Home > Research, Writing > When is an article not an article? When it gets rejected three times…

When is an article not an article? When it gets rejected three times…


First off, apologies for not posting yesterday. I had an attack of a particularly virulent stomach bug that laid me low all day and it was all I could do to lie in bed in a pathetic, shivering, sweaty, stomach-cramping heap. The bedroom and bathroom have now been declared official biohazard zones and I’ve order one of those biohazard suits (you know, the kind the scientists wear in ET) for Rebecca for Christmas, just in case the bug strikes again. I suspect I picked it up over the weekend when Rebecca and I were doing our weekly galavant across the country visiting friends. The people we were visiting (an old work friend Rebecca hadn’t seen in about two years and Rebecca’s brother and his wife) have young kids (all under three), and as such, they have very little understanding of appropriate hygienic behaviour (the kids, not the parents). After spending two days with them coughing, sneezing, spluttering, snottering and generally being all kid-like, I can’t say that I was surprised by the full-frontal assault on my immune system… It seems to have abated now and 40 hours later, I’m able to eat a little bit of toast and some crumpet. So much for my big strike action…

Anyway, moving onto matters more mundane.

A few months ago, you might remember that I was really excited about a paper I was writing on ‘co-opetition‘ (or co-operative competition). I managed to finish it and I submitted it to my first choice journal, Language in Society. Unfortunately, it got rejected because it didn’t fit in with the aims of the journal and was too specific a focus for a journal that was supposed to be about more general issues of, well, language in society. ‘Ok, not a problem’ thought I, ‘I’ll just submit it to another journal’, and so it got sent to Narrative Inquiry. ‘Nay’ said Narrative Inquiry (well, more precisely, Michael Bamberg), ‘it does not fit. Why not submit it to a language and gender journal?’.

After two beat-downs, I was getting quite annoyed by the failure of this paper to get any sort of reception, but I doggedly carried on with it and sent it to Gender and Language, thinking that it would at least get a look in. Alas, at the beginning of November, I got a decision from the editor that said, unsurprisingly, ‘rejected’. But it wasn’t even as though it was a close run thing. In fact, it was unanimously rejected by both reviewers and the editor, all of whom said that there was nothing new in my article to warrant publication. Instead, I was treading ground which had been trod about 20 years ago and the reviewers didn’t think that there was anything innovative or interesting enough in my analysis. A little bit more than disappointed, I managed to force myself to read the reviewers comments, and was surprised to see that it wasn’t the massacring that I expected. The general observation that it was well-written and contained some nice data, but that the focus was all wrong and concentrating on speech style wasn’t appropriate given the amount of work that had been done on this over the past 20 years or so. Instead, they advised me to abandon the idea of ‘co-opetitive’ and concentrate on the discursive construction of masculinity in my data.

Now, what’s really annoying about this is that THIS WAS ALREADY IN THE ARTICLE. But what I hadn’t done was recognise the potential for developing the paper along these lines and build the story of the article around this idea. My blind loyalty to the original idea and analysis meant that I was wholly unwilling to abandon it. Looking back on it, I think that deep down, I knew the idea of ‘co-opetitive’ was wrong. When I read through the article, I kept thinking to myself – ‘I’m pushing this reading of the data too much. How convincing is my analysis? Would someone reading this be convinced by my argument?’ I now know that if I was doing that, it was a good sign that the argument wasn’t especially robust. But when you spend so much time and effort on developing an idea, it’s hard to reject it outright.

To be fair, the first two journals I submitted it to didn’t give me any feedback besides ‘it doesn’t fit’, and Gender and Language was the first article to send it to reviewers. And the feedback from the reviewers has helped me write a brand-new article which I’m actually happy with and I’m not sitting thinking ‘is this analysis convincing?’ (it’s also a case where peer-review shows its strengths in terms of academic development). For me, the lesson I’ve learnt (in very much a The Wonder Years kind of way) is that it’s not a bad thing to recognise (and more importantly, accept) a failure of an idea and be willing to abandon it.

The Social Linguist

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Categories: Research, Writing Tags: , ,
  1. November 30, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Hello. I’m glad you are feeling better, and I hope your revised article finds publication soon. I’m happy to have found your blog. In another life, I would so love to be a linguist and several years ago seriously considered returning to school for just that. That didn’t work out, of course. But, when I read some of your posts, I felt l was in school and learning (that’s a good thing). So, if you don’t mind me auditing your “class,” I will subscribe to your blog. 🙂

  2. November 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Hi Jeannette, and thanks very much for your comment. There are lots of good linguistic-based blogging, perhaps one of the best is the language log (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/).

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