from conference paper to journal article – writing in small chunks

You may not always have the luxury of a block of time to revise your conference paper. Or you might choose to devote the big slab of writing time you do have, perhaps over summer, to a big new project. After all, having extended time is a rarity and you don’t necessarily want to waste it on something that can be done in smaller slices. So if you have decided to revise or rewrite your conference paper in chunks, then here’s one way to go about it.

The usual caveat applies – this is only one way, not The Way – and you may well already have, or find other approaches. But this is worth a go.

I’m assuming that you have already chosen the journal and you know its house style and  readership. You already roughly know the ways in which your revised paper is going to connect with the on-going journal conversation. That’s the foundation you’re now going to build on. You can start the process of re-writing.

You can do as many or as few of each of the following steps as fits with your available time.

STEP ONE: Getting going

Open a new document on your computer. Yes a new one. Resist the temptation to go straight back to your old conference paper file. The emptiness of the new document helps you to temporarily empty your head of the previous text. Don’t worry, you do come back to what you did before. It’s not gone forever.

You may want to kick things off with a bit of free writing to the prompt – Changing my paper to fit this journal means I have to…. This will get what you are already thinking about onto the page – or it will force you to find some thoughts! Now…

(a) The plan

Now you have to make a plan – in your new document. The plan could be a Tiny Text – that’s an abstract which covers all of the moves of the paper’s argument, from the opening to the conclusion and So What at the end. Or the plan might be an Outline – a set of headings and bullet points. An outline follows the major moves of the paper. These might be something like Introduction, Literature, Methods, Results and Discussion and Conclusion – or they might be something less generic. The structure you use for the paper depends on the journal and what you are trying to achieve.

Alas. There is no magic machine that will do the work of rewriting for you,

Alas. There is no magic machine that will do the work of rewriting for you

The plan may take you no time at all to complete, or up to a couple of hours.

(b) The title

Next… The title should encapsulate the point you want to make and fit the house style of the journal article. It may be that the title comes to you in a flash, or it may be that you have some kind of holding title which is OK, but not yet quite right. Don’t take a long time over the title, don’t let the fact that you haven’t got the perfect title hold you up . You might find that the title comes to you in the shower, or you wake up one morning with a better version. You can come back to this. The major thing is to get a working title that sums up your take home point.

Now either print out your plan or outline or leave it open on your screen – put it somewhere where you can see it as you work on the rest of the paper. You need to be able to refer to it as you go along.

STEP TWO: Writing the new introduction

The introduction is one of the sections of the journal article which is likely to be different from your conference paper. That’s because you are now writing for a specific readership and a particular conversation. So resist the temptation to cut and paste from what you did already. Open another new document,  yes a second one, transfer the title from the plan/outline and you’re off…

You might decide to begin your paper with a quote or a story, in which case you could spend an hour or so finding/sorting out what you need. Then write it, underneath the title. Looks like a paper, eh. You may decide that you want to do this first, or you might decide to add something like this later. The reader won’t know when you did this, so the order of doing things is about what works for you.

If you just want to get cracking, then leave the scintillating opener and  get on with the introduction proper. The conventional journal article follows a fairly predicable pattern.You’ll  use your knowledge of the journal to decide how to write something at the start that introduces the topic which the readers will ‘get’. Then say what your paper will do. And then outline the argument to come. (Many less conventional journal articles do these moves too, albeit in more creative ways.)

The introduction isn’t a huge piece of writing and getting it done shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours at most. I reckon it’s more like an hour. And really, don’t worry about getting the first sentence absolutely perfect –this is something you can come back to later.

STEP THREE: Check the argument

And alas, there is no magic trick that will get the rewriting done.

And alas, there is no magic trick that will get the rewriting done

Look at your Tiny Text or outline in the light of the introduction. Do you need to tweak the argument moves or the conclusion? Remember that the introduction sets up the question/issue/puzzle you are addressing and you come back to that in the conclusion –  because that’s where you summarise what you’ve presented and then argue the contribution and the So What, Now What.

STEP FOUR: The literature (this may include your theoretical framework)

This is the section of the paper where you create the place for your scholarly contribution, indicate which literatures and/or theory you are using, and give some clues about any scholarship that you will take issue with.

You may have to do this part of the paper in three separate moves:

  1. Search the journal to see what papers you need to refer to – you know, the ones that you are building on, or talking to, or answering back to. Read them. Get these references into whatever software or card system or list that you use.
  2. Open your old conference paper now. Yay! See it hasn’t gone away. Check to see whether the ways in which you talked about the literatures were OK or whether you need a complete rewrite.
  3. Now either rewrite the section or cut and paste your conference paper section into your new document, adding in and rewriting as needed to include the new  texts you found.

The literatures section can be quite time-consuming if you are rewriting, or it can be relatively quick. It depends how much work you have to do. However, the beauty of having the three steps clear in your mind  is that you can actually work and write in three separate bits of time.

STEP FIVE: Methodology and methods

Depending on your discipline, the journal and on the nature of the paper, this section might require an extended piece of writing, or you might need to do something quite marginal.

It may well be that this is a section of the conference paper that you can pretty well just cut and paste into the new paper. Big cheer if that is so. If not, then you might require up to a couple of hours to make the changes required.


STEP SIX: Results and Discussion

Depending on the journal and your argument,  your substantive analysis may be themes which incorporate results and discussion. Or you might be working in two separate sections, results and then discussion. Either way, you can break down the writing task into smaller steps.

  1. Check the conference paper to see whether you can largely cut and paste what you already have into the new paper, or whether you need a more substantial rewrite. It’s likely that you’ll need to make some changes to fit your new, more refined and tailored argument. But these changes may not be too onerous and stay imply require revision of headings and some paragraphs.
However there is no need for rewriting to be an act of self torture

But there is no need for rewriting to be an act of self torture

If you do need to make more substantive changes then:

2. Go back to your original abstract or outline. If you had an an abstract, now make a separate outline for this section and divide it up into the themes and/or the Results and Discussion. Decide on the headings and subheadings you are going to use. But if you already have an outline, check to see it has the detail you now need.  Write the outline headings and subheadings into the actual journal text.

3. Cut and paste the conference paper material that is relevant – even if it needs to be reworked – into the new sections and subsections. If you have no text, add in the relevant bullet points from the outline. You now have a holding text – one which has the sections/themes and the content worked out, but which is not yet written through.

4. Write through the sections. Because you know the overall shape of this part of the paper, because you know what you are doing and what goes where, it is possible to write heading by heading. You can do this writing in very small chunks of time – a half hour or so at a time.

STEP SEVEN: The Conclusion

You are now clear on the argument. Go back to your Tiny Text or outline and see whether you have refined what you originally thought and make the adjustments – that Step Three again, right?

You can of course check your conference paper conclusion if you must – but if you have written a new introduction it won’t do you much good. It’s really most likely that you’ll need to write a new conclusion.

But again, there are smaller steps you can take. You can do these steps all at once if you have the time, or do them as two or three smaller steps.

  1. Jot down your answers to the So What and Now What questions. Insert them as holding text into the paper.
  2. If you didn’t work from an abstract, now is a good time to write one. Write the abstract to the paper. This helps you to get completely clear about the argument.
  3. Now write the conclusion proper. Focus on what problem/issue/question you began with and what ‘evidence’ you have presented about it. Say why this matters, to whom and how. Then suggest what should happen as a result.

As per the opening sentence, don’t worry if you can’t actually get the very last paragraph right or the last sentence. This is something that you can continue to work on.

Now pat yourself on the back. First draft of the journal article done. Done, done, done. Dusted.

STEP EIGHT: Revision

Yes revisions. You haven’t finished yet.

It’s a good idea to leave the paper for a little while and then come back to it. Read it through a couple of times and perhaps give it to a writing partner or writing group for feedback.

If you are writing solo then you need to quickly check again – the fit with the journal, the order of moves in the paper, the places where you know you needed to go back and do more refining, and the flow of the text made through the headings and paragraph openings and endings.

You might find Racheal Cayley’s reverse outline helpful at this point, or my first draft  revision guide.

And remember that revising is also something that can be done in smaller chunks of time if that is what you have available – as can proof-reading.

More resources

You can find additional material on writing journal articles, including more about each of the journal paper sections on my writing a journal article wakelet, a curated collection of relevant posts. And, shameless plug Barbara and my book about Writing for peer reviewed journals includes lots of information about choosing a journal, Tiny Texts and their uses and the various parts of the paper.


About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, conference papers, journal article, revision, revision strategy, rewriting, writing in chunks and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to from conference paper to journal article – writing in small chunks

  1. phambichha says:

    Reblogged this on Phambichha's Blog and commented:
    highly applicable to rewrite your conference paper into journal article


  2. With me it is hard to get started, but once i do, things go smoothly.


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