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Revising for Audience and Evaluating Footnotes

Thinking your audience and your references together

Four small figurines in a line

Hello Writers!

If you’re thinking about revising your article draft for a particular audience, then you most likely have an essay picked out and a journal in mind for where to place it. If not, see this issue for tips on how to do that. The suggestions here are geared toward revising an essay or chapter for a journal article submission, though many of the same principles hold true for dissertation to book revisions.

As the second big step in the “Chapter to Article Conversion series,” this issue gives a breakdown of what step 2 includes and how to go about doing it. I could have dedicated issues to each of these topics (and will soon!), but for this process, I’ve found it helpful to think these steps together.

A note: I refer to footnotes here but this may include endnotes as well, since both function as a form of citation and a space for critical comments inside an article. I do not refer to any specific citation style.

Revise for Audience and Evaluate Footnotes

While these could very well be separate steps, I propose you think about them together. Doing so will help you shape your current draft more holistically to the chosen journal. That’s because the footnotes speak as much to the audience as they do about it—you signal to your readers that you are a trustworthy scholar by citing other trustworthy scholars, and you raise new points that these other scholars haven’t thought of by pointing out who has come close and who has missed the mark entirely. By thinking about your audience through your footnotes (and your footnotes through your audience), you’re essentially taking two poor birds out with one stone.

 

What Do I Mean When I Say Audience?

The audience is both the journal and the journal’s readers. Your article won’t be published if it doesn’t first convince the editors that it fits this particular journal’s readership, values, subject, and supported methodologies. The trickiest part about revising for audience is figuring out what thar audience already knows about your topic. Dealing with a single academic journal (or two) makes this significantly easier because the journal has a built-in audience that you can research.

How do you research an audience? You read what they’ve read! Take an afternoon and go through the past ten or so issues of your chosen journal; see what kinds of articles it publishes, specifically what kinds of methodologies and objects it tends towards. Does it prefer close readings of single texts, or comparison pieces? If the journal is geared toward a theoretical framework like disability studies, what do its articles take as objects (literary texts, historical periods, scientific discourse, etc.)?

Here are some questions that you want to be able to answer to have a shot at placing your article:

–What is my audience’s primary field (Iberian studies, European history, Medieval studies, etc.)?

–What kinds of evidence will they respond to (quotes from primary sources, critical accounts by established scholars, etc.)?

–How familiar are they with my methodology and object?

Your article will get published if it brings something new to the table on one of these accounts—whether methodology/approach or object. The hard part is knowing which one will be novel enough to get you a seat at the table and how to frame the article so that that piece shines through. One way to prove that you deserve to be part of the conversation is through your footnotes, where you show the research you’ve done, what research has been done by others, and where the holes are that your article fills.

 

Footnotes, Oh My! 

Footnotes are notoriously difficult for first-time (or any-time) authors. They are the prepositions of academic writing—for all of you who have learned a second or third language—and as such have the power to energize the conversation and or deflate it miserably. There’s nothing worse than finding an article about the exact thing you’re working on only to find that it has no useful references for you to use. Scholars read articles for the footnotes as much as they do for the argument.

The point of an academic journal article is to advance a particular field or line of questioning forward, and so each article necessarily has to look back to previous scholarship before it can propose a new approach or way forward. One of the primary ways to do this is through the footnotes. Use them to demonstrate that you have read enough of the existing scholarship on your subject to be able to make claims against it or add to it.

Things to keep in mind (and why I suggest doing this alongside your “audience” step):

–Length: Footnotes are voracious space eaters and can suck up your word count like nothing else. That’s where sticking to the type of footnote and the style of the journal will help.

–Type: Footnotes provide bibliographic details in a user-friendly way so that the reader can easily find a reference without having to go to the bibliography, which has a lot more detail to sift through. More and more, journals are opting for a “reference and essential comment” type of footnote, meaning that extended commentary on a reference or unnecessary tangents are unwelcome.

–Variation: Footnotes should demonstrate the breadth of your research without drowning the reader in excessive or useless references. They should focus the references to what the audience will find most helpful in a variety of different ways. For example, if this journal audience is not necessarily familiar with your methodology, you should point them to some other texts that explain it or put it to use in a similar fashion. Alternatively, your audience might have the theoretical framework in common and so would benefit most from a reference that gives greater historical or contextual detail to your object and the stakes of your argument for your primary field.

Be prepared to spend more time than you really want to crafting the footnotes. One of the most common suggestions in a “revise and resubmit” response has to do with the author’s references. So, while it might be excruciating in the moment, your patience will pay off. The references and footnotes are where a large part of the scholarly conversation happens, so taking the time to craft them well is indeed worth it but also demanded by rigorous journals (i.e., any of the ones that you want to publish in).

Look for the next issue in this series which will cover step 3: narrative and transitions!

 

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