Department of History and Philosophy of Science

How to publish an article

Why, what, where, and when to publish


  • Grant and job prospects. Examples: MPhils for grant for PhD; PhDs for jobs and post-docs.
  • Intellectual reasons. End in itself, contribution to field. Feedback. Confidence and identity.


  • Brilliant articles that will become instant classics? No, it's up to the readers whether or not you are, god forbid, a new Wittgenstein.
  • Self-contained bits of work that got very good marks, or attracted a supervisor's enthusiasm, or went down well at a seminar, etc.
  • For MPhils going on to PhDs, good work not on the topic of the PhD that would otherwise be lost to posterity.
  • The best chapters of a PhD are often worth developing into independent papers. Don't think that there's no point, as it will all be in the eventual book. As a general rule, don't publish the same thing twice – but this doesn't apply to papers which then contribute material to a later book.
  • Book reviews. Valuable experience, and may not be a lot of extra work if you have to read the book anyway (Isis, for instance, usually wants just 7-800 words). You may get an expensive book free. But it can be time-consuming, and doesn't carry anything like the weight of a published article – except for longer essay-reviews. Write a review of a book you are enthusiastic about, don't start your print career by just slagging someone off. Check the 'Books received' section at end of journal issues; email the book review editor with a very short resumé and an offer to review.


  • Articles in journals. Obviously choose a journal which goes for your sort of stuff. It's no good putting in an article on the sociology of mathematics to Historia Mathematica which doesn't touch that sort of thing. It's also important to go for a properly refereed (also called peer-reviewed) journal with a good international reputation. The value of your publication in getting jobs, etc., is much dependent on this.
  • Another key issue is the field of the journal. Sometimes your article will be so specialised as to virtually dictate the journal – e.g. technical history of chemistry goes to Ambix, technical history of astronomy to Journal for the History of Astronomy. But HPS is interdisciplinary, and often you'll have lots of choice. For example, a paper on eccentric Victorian naturalists could go in Archives of Natural History or in The Nineteenth-Century Journal – it depends if you see yourself primarily as a historian of the life sciences or as a cultural historian of science. The choice can be important – e.g. Wellcome doesn't like the people it funds publishing outside of Med-Line recognised history of medicine journals.
  • What about other outlets? Edited volumes are tricky. First, make sure the Editors have a contract or serious expression of interest from a reputable press. Lots of good stuff gets lost this way, or put into suspended animation for several years. You go to a conference, everyone is enthusiastic there, the organisers think of putting together a volume, you send in your paper, and year after year nothing happens. But if the Editors are reliable and have done this sort of thing before, it can be OK.
  • Most journals now publish online as well as in print format. Indeed, some people now think twice about offering their work to print-only journals, as online publications often reach far larger audiences and enter major databases and search engines such as Google Scholar. There are also many highly respected online-only journals in many academic disciplines. Some are primarily reviewing journals but others also take original research. Judge an online journal as you would a print run: does it offer peer-reviewing, proper editorial support, and the opportunity to proofread your article? Does it get cited and treated with respect in the mainstream print literature? If so, you should have no qualms about publishing online. In fact there are several advantages. The time delay from submission to publication is often so much shorter than in traditional media (though remember that referees can be slow whoever they are reviewing for). Perhaps more interestingly, the format of your work is not bound by the constraints of print. You can link directly into primary and secondary sources published elsewhere on the web and there is limitless capacity for images, audio, and video.


  • MPhils. There's rarely time while doing your course; over the following summer is ideal, but get advice earlier.
  • PhDs: hard to generalise. If preparing for a research fellowship or post-doc applications where work has to be submitted, consider killing two birds with one stone – there's nothing better than pieces which can be labelled 'Submitted to X', or 'Accepted by X subject to revision'.
  • But NEVER put 'Forthcoming in', or 'In press' on your CV when an article isn't definitely accepted or actually in proof. (Cautionary tale!)

How to publish: the journal publication process

Useful reference works

  • Robert Ritter, The Oxford Style Manual (OUP 2003, £25). Contains in one volume both The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (which talks through the publishing process step by step) and The Oxford Guide to Style (invaluable reference work on good academic style).
  • Chicago Manual of Style online [], annual subscription $25–$30, but lots of free tools and citation guides too. The publishing and style bible for US academic presses.

Preparation and submission

  • Do prepare your article properly. Always read the instructions of the journal you are submitting to. There's nothing more irritating to an editor than getting a 20,000-word piece without explanation when the limit is 10,000; or having author's name plastered all over the paper when it is to be blind-refereed. In your covering letter, say that you have prepared your piece for blind refereeing. Try to follow the formatting instructions for bibliography, abbreviations, etc., too. If there is a problem about length, illustrations, etc., it is often a good idea to email the Editor in advance.
  • Submit your article in the format requested: usually now as an email attachment in Word, but the journal may also require PDF or a printout for double-checking. Images and tables are usually best sent as separate files, not embedded in the main document, unless the journal's submission instructions state otherwise. Include a short covering letter with your contact details, if you are not already in touch with the Editor.


  • The Editor will normally send an anonymised version of your article to one or two referees for their comments. This can take several months, so be patient. But if you haven't heard from the journal after about six months, do send a short, polite email asking after the fate of your article.
  • The editor will send you the referees' comments, with a decision whether to accept your article unchanged, after revisions, or to reject. Don't be too put off by the referees' comments. As the referees don't know your identity, it is easy for them to forget that you have feelings. In many cases, the problem is just phrasing. Faced with a painful report, always try to extract what is constructive in it. If the referees give conflicting advice, or make suggestions that are just plain daft, consult with the Editor about how to respond. Ultimately it is the Editor who decides whether your article is publication-ready, not the referees.
  • If you end up with a rejection, don't despair. There may just be a mismatch between your interests and the journal's. Submit elsewhere, once you've made any revisions on the basis of comments you find useful in the reports.

Copy-editing and proof-reading

  • Once the Editor has accepted your article for publication, s/he will send it for copy-editing. That is, it will be checked for spelling, punctuation, bibliographical formatting, etc., and marked up ready for typesetting. This may take a couple of weeks or a couple of months, depending on the journal's publication schedule. You may be sent a copy-edited version of your article in print or PDF format. If so, you should check that the copy-editor hasn't inadvertently introduced any errors, but most importantly this is your final opportunity to make your own minor improvements.
  • Then your article will be typeset; that is, formatted to the visual style of the journal. You will certainly see your article again at this stage, usually as a PDF file. Check that everything is as it should be, as the next time you see your article will be as offprints or in the journal itself. Editors are reluctant to make major changes to your text at this stage – it is too bad if you want to rewrite a passage – but are eager to correct factual errors, typos, problems with images, etc.
  • The Editor will set a deadline for the return of proofs. If you do not adhere to it, your article will be published unchanged. If you genuinely can't return proofs in time, let the Editor know as soon as possible so that you can negotiate a new date; but even better try and warn him/her in advance if you expect to be unavailable for any length of time.
  • For copy-editing and proof-reading marks, see the Oxford Style Manual or the Chicago Manual of Style online (above).

Copyright releases and reproduction permissions

  • At this stage, if not earlier, the Editor will ask you to sign a copyright release form. This allows the journal staff to authorise the reproduction or translation of your article, and to pursue plagiarists and others who misuse your published work.
  • You will also be asked to demonstrate that you have received permission to republish other people's images, if relevant. This entails writing or emailing the publisher of the book or article from which you have taken the image, or the library, archive, or online database, as appropriate. Your Editor should give you a template letter to adapt; if not, just ask for one.
  • You do not need permission to quote other people's words, within reason. If you quote long passages of another work that is still in copyright (usually for 70 years after the author's death in the UK), your Editor will tell you to request reproduction permission.
  • Some copyright holders demand a small payment for permission to reproduce. This is not the same as the fee they may charge you to make or copy the image for your private research work. In either case, the fee may depend on the image's size, colour, and position in the publication. It is usually the author's responsibility to pay reproduction fees, but ask the Editor if the journal has a budget for this. In applying for permissions it is sometimes helpful to make it clear in a covering letter that the image is to appear in a specialised small-circulation scholarly monograph: this sometimes reduces the fee.
  • Your article cannot be published until all copyright and reproduction issues have been settled to the Editor's satisfaction. For more information on UK copyright law, see the UK Copyright Service website [] and the British Academy and Publishers Association joint guidelines on copyright []. Move quickly in seeking permissions. Getting them can be a slow and tiresome business, and this is a common cause of delay in production.

Offprints and publication

  • Once the journal has been printed you may receive 25-50 offprints; that is, separately bound copies of your article to distribute to friends and colleagues as greetings-gifts at conferences. You may also be given the option to buy more, but only prior to the printing of your issue of the journal. If you run out of offprints later, you will have to make your own photocopies.
  • As well or instead, the Editor may give you a PDF of your article from which you are free to make copies for distribution. Check with the Editor whether you are permitted to put it on your website or homepage.
  • Sooner or later your article will appear on the New Journals shelves of the Whipple Library and/or on the journal's website. Congratulations: you are now a published author!

Last revised 29 May 2008