- Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success
In writing this review, I am disregarding Wendy Laura Belcher's admonishment: 'Never substitute writing book reviews for writing a research article' (44). But reviewing a book that appears to accomplish its intentions so effectively is a real treat. Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success is a comprehensive workbook aimed at graduate students and junior faculty members in the humanities and social sciences who aspire to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals. Yes, scores of books have been written on how to write for scholarly publication. But I know of no other handbook that focuses on this particular genre of academic writing in such a thorough and, therefore, useful manner. I am confident that anybody who actively works through this book—it is, indeed, a workbook—will eventually taste the academic publishing success in the book's subtitle.
That Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks is presented as a workbook (envision pages the dimensions of letter-size paper) is quite fitting. Writing, after all, is work. Readers are expected to engage both with the text—writing on its pages, answering its questions, completing its activities—and with other writers during the twelve-week commitment. Writing, after all, is a social act. Belcher focuses on the 'macro-level' skills underlying successful academic writing: argument, structure, organization. Writing, after all, is about more than word choice, grammar, and syntax. And Belcher admits that the best way to use her workbook is to begin with a piece of writing that has already been drafted: a conference or course paper, a chapter of a thesis or dissertation, anything [End Page 246] that contains the seed of a publishable article. Writing, after all, involves revising—and effective 'revising is the key to publication' (11).
Belcher's book is itself the product of some ten years of revisions: It evolved while she was teaching, at the University of California, Los Angeles, a seminar-style course called Writing and Publishing the Academic Article.1 And the workbook continues to evolve. In the introduction, Belcher asks readers for suggestions and feedback—as well as for needed corrections. Because I have already sent her a rather substantial itemized list of corrections to be made and clarifications to be addressed in a future edition, which I trust will be forthcoming, I need not comment on textual imperfections here. One reason for the importance of revision is highlighted in Belcher's brief, though undoubtedly necessary, section on avoiding plagiarism, wherein she presents the following lampoon:
Whenever I see cases of an author getting in trouble for publishing an article that includes word for word paragraphs from others' work, I always find it striking because they clearly aren't revising their work. What kind of author leaves whole paragraphs of their work untouched?(163)
Belcher writes in a direct and purposeful manner, anticipating the questions and concerns of novice writers for publication. The voice of a skilled teacher—a 'pedagogical not theoretical' approach (83)—grounds the text clearly. She clarifies; she cautions; she encourages; she motivates; she reassures. She employs literature on writing studies, suggestions and comments from current and former editors and faculty members, and research on faculty productivity. Belcher's own experiences as academic editor and director of an ethnic studies press also surface. Examples from numerous fields and disciplines within the humanities and social sciences are aplenty, and most come from the work of former students. Enlightening is being able to see pieces of works-in-progress coupled with the final versions: Belcher dissects abstracts, introductions, and literature reviews, all the while reinforcing the value of effective revision. She also presents a particularly helpful section on revising an article's title (203–9), advising, for example, that titles be focused, specific, suggestive of the argument, and composed of searchable keywords (so as to be...