Publishing qualitative research

A study is not really completed until it is published and available to others to read. But how do researchers begin to publish? In this blogpost, I provide some ideas and resources to help with navigating the journey from a publishable manuscript to a published manuscript. 

Entering the conversation

How does one enter a discussion in afield of interest? Anthony Paré, who is a Canadian scholar who studies the development of academic writing quotes Kenneth Burke (1941) to describe the process of entering an academic conversation:

Imagine you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you…However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress (Paré, 2010, p. 34).

This quotation captures what academic arguments are like, and what it is like to enter academic discussions. We all face discussions that are already in process. This means that we have to first become acquainted with what has gone before, and then, as it says in this quote, we have to “put our oar in” and join that discussion. Ken Hyland has studied how academic writers construct arguments, and suggests that:

Successful academic writing depends on the individual writer’s projects of a shared professional context….in pursuing their personal and professional goals, writers seek to embed their writing in a particular social world which they conjure up through particular approved discourses” (Hyland, 2000, p. 1).

This perspective views academic writing as a set of different communities of practice in which there are approved discourses for putting forth arguments. In order to be successful at that, one has to embed one’s arguments within the social worlds – and conversations — that he or she as a writer is speaking to. This means that as a researcher, we need to develop a scholarly agenda and gain a good understanding of the discourses used in a particular scholarly community.

Developing a scholarly agenda over time

Anthony Paré writes:

The ability to participate successfully in a genre as a writer and reader develops over time and through engagement….kairos….is an understanding of both the opportune moment for speech and the appropriate utterance for the given circumstance: a sense of when to speak and what to say at that moment (Paré, 2010, p. 35).

Each one of us need to consider these questions in relation to our research interests. That is, when is an opportune moment to speak? What is important to say at particular moments in a field of research? What does my research contribute to an area of interest?  Through the process of reviewing other literature and conducting our own research, we can respond to each of these questions, and develop a scholarly agenda, or “thread” that connects the different studies in which we engage.

Locating a journal

Once you have identified what you hope to add to a scholarly community, you will need to identify a journal. Ideally, identification of potential journals is completed early in the writing process, rather than once an article has been completed.

Researchers first need to determine if a journal is a good fit for the kind of article that has been produced. It is useful to first look at the journals you have been using in your work. These are potential publication venues. There are also a growing number of journals that provide outlets for publication of findings from qualitative studies and methodological articles. You will find a list of journals here:

Journals that publish qualitative research

Some of these journals focus on publishing qualitative studies in particular fields (e.g., psychology, health, social work), whereas other focus on work that is theoretical and methodological. Questions to ask when examining a particular journal as a “fit” for an article are:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the scope of the journal?
  • What is the history of the journal?
  • What kinds of articles have been published? It is worthwhile reviewing the last 3-5 years of the journal’s contents to examine the types of articles published (e.g., empirical, conceptual, theoretical etc.).
  • Who are the editors and editorial board members? It is quite likely that editorial board members will be a reviewer for a manuscript submitted. What kind of work do they do? How does it relate to the work in the article?
  • How are articles published in a journal typically structured?
  • What is the tier of journal? For example, some journals accept the majority of articles submitted, whereas top-tier journals in a field might only accept 3-5% of articles submitted.

Checking journal quality

It’s useful to consider that with a rise in on-line journals, there has also been an increase in what have become known as “predatory journals.”

These are journals whose practices do not support the advancement of legitimate scientific research. The National Institutes of Health in the US recently released a statement letting researchers know that they should take care to seek publication outlets that promote good practices and that are credible outlets for NIH-funded work. Whether or not one’s research is funded, the same applies. One of the sources provided in the NIH statement is a publishing industry resource:

Think Check Submit

Procedural and ethical issues

Once you have located a journal to which you hope to contribute, there are some important procedural issues to follow. Carefully review the “to the authors” section, and follow the formatting requirements for a manuscript. In publishing research, authors need to be sure to attend to ethical and etiquette issues. These include:

  • Having followed ethical guidelines for human subjects’ research documenting the ethical approval for the study.
  • Providing confidentiality for participants through changing names and setting details in the report.
  • Acknowledging all sources cited appropriately.
  • Submitting articles for review to one journal at a time. It is not appropriate to submit the same article to multiple journals at the same time.

You will need to wait for a period of time before sending a query to the editor about the status of the manuscript (at least 3 months).

The review process

Some journals and newsletters are unrefereed – this means that articles are accepted without peer review. Peer reviewed articles are typically “double-blinded”, which means that neither the author/s, nor the reviewers are aware of one another’s identities. Some journals use a “single blind” process, which means that the reviewers know who the author of a manuscript is. Between two and four reviewers are typically invited by the editor to provide written feedback and provide a recommendation concerning publication of a manuscript.

If you ever receive a “revise and resubmit” — be happy! You then need to follow the suggestions provided by reviewers and the editor/s for revising the manuscript. You do not necessarily need to follow all recommendations though. If you decide not to follow a recommendation by the reviewer/s, be sure to provide a rationale for that decision. When a revised manuscript is resubmitted, authors are expected to provide a list of revisions made to the manuscript.

If you manuscript is rejected, then you are in good company, as the majority of writers have experienced rejection at some point in their careers. Take the time to think about feedback, and then consider revising your manuscript and resubmitting to another journal.

All the best as you publish your work.

Kathy Roulston


Hyland, K. (2000). Disciplinary discourses: Social interactions in academic writing. Harlow, England: Longman.

Paré, A. (2010). Slow the presses: Concerns about premature publication. In C. Aitchison, B. Kamler, & A. Lee (Eds.), Publishing pedagogies for the doctorate and beyond (pp. 30-46). London and New York: Routledge.


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