Writing for the JLS: Reflections from a Socio-Legal Apprentice

Ellie Whittingdale, Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

Last December I had the joy of seeing my first academic article go to print in the Journal of Law and Society (JLS). My paper appeared as one of a collection of articles in a special supplement on socio-legal methodologies, edited by Linda Mulcahy and Rachel Cahill-O’Callaghan. As a keen methodologist and firm believer in the importance of taking methodology seriously, my paper explored a methodological journey that has been at the heart of my current doctoral studies: the fraught, continuous, and enriching project of becoming a feminist methodologist. In my article for the JLS, I discuss the rich and diverse insights feminist methodologies offer socio-legal scholars, before reflecting on my own experience of translating feminist thought into practice during my fieldwork with English sexual violence support services. There, I recount the imperfect, messy, and often painful negotiations between thinking and doing as a feminist whilst carrying out an empirical project; I do so to highlight how feminist methodologies encourage us to be honest about the way we carry out our research and accountable for how we arrive at the claims to knowledge we make. In this blog post, I look back on the process of writing an article for the JLS, and the insights I encountered along the way.

As a PhD student, the process of writing an article for one of the leading journals in the field was entirely new to me. Prior to writing for the JLS, everything I had produced was for my doctoral thesis: works in progress for a much smaller group of readers, written in the safe and comfortable knowledge that they were exactly that. Whilst the article draws upon the methodology chapter of my PhD, when I was selected to submit a paper to the special supplement, I realised that writing for an academic publication was a very different process. As someone who has an indubitably verbose writing style when left to her own devices, the prospect of finding the right words to speak about my work within the confines of a strict word count and to a wider audience initially filled me with trepidation. However, I came to find the writing process exhilarating: writing with a diverse readership and hard word count in mind helped me tell the story I wanted to tell in a concise and reflexive way. I thought continuously about the different people who might read my article, and how what I was saying would sit with them; this sharpened my writing and helped me think through the claims to knowledge I was making. Writing a paper for audiences beyond my supervisor and colleagues also confirmed my passion about the necessity, and inadvertently caused me to become well-versed in the intricate landscape, of open access academic publishing. In writing an article with different audiences in mind, I had many conversations with open access experts, such as librarians, to ensure my paper was published in a way that facilitated readership by all. I felt strongly that what I was writing should not only be the purview of those with the resources to transgress a paywall. I was fortunate that my university funded ‘gold route’ open access, but deposited my article in the university archive too, which is the other, ‘green route’ option for making publications open access.

As well as learning and traversing the ins and outs of open access, transforming a chapter from my thesis into a journal article also provided me with an important record of my own evolving thoughts. The article became a sort of living document, changing shape in response to my reviewers’ comments and to the various twists and turns in my thinking that occurred during fieldwork. The review process, during which I received insightful and helpful suggestions to strengthen my paper, was an enriching experience that I embraced as an opportunity to receive in-depth feedback from leading scholars in the field. Although I had presented and gained important feedback on my paper as part of a two-day workshop for the special supplement, I saw the thoughts and ideas in my paper crystalise as I read and added the literature my reviewers recommended and developed the points they provided comments on. Taking time to sit and engage with the responses of my reviewers was particularly useful to me as an early career researcher, as their feedback helped me develop ideas about the wider implications of my work, beyond my immediate field. Similarly, working with the JLS’ copy-editing team to respond to their queries at the proofing stage enabled me to carefully refine the arguments I make in the paper, before it was sent into production with the publishers. Whilst navigating the proofing stage, which required I respond to and justify many choices of phrasing or points made, was intense for a first-time author, the thoroughness of the copy-editing process was also very affirming. The rigour of the copy-editing stage left me feeling reassured that my article met the journal’s standards and gave me an additional opportunity to really consider the claims I was making.

Contributing an article to a journal I have delighted in arriving through the letterbox each quarter, full of authors I have situated my research in conversation with, was a wonderful opportunity as an early career socio-legal researcher. Whilst the prospect of writing for a principal publication in the field was initially daunting, the warmth with which my reviewers and the JLS team worked with me made the process of writing, editing, and publishing a joyful one.

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