For this Writers’ Workshop article, representatives from several JALT Special Interest Groups’ publications teams responded to a questionnaire regarding: a) advice they could offer to potential authors, and b) issues they face as editors or team members. The results showed that they need support from various quarters, including more from contributors, yet that these SIG representatives are passionate about serving the TESOL community by helping teacher-researchers publish their work.
At times, I have sensed hesitation from people when I suggest they submit their papers to SIGs for publication. This hesitation may be for a variety of reasons, including fear of possible rejection, the notion that SIGs are not serious enough, or even that they are not sure which SIG would best suit their research themes. As the Publications Chair of the Teacher Development SIG, I run into this problem a lot, but I also have run into issues on the flip side of the coin. The authors who do submit, while their input is much appreciated, may benefit from general tips from publication team members.
I also wanted to find out what types of issues other team members were facing, and whatever tips they had to offer. My hope is that teacher-researchers will be encouraged to contribute to JALT SIG publications to build their résumés, to show support for SIGs, and to consider helping out in some capacity in the future.
In March 2018, I sent the link to an online survey to Publications Chairs of all the JALT SIGs (https://jalt.org/main/sigs), and asked them to distribute it amongst their publications teams. The survey consisted of six open-ended questions, and was available for two months. Out of 27 SIGs (now 28), six team members from various SIGs responded. In this report, I have removed identifying information and differentiated respondents’ answers with the following pseudonyms: SIG 1, SIG 2, SIG 3, SIG 4, SIG 5, and SIG 6 where necessary. In the following section, I summarize the responses and advice from survey participants.
In this section, I list survey questions and summarize responses.
Q1. Please explain some reasons you chose to volunteer for the publications area of your SIG?
Some team members volunteer mainly to network, to develop professional skills, and to give back to the community. Others have been involved in their SIGs for a long time, and are working to improve their SIGs’ publications by offering their skills and experience. SIG 2 explained that as a founding member of the SIG, they had started out as a newsletter editor and, gradually, their role grew as the SIG grew to include a journal in its publications umbrella. For many SIG team members, writing and publishing are somewhat of a passion, but for others, it grows out of a need to connect with others, give back to the JALT community, and grow as a professional teacher and researcher.
Q2. What are some challenges you have experienced in regards to being part of the publications team for your SIG?
Rather than a summary here, I have chosen to list the challenges that emerged from the data:
- Taking over the job from a predecessor,
- Collaborating with others on the publications team,
- Finding time to do volunteer work on top of other family, work, or research commitments,
- Encouraging teachers to submit contributions,
- Receiving enough submissions,
- Finding quality submissions for publication,
- Using APA for structure and referencing,
- Selling journals or SIG-published books overseas, and
- Burning out.
Inherent in this kind of volunteer work, there are very busy periods when the editors and staff are processing work for publication, managing workflow amongst authors, reviewers, and editors, and more! Not only do publications team members have to edit, design and publish their journals and newsletters, but they also have to hunt for potential submissions, and this can lead to unforeseen stress. Most SIGs suffer from lack of submissions, and this may be either because potential authors do not see the value in their own work, or because they do not see the value in publishing with a SIG. This latter issue comes up again in Question 4. Potential contributors may assume that editors are rejecting submissions frequently, but this apparently is not the case.
Q3. What are common issues you see with contributions that are sent to you?
The common emergent issues are listed below:
- Inattention to APA style and structure,
- Incomplete satisfaction of paper requirements,
- Topics not relevant to the SIG,
- Lack of variety in terms of content, and
- Papers that are too academic.
For newsletters, editors often prefer accessible papers that are narrative or conversational in nature. Meanwhile, both newsletter and journal editors would like to receive a wider variety of content papers, such as qualitative studies, book reviews, or personal reflections. In addition, most SIG publishers are very willing to help writers bring their papers up to standard, especially if they need help with APA citations. Yet one respondent noted the following:
We try not to reject submissions outright, but it can be very tough to review badly written articles. APA research papers follow a very rigid structure. It’s meant to make it easy for readers to find the information, not to make the paper interesting to read. Contributors need to understand this and follow it. (SIG 4)
Since most SIGs are desperate for submissions, they are very willing to assist authors in almost any way, but sending in a decent draft is a good start. It is helpful to contact editors and request past issues so that you can get an idea of the styles and formats editors are looking for.
Q4. What are the benefits for potential writers who send contributions to a SIG for publication?
All respondents agreed that publishing with a SIG once or more is a good way to build your résumé, and to experience the process from start to finish with a friendly team of volunteers. SIG 1 likened it to “smaller, friendly conferences that welcome new researchers or recent graduates of MA programs. After gaining confidence, you might be able to submit proposals for big-name conferences. It works like this in publishing too, and the SIGs are a perfect way to nurture your research/writing skills.”
SIG 2 mentioned that SIG members are built-in readership, so writers are assured of having their material read. SIG 4 explained that university kiyou (working papers) are “generally not reviewed with any rigor,” but that SIG publications, which are peer-reviewed, are an “excellent introduction to the process of publishing research articles.” Aiming for big-name journals, where you have less chance of getting your research out there, may be intimidating to those writers with less experience. Yet as SIG 6 noted, “You don’t have to be making epoch-making contributions to human knowledge to be published” in SIG Journals or newsletters. It is clear that exhibiting your participation in the TESOL community by getting your ideas out there is an important benefit of publishing with SIGs.
Q5. Please give some advice for potential contributors.
The respondents offered a variety of advice, and I have categorized their tips into three areas: before submitting, when writing, and on revising.
- Read calls for papers carefully and thoroughly.
- Read other contributions to familiarize yourself with the style and topics that have already been covered.
- Email the publications chair or editor to pitch your idea to them, if you are unsure.
- Make sure you understand your purpose for writing the article.
- Set the paper aside after finishing, then proofread it later.
- Check the APA structure and citations carefully.
- Have someone read and critique your paper, and then revise it.
- Make use of the Writers’ Peer Support group, which is very under-utilized.
If you are still hesitating, SIG 6 offered direct advice that might help in some cases to get over writer’s block, fear of rejection, or whatever may be holding you back, “Bang out a draft, send it in, act on the advice from editors. Don’t sit there thinking that it likely won’t be accepted.”
As you can see, certain bits of this advice contradict others, so it really will depend on the type of writing you are doing for which types of publication. Newsletter editors might be more willing to work with drafts than some journal editors. In general though, SIG editors are approachable because they are just like you—teachers, lecturers, professors, eikaiwa (English conversation) school owners, and similar TESOL professionals. It never hurts to email them with your idea and go from there. If your idea or draft does not fit with their SIG mission, most editors will send you off in the right direction, that is, to another SIG where your idea would be more suitable. Keep in mind that you can publish with a SIG even if you are not currently a member of it.
Q6. Finally, is there anything else you wish to tell the readers of TLT about your process, your publications, etc.?
In a nutshell, take the publishing process seriously, including the feedback you receive from the editors and reviewers. SIG 1 reminded us to “try not to take [reviewers’] feedback personally as their job is to keep the readers’ perspectives in mind” for ease of reading and comprehension. Last but not least, learn more about the publication process by volunteering for a SIG publications team! It is a great way to improve your own writing and help others at the same time.
SIG publications chairs and their team members seem to face similar issues across the board. Although not every SIG responded to my questionnaire, in speaking to them at JALT conferences or online, it is clear that their passion for their SIGs as well as their passion for writing and publishing motivate them to continue volunteering. Encouraging JALT members to contribute to and volunteer for their SIGs will bring us one step closer to producing stronger journals and more interesting newsletters, and I hope this column has helped achieve that. If even a few TLT readers contact their SIG publications chairs or editors and offer to contribute pieces of writing, or volunteer their time to help with the publishing process, everyone wins. We need help in producing quality journals and newsletters, and we want to help you get published!
Amanda Yoshida currently teaches at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba. She volunteers for the JALT Post-conference Proceedings, the Writers’ Peer Support Group, and the Teacher Development SIG. Her research interests include reflective practices, assessment, and collaborative teaching.