How to get published in the Journal of Sociolinguistics


  • Allan Bell,

  • David Britain,

  • Monica Heller,

  • Lionel Wee

At the Journal of Sociolinguistics, we receive many, many more submissions than we publish. Over the past year, we in the editorial team have surveyed our experience of incoming papers. We have put together the following list of features that will maximize your chances of having a paper accepted for publication with us. While a few of the points below apply specifically to our Journal, we think most of them are general academic good practice. We offer them then also in the spirit of opening up consideration of what constitutes good scholarly work, and of making the sometimes mysterious process of journal submission a little more transparent.

  • 1We are essentially a socio-linguistic journal. We are interested in submissions which encompass both the social and the linguistic, although we are entirely open over how that should happen. If your article is basically linguistic but with little social address (such as one might find in some variationist or corpus work), or is basically social but with little linguistic content (such as an abstract discussion of ideologies), it is probably not for us. The same is true for papers in the area of language acquisition∼learning∼teaching: submissions in this area need to have a strong and explicit sociolinguistic focus, as opposed to a cognitive, psycholinguistic or pedagogical one.
  • 2In your paper, address broad issues or questions in sociolinguistics and sociolinguistic theory. Interesting data are good, but their wider relevance needs to be made clear. Explain why they are important.
  • 3Make sure your paper tells a research story. Answer the ‘so-what’ question before the reader asks it: what is the issue or question you are addressing? A scholarly article needs a thread, a point: a setup at the beginning which gives a rationale for what is to follow, and a structure which makes this clear throughout the article and leads naturally into the conclusion. Get your readers’ attention right away, and remind them throughout what the point of the story is.
  • 4See that your work is based on a sufficient foundation to be convincing to a broad readership. A preliminary study, a pilot study or a term paper is unlikely to be of adequate scale, finesse or conclusiveness for publication in a journal.
  • 5Use references to the literature strategically, as a way to situate yourself in the exchange you are participating in, to explain the significance of your work, or to recognize crucial contributions you are building on. Stand-alone literature review sections are not usually the best way to make your argument. Make sure that you are up to date with the most recent literature on your subject.
  • 6Be methodologically and theoretically innovative. Don't just replicate the studies of your predecessors – extend and enhance them. Make sure you are not reinventing theories or methods that have been established by earlier scholars. We are looking for innovative methodological and/or theoretical contributions in all papers, and not just the analysis of innovative datasets.
  • 7Balance the relative weight of the components of your paper appropriately. Ensure your own findings take up a significant proportion of the paper – get to them before the half-way point. Have a conclusion, and one that is worth stating.
  • 8Give a clear exposition of your design and method. Cover all the basic information readers need to know about the empirical side of your study – when and where a study was conducted, how many participants, appropriate biographical information on speakers, and background on local geography or politics.
  • 9Motivate your choice of data; ensure it is more than anecdotal. Is it really representative of the phenomenon you are discussing? Is it adequate and appropriate to warrant the generalizations you are making? The qualitative study often needs to give an indication of the relative prevalence of a phenomenon – and quantitative findings usually benefit from qualitative examples. Take care over your data collection ethics – no surreptitious recording, for example.
  • 10Don't assume that readers will share background knowledge about the local context or the sociolinguistic problem you are addressing. Tell us what we need to know in order to understand the data and its broader significance. Couch references to places, times and so on appropriately for an international readership. For example, the world does not share a single seasonal calendar –‘spring’ is not a meaningful time descriptor in an international journal.
  • 11Go beyond the descriptive. Present analysis, not just commentary. Keep an appropriate ratio between data (such as excerpts, tables or figures) and your analysis and interpretation of it. Generally your interpretation should take up more of the paper than the data it relates to.
  • 12Tables and figures are intended to clearly present the data that the paper is covering. Figures, especially, are meant to clarify and illustrate, not to obfuscate. They should contain the minimum of detail needed to make their main point. If you use statistics, make them as transparent as possible for the non-specialists, who are the majority of your potential readers.
  • 13Aim for transparent, accessible writing. Avoid looseness, repetition and jargon. It is in your interest to have your work accessible to the greatest number of readers, including those who may not be familiar with technical or specialist terms.
  • 14Get the mechanics of the manuscript right: page numbering and spacing, numbering of tables and figures, bibliographic style. Format the manuscript clearly, carefully and consistently. Avoid too many footnotes. Check references. Proof read. Take note of our author guidelines. Don't overrun our 45-page limit for submissions (we will notice cramped line spacing or page width, and tables or figures crowded onto a page).
  • 15Finally and centrally, focus on what you have to say and how to get it across to readers, who need to understand why that message is important for them and the field.