Writing Well for Scholarly Publications and Dissertations

Writing Well for Scholarly Publications and Dissertations

There is no secret or magic trick to learning how to write well for scholarly publications and dissertations. However, there are several significant tips for developing a skill set that bodes well for success in scholarly publishing and dissertation completion. Sometimes, all someone needs is a primer for increasing his or her talents in scholarly writing; think of this short article as a type of primer to help build those abilities.

Read Scholarly Journals, Book Chapters, and Books

Reading scholarly publications is at the core of developing a skill set for writing in a scholarly manner. Whether considering a journal publication or attempting to set up the dissertation, read the major scholarly publications in the field.  Target those five to 10 major journals for reading on a regular basis. There are four distinct benefits that come to those who read scholarly writing in the field of study: the topics that editors and faculty believe are worthwhile to publish in the discipline; the writing style appropriate for the field and its major journals; the citation and formatting structures considered critical for holding conversations with others in the field of study; and lastly, the relevance of ideas that are current or are indicators of where the field is in its thinking about a topic. For anyone considering publishing a scholarly article, read one or two issues of the journals where you’d like to publish. Gain a sense of how the writing needs to be organized and presented to the readership. Read the author submission guidelines for the journal to learn how to submit an article for consideration. In general, writers who do not read the author submission guidelines ruin their chances for publication before the article is submitted.

Good Thinking Leads to Good Writing

Anne Sigismund Huff (1999) made the point clear that good writing is good thinking; learning how to read the scholarly publications in the field becomes a way to adopt the habits of good thinking about research and disciplinary topics that lead to good scholarly writing. Internalizing the way language is used and research is presented to colleagues in the discipline are two important steps in developing the skill set needed for successful scholarly publication. As someone reads the top journals in the field, develop the habits that successful scholars adopt: Becoming conversant in the issues and ideas found in the discipline; listening to the current and changing ideas in the discipline; developing strategies to shape the scholar’s own ideas to meet the needs of the discipline or field; and, of course, understanding how to speak in a manner appropriate for exchanging views regarding scholarly critique.

Construct a Specific Audience for the Research Project

As one reads the articles within a journal or chapters within a book, imagine the specific audience who would be interested in the ideas that are being considered. Is the audience practitioner-based or research-based? Is the idea under development more appropriate for a theoretical or a policy readership? Is the topic exploratory and tentative or well-established but providing a new insight? Is the topic based on a professional interest in an area or a need within an organization? Similarly, with a dissertation, consider who will be the eventual readership of the finished dissertation in the degree field or area: practitioners, researchers, or theoreticians? Consider also whether the dissertation will be a springboard for a larger research agenda or will the dissertation be smaller in scope. Dissertations with a smaller scope may be appropriate for publication or presentation for highly specific audiences, which is an important consideration if the researcher intends to disseminate the study findings beyond the oral defense.

Learn the Argumentation Structure Used in Scholarly Writing

Perhaps one of the best ways learning how to read scholarly journal articles helps a researcher write scholarly articles or dissertations is discovering the argumentation structure that exists in academic style. The Toulmin persuasive argumentation model (Toulmin, 1952) is the classic academic argument structure: the claim (position being argued for); the grounds (the evidence to support the claim); the warrant (the chain of reasoning used to connect the evidence to support the claim); the counter arguments (often found in the literature review); the backing (data to support the warrant and claim); the qualifier (the findings/results that link the backing, the warrant, and the grounds); and the conclusion. Reading quality scholarly journal articles helps researchers discover how to construct a plausible claim, how to develop the grounds and the appropriate pieces of evidence to support a claim, how to set up warrants and counter arguments, how to provide strong backing to support the warrants and claims, as well as how to present a qualifier that leads to an aligned conclusion. For dissertation students, learning the Toulmin model is central for understanding how to substantiate and to sustain a lengthy research project.

Build a Research Agenda

Part of scholarship is the creation of a research agenda, which often emerges when doctoral candidates begin reading scholarly literature and writing articles or a dissertation. The research agenda is the plan or timeline that one creates to establish expertise in an area through researching topics and publishing or presenting research findings. Reading scholarly journals and books begins to engage researchers in the process of launching a research agenda based on topic attraction, professional or organizational interests, or personal desire linked to something read in the field. Research agendas can be informal as brief notes written in a paper journal or typed as part of a computer file, for instance; or research agendas can be extremely formal and placed in project management software to track each phase of the study or publication. The decision on how to establish and maintain a research agenda is completely up to the researcher.

Discovering the Peer Review Process

Becoming familiar with scholarly journals and the respective submission guidelines is a very good way of discovering the peer review process that is part of the School of Advanced Studies Quality Review process. For dissertation students and newcomers to scholarly publishing, peer review is, perhaps, one of the most challenging aspects of scholarly writing. Political science researcher Leanne Powner (2015) offered great insight into what a researcher learns from the peer review process in scholarly publishing: writing using a controlled process over the entire study; writing using sequence and format; writing using strategies to build momentum to complete a lengthy document; writing to adopt the style and tone used in social science research; writing to present findings for a specific discipline; and writing to reflect a certain method, design, and analysis for a given audience.

References for a Scholarly Writer’s Toolbox

Besides the works already referenced in this short article, there are some very fine references to help scholarly writers develop their skills. Build a library of reference books that can help researchers increase the opportunity of being published in high-quality academic journals. Whether looking for how to write a journal article, how to write a proposal, how to enter scholarly publishing, how to manage specific writing concerns like writers’ block, a set of reference books in a researcher’s personal library is invaluable. In the reference section of the article is a listing of books that address a range of scholarly writing needs.

There are the keys for writing well when preparing a scholarly publication or a dissertation: read widely and deeply in the field as well as in the method and design; establish a particular audience for the readership of the document; learn how arguments are constructed in a field of study; learn how to manage the time to research, write, and publish; learn what editors and reviewers look for in a publication; plan a research agenda. Finally, build a small collection of books that can become an important toolbox for establishing a personal library to fit the researcher’s needs and add to the library as studies and expectations change.


Almossawi, A. & Giraldo, A. (2013). An illustrated book of bad arguments. New York: The Experiment Publishing, LLC.

Belcher, W.L. (2009). Writing your journal article in twelve weeks: A guide to academic publishing success. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Boice, R. (1990/2015). Professors as writers: A self-help guide to productive writing. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Booth, W.C., Colomb, G.C., & Williams, J.M. (2009). The craft of research. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cooper, H. (2010). Reporting research in psychology: How to meet journal article reporting standards. 6th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Cummings, L.L. & Frost, P.J. (1995). Publishing in the organizational sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Day, R.A. & Gastel, B. (2012). How to write and publish a scientific paper. 7th ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Derricourt, R. (1996). An author’s guide to scholarly publishing. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hames, I. (2007). Peer review and manuscript management in scientific journals. Malden, MA: ALPSP/Blackwell Publishing.

Hayot, E. (2014). The elements of academic style: Writing for the humanities. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hjortshoj, K. (2001). Understanding writing blocks. New York: Oxford University Press.

Huff, A. S. (1999). Writing for scholarly publication. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Joireman, J. & Van Lange, P.A.M. (2014). How to publish high-quality research: Discovering, building, and sharing the contribution. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Kane, T.S. (1998/2000). The Oxford essential guide to writing.  New York: Berkley Books/Oxford University Press.

Murray, R. (2013). Writing for academic journals. Berkshire, UK: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill Education.

Pearlman, D.D. & Pearlman, P.R. (2002). Guide to rapid revision. 8th ed. Boston: Longman.

Powner, L.C. (2015). Empirical research and writing: A political science student’s practical guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press/SAGE.

Schimel, J. (2011). Writing science: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded. New York: Oxford University Press.

Swatridge, C. (2014). Oxford guide to effective argument and critical thinking. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Toulmin, S. (1952/2003). The uses of argument. Updated edition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Weston, A. (2009). A rulebook for arguments. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.


Louise Underdahl's picture Louise Underdahl | January 20, 2017 9:19 am MST

Hi Dr.  Gavin,

Becoming familiar with scholarly journals and the respective submission guidelines is a very good way of discovering the peer review process that is part of the School of Advanced Studies Quality Review process.

Thank you for offering this excellent counsel.  I have been privileged to present a paper at the 7th International Leuphana Conference on Entrepreneurship 2017:  Global Challenges, in Luneburg, Germany, from January 19-21, 2017.  The parallel conference presentations included a "Meet the Editors" session, featuring editors of the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Venturing, Journal of Small Business Management, and Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Emerging Economies (Alexander Brem and Jantje Halberstadt, Eddy Laveren, and Jay Mitra, respectively).  


These editors reiterated the importance of reviewing journals' submission guidelines for authors, considering journal acceptance rates, and documenting rigorous methodology when submitting papers to peer-reviewed journals.  From my perspective, the editors' words of wisdom validate the relevance of the School of Advanced Studies' quality review process in strengthening students' capacity to contribute meaningful research to the community of scholars.  



Brem, A. (2017). Meet the editors. 7th International Leuphana Conference on Entrepreneurship 2017: Global Challenges. Retrieved from LCE2017.com 

Halberstadt, J. (2017). Meet the editors. 7th International Leuphana Conference on Entrepreneurship 2017: Global Challenges. Retrieved from LCE2017.com 


Lavaren, E. (2017). Meet the editors. 7th International Leuphana Conference on Entrepreneurship 2017: Global Challenges. Retrieved from LCE2017.com


Mitra, J. (2017). Meet the editors. 7th International Leuphana Conference on Entrepreneurship 2017: Global Challenges. Retrieved from LCE2017.com 



Diane Gavin's picture Diane Gavin | January 20, 2017 9:56 am MST

Hi Louise,

Glad you found this posting helpful. Yes, reviewing submission guidelines is a critical step for authors. I'm working as a Research Advisor for the Society of Research Administrators' International  for a young scholar in the field of Research Administration. That's the first step I had her take -- go read the submission guidelines. As she's reading, she's making notes of what she needs to do to shape her research.

I'm also glad you see the connection between our quality review process and future life as a scholar and researcher. That's an important connection that needs to be fostered throughout our campus. 

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