How do you get your research published as a student, Morten Harmening?

As the final instalment of our little interview series about student publishing, we spoke to Morten Harmening, M.A. about his work as Editor-in-Chief of a student journal and his recent book, together with Dr. Philipp Köker, in which they synthesise their years of experience in the field into a comprehensive guide for every student and teacher interested in or wanting to promote student research.


YJEA: Tell us a bit about your experience with student publishing? What’s your background?

Harmening: During the first semesters of my undergraduate degree in political science, a lecturer drew my attention to the German Society for Political and Social Sciences (DNGPS) and its working paper series. While I never had the chance to submit a paper to the series, I did organise a DNGPS conference at my university. As a result, I joined their executive committee and became editor of the working paper series. I left the editorial board last year when I started my PhD in political science.

Thanks to my role as editor, I learned a lot about academic publishing early on in my studies. During my master’s degree at the University of Bamberg, I was asked by a lecturer whether I would like to teach a course on student publishing together with him. In parallel to our seminar, Philipp Köker (for whom I had previously worked as a student assistant) taught a similar course at the Leibniz University Hannover. Therefore, it was only natural that we exchanged ideas and materials relating to our courses. From this exchange came the first ideas for our book, which was published earlier that year.


Students are often unsure about the value of their contribution to the scientific community. Why should anyone care about student publishing, let alone get actively involved? What’s in it for students as well as the academic community? What can we learn from student publishing?

Students often have a fresh perspective on social conditions and scientific debates. Especially, because students are not fully aware of the entire literature on a subject (in contrast to established scientists), they can go beyond existing patterns of thought. This can lead to very innovative ideas and, therefore, to great publications.


What are the main challenges on the way from grade A term paper to published article? What are the main differences between a term paper and a publishable piece?

First of all, empirical papers always follow a very similar logic and structure. Therefore, a good term paper already contains many aspects of an original research article. Thus, a lot of the work is already done! However, even though the structure is very similar, the differences are in the details. Scientists publish to share their scientific findings with researchers around the world. In contrast, students write term papers or theses to demonstrate what they have learned. Therefore, the content of the chapters is different. For example, unlike a research paper, students often have to describe concepts in great detail and discuss why they used a particular method. However, a term paper does not need to tell a coherent story and does not need to be framed in a certain way – which can be the biggest challenges in getting published.


How can students increase their chances of getting published?

As a student journal editor, I have often seen papers that (I assume) were not revised before submission. Even the best term paper or A+ thesis has some room for improvement. Thus, I think the most useful tip is to ask a supervisor for feedback, use this to improve the manuscript, and only submit it after the revisions are made. This similarly applies to reading author guidelines carefully: Do not submit your 100-page long master thesis, if the journal does not offer this type of publication.


“Students often have a fresh perspective on social conditions and scientific debates.”


What should students look out for when searching for the right journal for their manuscript?

There are many aspects to consider when looking for the right journal. I recommend Patrick Dunleavy’s blog (“Writing For Research”) for detailed information. However, not all of these aspects apply to student journals. I think students should mainly take three points into account. Most obviously, the article should fit the scope of the journal. Furthermore, the journal should be published fairly regularly and have up to date information on its website. Some student journals have trouble finding enough people to serve on the editorial board. Hence, in the worst case, students may try to submit their paper to a journal that may not even exist anymore, but that information is not necessarily online. Most importantly, however, students should make sure that they do not submit their work to a predatory journal. These pretend to be established journals that adhere to scientific standards. Nevertheless, they lack scientific quality assurance and often charge high fees to authors. Distinguishing between predatory journals and established scientific journals can be particularly difficult for students. Therefore, when submitting a paper, it is important to make sure that there is adequate information about the peer review process. Are the editors clearly identifiable? And is there perhaps even a trustworthy organisation or university behind the journal? It is also worth asking the supervisor or somebody at the university library.


Understanding the perspective of a journal editor can be invaluable for potential authors. What are editors of junior journals looking for in submissions?

Editors are looking for all kinds of papers that have some kind of scientific value – ideally, the paper addresses a real research gap. As this is also a criterion for a good term paper, many students may already have a paper with sufficient publishing potential in their hands! However, it is also important to adhere to criteria for academic publishing. Since grading is anything but standardised (except in some technical disciplines), it is not possible to specify a minimum grade – if the work is graded above average for the cohort or discipline, students should consider submitting it to a student journal.


Revisions are a fine line between satisfying the demands of the editors and peer reviewers while defending one’s work against feedback you fundamentally disagree with. How can students confidently navigate that process, even when feedback might have come from professors?

It is always difficult to engage with feedback with which you fundamentally disagree or you feel is unjustified. I would say that the same (unwritten) rules apply to student publishing as to non-student publishing: implement as much as possible of what is asked for by the reviewers or the editor. Before you choose not to implement some of the reviewers’ suggestions in the revised paper, I would highly recommend to talk with one of your lecturers, since they have more experience with revising and resubmitting academic papers. Moreover, don’t forget to write a response letter to the editor and the reviewers. Without explaining why something is not implemented, the paper is very likely to be rejected even at this stage.



How did you come to write a book about student publishing? What was your inspiration and motivation behind taking on this project?

I made the experience that students actually learn a lot by going through the publication process. They not only improve their academic knowledge and gain valuable skills in dealing with (difficult) feedback, but they also learn something about the process itself and all the different actors and organisations that are involved in it. Unfortunately, my impression is that student publishing is not well known, neither among students nor lecturers. It is therefore not surprising that most students have little idea of what to expect in the publication process or how they can prepare for it. We hope that our book can help students exactly with these points and take away any anxiety that students may have with regard to embarking on their first adventure in academic publishing.


Can you summarise the main thread of the book in a few sentences? What are some of the key takeaways?

The core message of the book is that student papers are, at their core, scientific/academic papers with the potential to contribute to academic debates. Unfortunately, much of the knowledge created through these papers is never made available to the scientific community. Therefore, we propose student publishing as an ideal platform for these papers. While term papers and especially the bachelor or master theses have to be revised before be submitting, our book explains what needs to be done. We highlight which aspects students need to add, which parts need to be removed or revised, and what can be used without major changes. We also guide students through the peer review process and help to increase the visibility of their papers after the publication.


Who is this book written for? What advice and guidance are interested students going to find in there?

The book is written for students but also for the lecturers. The book contains three parts: The first party includes mainly general information about (student) publishing and the publication process. Therefore, no existing knowledge of this topic is assumed and the book is written for all students with a background in the social sciences. In the second part, we explain how to revise a term paper or a thesis and turn it into a manuscript that can be submitted for publication. The last part guides students through the peer-review process, the last steps before the publication, and beyond. Our book includes information on how to choose the right journal, how to get feedback, how to deal with the reviews, what to do after a rejection and how to get the most out of a paper after publication.


“Student papers are, at their core, scientific/academic papers with the potential to contribute to academic debates. Unfortunately, much of the knowledge created through these papers is never made available to the scientific community.”


All chapters contain exercises and additional material. These resources can also be found online on our website: The book and the resources cannot only be used for self-study but also included in a course. Interested lecturers can use our sample syllabus when teaching a course on student publishing, or when teaching a research based class at the end of which students are expected to publish their work.


Junior and senior journals work under very different conditions. For full time academics, the arduous journey through peer-review processes is part of the job. For students, it’s a great extra qualification, but the lengthy revision and publication process doesn’t combine easily with classes and extracurriculars. How can your book help both students and teachers to bridge that gap?

The publication process is not part of the most university programs. Furthermore, most resources about academic writing are aimed at academics with some prior knowledge. Consequently, students often face difficulties when planning to submit an article and may get frustrated when working with these resources. Our book addresses this exact gap. Students do not need any prior knowledge about how to publish a research paper – in our book, they find most of the information they need to get through this process. Hence, they can save a lot of time and avoid frustration. Lecturers can also find plenty of information that they can give to their students when being asked for advice. It might also help them to answer concrete question about a specific project, since it is not always straightforward to determine which parts have to be changed to make a research article out of a term paper.


As a former junior journal editor yourself, what’s your advice to students who aspire to get their first publication in the books? What can student journals offer that they might not find when submitting to very established journals?

Editors in student journals are generally a lot friendlier and more tolerant with authors as students are less familiar with the publication process. There is usually more guidance and help with revisions as well as feedback in case of a desk reject. In addition, students can always ask questions if they are unsure, which many might not have the confidence to do in senior journals.


Lastly, where can students find the book and all the additional materials?

For students at the vast majority of German, Austrian and Swiss universities, the book can be downloaded as a PDF through their university. As it is published by Springer VS, most university libraries have access to the book. Alternatively, students can simply ask the university library to add it to their collection – we have also linked other ordering options on our website, where students can also find a lot of additional materials: