  I think that’s a somewhat typical story of how an article gets published.  Yes, it took a few years, but part of that was because I took quite a while to do my revisions and resubmissions.  If I’d been quicker, it might be out by now.  My point, though, is that I followed the somewhat typical process with that article.

The other article is the one that I think has a lesson for all junior faculty or anyone trying to publish.  As I reached the last year before submitting my application for tenure and promotion, a senior member of my department told me I should get a down-and-dirty article out.  He said I should take something from the past that was already pretty much written and just get it out so I’d have something else in submission.  He said I shouldn’t spend too much time on it but should just clean it up and get it out.  In June 2008, I pulled up the file for an article I wrote in 2000 just after I finished coursework.  I submitted it to an edited collection that never found a publisher.  The editors put together a special issue of a journal on the topic but did not include my piece in that batch.  And I understand why.  I wrote it well before I completed my candidacy exams let alone my dissertation.  Looking at it in 2008, it read well but lacked depth.  I spent a couple of weeks tightening my argument and adding lots of footnotes in the style of “For further information on this point, please see these articles.”  If you look at my bibliography, it cites nothing published in this century, though the footnotes are all from the last few years.

At first, I was pretty embarrassed by these limitations.  It was clearly written by my grad-student self, and my junior-faculty self had grown in different directions.  Still, I did like the idea of submitting my tenure application with something else in submission.  I did not think it would hurt my tenure case to have this article in my file.  I just didn’t see it as my best work.  I sent it out after working on it for less than a month and then promptly forgot about it.  The month after I received my letter granting me tenure, February 2009, I received an email from the journal’s editor granting me a conditional acceptance.  They wanted me to make three changes.  If I agreed, they were willing to accept it without submitting it to further review.  I made those changes, and it, too, should appear this March.

I tell this story for junior faculty who are worried about having “enough” in terms of published articles.  Take a look at something you wrote in the past.  Perhaps it’s a seminar paper or a dissertation chapter you decided to jettison, but maybe you have something from the past that you could get to a submittable level by working on it for a couple of weeks.  Those in the early stages of the tenure process might feel comfortable taking more time or might feel more comfortable working on it less.  Those in the later stages may just want to get something out ASAP.  But the down-and-dirty article may be an option.  I’m still a little stunned that it’s going to appear.  I don’t think it’ll make me famous, but it might help other people exploring similar topics.  That’s all that really matters to me.

Obviously, the demands of your particular institution may influence how well this can work for you.  I have a grad school colleague who was told that all of her scholarship had to be thematically related when she went up for tenure.  I am at a place, though, that is happy to see you publish anything in a peer-reviewed journal even if it bears only a loose connection to your other scholarship.  See what you have in your files and perhaps talk to your own colleagues about how it might be received at your particular institution.  But maybe you don’t have to worry about publishing only new work that you have taken years to complete.  Maybe there’s value in something you already have.

(Photo by Flickr user Aggarwal_Gopal and licensed through Creative Commons.)

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