by DJ Williams, PhD

Academic writing can seem like an overwhelming task for graduate students, professionals, and young academics. While basic writing skills certainly are necessary, many young writers have difficulty finding or navigating an efficient writing process. Herein, I share the process that I have found useful in my academic publishing career.

Choose a Topic

Start with a topic that inspires and motivates you. Academic writing takes considerable time for both reading relevant literature and writing your unique article.

Conduct a Literature Review

Conduct a literature review on your topic to see what’s known about the topic and how you might contribute, through your article, to the current literature.

Organize and Identify


Then take plenty of time—days, weeks, or perhaps months—thinking about the potential paper that you might write. Taking time thinking, prior to actually writing, is one of the most important parts of the writing process. What, exactly, will my paper add to the existing literature? Who will want to read my paper? Who NEEDS to read it? What journals might publish work on this topic? Is my topic sufficiently focused to structure and write a paper—in other words, is my topic too broad? What strengths and limitations are associated with my ideas/methods for the paper? Again, take plenty of time thinking about the exact paper you want to write, prior to actually writing.

Identify Potential Publishers

After identifying how your paper can contribute to research literature, who the audience should be, and noting a few academic journals that might reasonably publish it, then it’s time to think about writing format and creating an outline for the paper. I prefer to identify three potential journals that use the same writing format (e.g., APA). That way, if one journal rejects my paper, I still have two others that use the same format, so I don’t have to take time later to re-format the paper. It also means I don’t necessarily have to learn, then use, multiple formats. One of the easiest ways to learn a particular academic format is to find a good example of a manuscript that uses that format, then format your paper accordingly. In other words, look at an example and “cookbook” it. Pay close attention to how references are cited and how capitalization and punctuation are used in the reference list. Once you gain experience utilizing a particular writing format, it’s much easier to use that same format again in future papers.

Create an Outline

Creating a basic outline to structure the paper is one of the most important tasks that will make your writing a whole lot easier. Personally, I spend lots of time thinking about how to structure the paper. An “Introduction” is often the first item in my outline, and it often includes some brief discussion of the literature review. Similarly, the “Conclusion” is the last item. Those two items are the easy parts of my outline. Then, I simply need to fill in middle items in a way that logically and/or aesthetically flows, and my basic outline will be finished. I usually spend plenty of time making sure I have a good outline, because it then functions as the headings for the paper.

Write a Draft

At this stage, writing the paper simply consists of filling in each heading with the appropriate discussion. When I cite a reference in-text, I immediately create it in my reference list. That way, when the text of my article is finished, the reference list is also finished, and I haven’t left out any references that should be in the list at the end.

Review and Edit, and Review Some More

After the first draft of the paper is written, it is necessary to carefully review and edit the manuscript. Are there any typos that should be corrected? Do the headings flow in a logical sequence? Does each sentence flow from the previous one? Are any parts of my discussion redundant? When reading each word, is the word accurate and precise the way I need it to be? Once you’ve got a perfected version of your paper completed, it’s not a bad idea to let it sit for a few days. Review it one last time with fresh eyes just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Then, it should be ready to submit!

Submit Your Manuscript!