What To Do When Your Writing Has Been Misunderstood | Tips on How to Get Your Research Published
Authors are misunderstood and misread every day for reasons related to their text and for reasons far beyond their control. This is to say that such misunderstandings happen frequently and cannot always be resolved. If your new academic or scientific book just received a one-star review on Amazon, there is, unfortunately, very little you can do about it except try to let go of the disappointment and frustration. It represents the opinion of only one reader, after all, and there will no doubt be other and more qualified readers who will think very differently about your work. On the other hand, there are instances in which you may be able to make a difference, and in such cases it is worth doing your best to correct the problem.
A prime example is when your work has been misunderstood by an acquisitions editor or peer reviewer for a journal or press to which you have submitted your writing for publication. It is always distressing to receive a rejection from a publisher, but when it is obviously the result of your research and ideas being misunderstood, it presents special challenges. First and foremost, you must determine why your writing has not communicated what you intended. The most obvious possibility is that your writing style is failing you, and if that editor or reviewer also indicates that there are problems with your use of language, your phrasing, your grammar or anything of the kind, that will be the best place to start. If there truly are problems of this nature, however, you may not be able to detect and fix them yourself, so some help might be necessary. A colleague or mentor may be willing to read your work and give you some feedback, but when it comes to helping you correct your language and communicate more clearly, a professional proofreader or editor who specialises in your discipline will probably be the best choice.
Another possibility is that you have not presented enough evidence to render your argument convincing or that you have not explained and discussed the evidence, though adequate, in a persuasive enough manner. Again, if the editor or reviewer has provided any hints, take them seriously and ensure that you understand exactly what they mean – write and ask if you do not. You will need to decide where the weak points lie and do whatever is necessary to strengthen your evidence and the argument based upon it. Colleagues and mentors may prove particularly helpful when working to improve your evidence and your argument, and keep in mind that tables and figures can often present complex information in ways that immediately clarify what a long stream of words may confuse for some readers.
Finally, it may be that the acquisitions editor and peer reviewer do not want to understand what you are saying in your manuscript – that is, that they do indeed understand you, but are unwilling to accept your findings and your understanding of them. This can happen when an author’s research is particularly innovative and his or her interpretations of that research and its implications are groundbreaking. It is extremely frustrating to have your work rejected because it is advancing knowledge too quickly, but it happens all too frequently. You may be able to convince the editor and reviewer of the validity and value of your perspective, so if you believe this might be possible, do write and explain your thinking. However, ‘misunderstandings’ of this kind are often an indication that you need to move on to a different publisher.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.