Ruth Albertyn is affiliated to Stellenbosch University and has been involved in critical reading, mentoring and facilitating workshops on article writing across disciplines for the past 12 years mainly at universities in South Africa but also in Africa and more recently in Belgium. In her experience, doctoral students seem to need additional support as they embark on the process of writing journal articles. Here, she offers ten tips for student authors and supervisors for facilitating the shift from thesis to the article genre.
- Be sure originality shows
Even though originality is a requirement of the doctorate, imposter syndrome and/or lack of confidence could inhibit students’ conceptualisation of the essence of their contribution in an article. They forget to showcase the novelty of the selected work for their target journal. Supervisors and mentors need to engage with these student authors to help them identify and convey this unique contribution clearly throughout the article. The student needs to be guided to find and use their authorial voice, as affirmed by Guerin (2020).
2. Work backwards: Know your contribution from the beginning
Students often get lost in the volume of work and descriptive level of reporting and forget to move to higher levels of conceptualisation. Meta-level thinking can help students identify various potential messages for different readership groups based on the overarching picture and clarity regarding their novel contribution. In so doing, they can pinpoint and then craft the relevant evidence from the dissertation that is aligned and appropriate for each article’s contribution. Strategies such as mind-mapping and the Socratic approach can facilitate this meta-level development of thinking (Frick et al., 2010).
3. Argument is pivotal and essential
Student authors often get stuck in the aim of their larger study and find it hard to formulate a compelling argument for the more focused article. The value of a clearly formulated message or argument is twofold. Firstly, it helps the author to plan the information and relevant evidence for a credible contribution, just as a clear destination helps the traveller to plan and pack for a trip. Secondly, the argument has an important function for ‘selling’ the contribution to the reader. Nygaard (2008) has some helpful guidelines to help authors formulate the argument to showcase the novelty of their work.
4. No-one has to read your article: Make sure it’s a pleasant read and provide useful information
There needs to be a reason for a busy academic taking the time to read the article. They need to be convinced from the start of ‘what’s in it for me?’. They are looking for useful information and something that will guide them to action (Paré, 2010). Authors need to make sure the reader is engaged with a captivating storyline and take trouble to ensure alignment throughout.
5. Craft the text appropriately for the genre
Some students may have produced excellent dissertations appropriate to meet examiner requirements (Elliot, 2020), but fail to recraft material and write appropriately for the article genre. The word limit often frustrates authors as they are afraid to tamper with the original formulation of their work. Students need to be aware of the conventions of the article genre as distinct from other research writing and supervisors can assist with this orientation by focusing on rhetorical writing.
6. Write with an audience in mind
Editors reported that authors often submit manuscripts without ever having read any article in that journal (Kapp & Albertyn, 2008). Joining a scholarly conversation requires students to become familiar with the journal discourse so they can be a legitimate and credible voice. Keeping the reader in mind ensures the reader is not frustrated by insufficient information to understand the contribution or, on the other extreme, with inappropriate/redundant information which they already know. It is useful to prepare by reading back issues of the target journal to gauge discourse conventions and a suitable home for the manuscript. This preparation will also assist students to authentically cite articles in their selected journal.
7. Be comfortable with culling
Students are often tied to the words in the dissertation and try to cut and paste from the dissertation. This approach does not work, and recrafting is necessary for focus, ‘flow’ and alignment (and to remain within the required word count). The drafting and review process help to sharpen focus and improve the quality of the work. This article writing process needs to be approached with an open mind regarding selecting, deleting and reformulation of material from the dissertation for a distinct coherent storyline in the article.
8. Good writing can’t make up for bad science: Both good writing and good science are vital
This tip may seem to be stating the obvious, but it is a vital balance when writing an article. Avoid the temptation to write erudite sentences; rather, focus on writing simply to provide a clear storyline based on scientifically solid and sound research.
9. Write with passion and conviction
Connection of heart and head will help maintain momentum during the challenging writing and revision iterations. This balance between critical and creative thinking is referred to by Brodin (2016). Connection with the emotional component in academic writing is needed, although students often remain in the cognitive domain and forget about the need to move the reader (Kiriakos & Tienari, 2018).
10. Effort and reward: Both are essential
At the stage when students are ready to publish their work, they would probably have mastered many academic writing skills and may be surprised (and possibly indignant) at the rigorous demands of article writing. Challenges in making the shift in genre, the need for meta-level thinking, and the disheartening peer review process could act as demotivating factors. Strategies for accountability and gratification such as writing retreats and peer support could increase motivation during writing. Students also need to be reminded that the habits of mind that shape intellectual activity contribute to the intellectual excellence (Ortwein, 2015) manifested when they eventually see their publication in print.
Based on these ten practical tips, students can craft their work with awareness of the elements needed in the shift from the dissertation to the article genre, but with the confidence to leave their academic and scholarly mark within their field of study.
Brodin, E. (2016). Critical and creative thinking nexus: Learning experiences of doctoral students. Studies in Higher Education, 41(6), 971–989. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2014.943656
Elliot, D.L. (2020). Publishing with dissertation students: A covert strategy for developing psychology students’ employability skills? Psychology Teaching Review, 26(1), 96–102. https://eprints.gla.ac.uk/211566/
Frick, B.L., Albertyn, R.M. & Rutgers, L. (2010). The Socratic approach: Adult education theories. Acta Academica Supplementum, 1(March), 75–102. https://journals.co.za/doi/abs/10.10520/EJC15104
Guerin, C. (2020). Writing an article – how is it different from writing a thesis? DoctoralWriting June. https://doctoralwriting.wordpress.com/2020/06/09/writing-an-article-how-is-it-different-from-writing-a-the
sis/#more-2705 Accessed 12 September 2021.
Kapp, C.A. & Albertyn, R.M. (2008). Accepted or rejected: Editors’ perspectives of common errors. Acta Academica, 40(4), 270–288.
Kiriakos, C.M. & Tienari, J. (2018). Academic writing as love. Management Learning, 49(3), 263–27. https://
Nygaard, L. (2008). Writing for Scholars: A Practical Guide to Making Sense and Being Heard. Oslo: Universiteirsforlaget.
Ortwein, M.J. (2015). The regulation of understanding through intellectual virtue: Some implications for doctoral education. Journal of Thought, 49(1-2), 71–85. https://doi.org/jthought.49.1-2.71
Paré, A. (2010). Slow the printing presses: Concerns about premature publication. In C. Aitchison, B. Kamler and A. Lee (eds.), Publishing Pedagogies for the Doctorate and Beyond. Oxon: Routledge.