AAAL Guidelines for Publishing in Applied Linguistics

The American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) guidelines for publishing in Applied Linguistics are intended as an advisory point of reference endorsed by AAAL. Applied Linguistics encompasses a broad range of disciplines in which language is involved. We recognize that not every type of publishing venue will be addressed here. Rather, our aim is to create a set of guidelines that could help graduate students and early-career scholars make publication-related decisions that will aid their professional development. 

We also recognize the evolving nature of publishing in the field, which necessitates ongoing review. These guidelines will be reviewed every 5 years, with the possibility of updating recommendations.

The guidelines were published in 2016 and are next scheduled for review in 2021.

Table of Contents

1. The writing process

1. Developing expertise in manuscript writing
2. Converting a thesis or dissertation into a publishable manuscript
3. Preparing a manuscript for submission

2. Choosing a venue for the manuscript

1. Targeting an audience
2. Choosing a publication option

3. The review process

1. In-house review
2. Outside review
3. Responding to reviewers’ comments

4. Publication

1. Readying a manuscript for publication
2. IRIS: Submitting and obtaining research instruments 
3. Anticipated publication date
4. Publicizing your publication

5. Additional resources

1. The Writing Process

Developing expertise in manuscript writing

Developing an academic style is an ongoing process, which usually begins in graduate school. As this process develops, shorter, structured types of academic writing such as book reviews, brief reports, and conference proceedings are good options for early publications. An additional important resource in developing expertise in manuscript writing for early-career scholars is the experience of mid- and late-career colleagues. Their assistance may range from giving feedback on first drafts to collaborating as a co-author. Offering to proofread the manuscript drafts of senior colleagues or becoming a reviewer for a journal they edit is also a way to increase your understanding of the processes involved in publication. 

Converting a thesis or dissertation into a publishable manuscript

Assuming that an author chooses to rework his/her dissertation as a book-length manuscript, it is important to consider the different functions of the two documents. A publishable book-length manuscript should focus on one “story” from the data, and the literature review should be tailored to motivate that story. If the dissertation comprises more than one distinct story, the author may wish to consider multiple publications such as a series of journal articles as opposed to a single book-length manuscript. In this latter case, it is important that each manuscript stands by itself in its framing of the relevant literature, its intended contribution, and its findings.

Preparing a manuscript for submission

Journal editors and book publishers typically have very clear guidelines about the characteristics of the manuscripts they wish to review. For example, there may be length restrictions, requirements for the layout of figures and tables, and/or particular bibliographic formats to be followed. It is important to visit the websites of various journals and publishers to find such guidelines and adhere to them in preparing your manuscript. 

Another key point is for authors to make sure that in-text citations and reference lists are complete and accurate. All dates and spelling of names in the text must match the information in the reference list. It is the responsibility of the author(s) to avoid having any missing citations. 

2. Choosing a Venue for the Manuscript

Targeting an audience

Several factors are important when considering what audience you hope to reach and why. First, identify whether the concerns addressed in the manuscript are primarily local or regional (e.g., the impact of a curriculum change on language learning results) or more widely relevant in nature (e.g., a theoretically-motivated investigation of factors affecting stakeholders’ responses to curriculum changes). This issue will also influence how much background information on the context is needed to frame the paper. Second, decide if the work is most applicable to the general applied linguistics community or a specialized sub-field. There is an increasing choice of specialized journals that target a specific audience. (Recent additions include the Journal of Second Language Pronunciation and the Journal of Immersion and Content-based Teaching.) Again, this decision will influence choices regarding how much information on specific concepts and debates within a sub-field is needed, and the amount of sub-field “jargon” that is appropriate. Finally, consider who the primary stakeholders might be (for example, researchers/academics; teachers; policy makers; parents). The same study may have results of interest to different audiences; e.g., a summary of a key findings published in an academic journal may be appropriate for a teacher/parent audience (with the original source of the full study referenced). This choice will also influence the amount of technical information that is given in the paper regarding design, analyses, and implications. 

Choosing a publication option

Choosing the publication venue—for applied linguists this is often a peer-reviewed journal—in which you want to publish your research is a multi-faceted process. While time to publication rightly ranks high, ultimately the most important factor is that your research is read by the audience that you would like to reach. The best way to assure that this goal is achieved is to become a reader of that journal yourself. Widespread electronic access to a growing number of journals in the language studies field has made this a possible—and also a necessary—task.

Readership enables you to get a sense of a journal’s topical breadth and particular foci, its editorial board members’ preferences regarding theoretical orientation and research methodologies, its treatment of research findings and their implications, its likely readership and interests and, last but not least, its formatting and style expectations and requirements. Publishing in a journal is akin to joining a professional conversation. Your submission is more likely to be handled in a timely manner and, even more importantly, more likely to be successful the more you are aware of a particular journal’s profile and publication niche. 

In short, while your most immediate interest is publication of your research, it is useful to consider the activity of publishing in a larger context. At its best, publishing is about your joining a scholarly discourse community from whose insights you have benefitted and to which you now feel ready to contribute on the basis of the ongoing scholarly conversations as you have come to understand them. Aside from the topics and questions being addressed in the journal’s publications, it is worthwhile to note which researchers are repeatedly cited: If these are also researchers whose work you have found valuable and with whom you would like to engage in a scholarly conversation, then you have a good indication of the suitability of a journal for the publication of your own research

There are many possible venues for publication including peer-reviewed journals, professional newsletters and magazines, conference proceedings, working papers and chapters in edited volumes. With those publications, there are also a number of different article types such as standard research articles, replication studies, brief reports or summaries, forums, state of the art reviews, special issues and graduate student features. Selecting the appropriate venue and manuscript option can increase or decrease the odds of success for a given manuscript. 

It is common for researchers to have different manuscripts on related topics as part of a larger research program, and these will vary in purpose and degree of novel contribution (e.g., initial study, follow up study, replication, and so on). It is worth taking the extra time to carefully consider where you would like to submit your work as it is not considered appropriate in professional practice to submit a manuscript to more than one publication at a time. Journal editors and book publishers will normally ask you to confirm upon submission that the paper has not been previously published and is not being considered for publication elsewhere. Authors that do not respect this rule may find that their work will be banned from future consideration for publication in the venues they have targeted.

3. The Review Process

In-house review

For many journals and book publishers, the review process comprises several steps. The first is an in-house review usually conducted by the editor(s). The editor will either reject the manuscript or send it out for review. There are a number of common reasons for a decision to reject a manuscript in-house. These range from a mismatch in topical focus between the journal’s publication niche and the submitted study, to unfamiliarity with or disregard for the journal’s or publisher’s stated formatting requirements, to the quality of the research reported in the manuscript, especially its ability to expand knowledge within its research domain. Authors should always check the journal’s or publisher’s website to determine their mandate and requirements, including issues such as length, submission guidelines, and preferred style. Typically, if there is a problem with the quality of the study (e.g., a lack of a new or significant contribution to the area, inappropriate research design, insufficient information about the study, inappropriate/lacking analyses), the editor will note this in the response to the author. 

Outside review

Outside review practices vary depending on the publication venue. Peer-reviewed journals usually carry out the most rigorous review processes. The manuscript will be sent to two or three scholars with expertise in the appropriate area, and these may often be members of the journal’s editorial board. The review process usually follows the double blind review procedure. That is, the reviewers will not know the name(s) of the author(s) and the author(s) will not know the names of the reviewers.

The response time of journals varies but typically, reviewers are given 6–8 weeks to complete the review, and the editorial decision takes 3–4 months. At that time, authors are normally sent the reviewers’ comments, a letter from the editor interpreting the comments, and an initial decision. The first decision category is “accept”, however this choice is rare after the first round of reviews. The next category is “accept with revisions”, either major or minor In this case, the journal wants to publish the paper subject to changes. Guidelines for these changes are usually provided by the editor; depending on the extent of the requested revisions the paper may be sent out for a second round of blind reviews. This may involve the original and/or additional reviewers. Probably the most common category is “revise and resubmit.” In this case, the journal sees potential for publication but only after considerable revisions of some kind. The editor will normally provide revision guidelines. Under this category, the manuscript will be treated like an entirely new submission, that is, it will once more go through the two-step reviewing process. The author’s cover letter should indicate the history of the manuscript, including its earlier manuscript number. A decision of “reject” may come after the first or second round of reviews. The author may decide not resubmit the manuscript to the original journal but can consider other venues.

The reviewing process for book chapters is typically shorter, especially if the manuscript was an invited submission. The fact that an author was asked to contribute a manuscript does not guarantee acceptance, however.

Responding to reviewers’ comments

This is a critical part of the publishing process and should receive the author’s scrupulous attention. Read the editorial letter and the reviews thoroughly to determine the extent and kinds of revisions that are being suggested. Include a letter with the revised manuscript clearly itemizing the list of changes and justifications for any suggestions that were not followed. If a decision of “reject” was rendered by the reviewers and editor, read the decision letter carefully in order to determine whether the manuscript would be more appropriate for a different journal. Consider whether recommended changes to the manuscript would be feasible and implement those changes prior to submitting the paper to a different journal. Do not submit a rejected paper that has undergone peer review to another journal without making some revisions. The paper may well be reviewed by one or more of the same reviewers as scholars often review for several different journals in their area of expertise.

In situations where authors disagree with the reviewers’ comments, it is important to provide a brief, reasoned explanation of your viewpoint in responding to the editor and resubmitting the revised manuscript. For example, if a reviewer suggests a different statistical analysis but an author is sure that the correct procedure has been used, it is important to explain the choice of statistics. Similarly, if reviewers suggest that the results of additional studies be considered, it is important to engage substantively with additional theoretical positions and/or empirical findings, or clearly explain why those studies have been omitted. 

4. Publication

Readying a manuscript for publication

Following the acceptance of a paper, the author is usually sent style formatting guidelines and asked to ensure that the paper meets the journal’s requirements. Authors are also sent a copyright agreement, in which the journal retains publishing rights; or an exclusive publishing license agreement which may allow the author to post the paper on his/her own website or the institution’s website, after a period of time (often six months). Prior to publication, authors will also be sent page proofs of the paper. Most journals now handle page proofs in an online format and provide clear instructions for how to handle corrections. Typically, corrections are expected to be handled in a relatively short time period (e.g., 72 hours). . At this stage, only minor editorial changes will normally be permitted.

IRIS: Submitting and obtaining research instruments 

Upon acceptance of a manuscript, an increasing number of applied linguistics journals invite authors to consider submitting their research instruments to IRIS, a digital repository for research into second language learning, At this point, the Web site already has close to 900 different research instruments available for free downloading. Its growth depends on further submissions from researchers in Applied Linguistics, where acceptance of a paper is considered to be an indirect indicator of the quality of a research instrument. 

Anticipated publication date 

Final publication dates can vary widely across journals and edited volumes. It is not unusual for a one or two year lag for print journals, although some electronic journals publish much more quickly. Journals with longer publication waits often have an “early view” option in which an accepted paper is available in its final version on the journal website prior to official publication in a designated issue.

Publicizing your publication

Consider using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Some journals (e.g., Second Language Research, Computer Assisted Language Learning) will ask you to add your publication to your profile and posts, and encourage visitors to your site to “like” the paper. If your paper is published in English but may be of interest to a readership in another language, you can request permission from the host journal to republish the paper in another language (if permission is granted, there will be copyright procedures to follow).

5. Additional Resources

Task Force 

Task Force Chair: Laura Collins, Concordia University, Canada

Task Force Members:
Walcir Cardoso, Concordia University, Canada
Johanna Ennser-Kananen, Boston University 
Rosa Manchón, University of Murcia 
Lourdes Ortega, Georgetown University
Kimberly Vinall, University of California, Berkeley

Executive Committee Follow-up: Lucy Pickering and Kathi Bailey, with input from Heidi Byrnes