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Writing and preparing manuscripts for publication are key skills for scientists, but these skills are often neglected areas in training.
It is worth remembering when you are preparing to submit your paper that journals can receive hundreds of submissions in a week – and most of these papers will not make it to peer review. On the Journal of Hospital Infection (JHI), for example, around 70% of papers are rejected before they are even sent for review.
Do not despair!
This blog offers advice on how to select a suitable journal for your paper, and how to structure your work for publication.
The very first thing to do is select the journal best suited to your work.
Nature, The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, right? While it is good to aim high in terms of impact factor, it is worth bearing in mind that this is just one measure of a journal’s quality, and that no matter how good your paper, a high-impact journal in the wrong subject area will not consider your work for publication.
You can save yourself from an inbox full of rejection letters by taking a look at journal ‘aims and scope’ pages which will outline what the editorial team are looking for.
Most immediate rejections from a publication are made because while a manuscript may be good, it is not in scope for the journal. Save yourself time and narrow down the journals which are a good fit for your paper before submitting.
Helpfully, each journal has a set of individual author guidelines which provide advice on how to prepare your paper for submission.
These guidelines will help you maintain consistency in language, formatting, and visual style, to choose acceptable materials for supporting information, and prepare your artwork for submission.
Often, journal staff will send papers back to authors for reformatting before peer review if they are not in suitable journal style. Following journal guidelines will:
Editors want to see papers that are carefully structured, easy to read, and contain a clear message. Poor writing, poor structure and ignoring journal guidelines are common reasons for rejection.
There may be some variation between journals and article types, but broadly the parts of an article are:
We’ll look at each section in more detail below.
The title is the first thing an editor will look at. Often, this will be enough for them to decide whether your paper is in scope, so make sure it acts as a clear summary of your work.
The abstract is arguably the most important part of your article in terms of getting your paper through editorial triage and to peer review: the editor will decide based on the abstract whether to proceed to invite reviewers, or to reject the paper before review.
Check before submission whether there are any journal conventions on providing structured (divided by subheading) vs. unstructured (a block of continuous text) abstracts.
Generally, an abstract will benefit from the following advice:
Many editors will base their initial ‘reject or review’ decision on abstract alone: make sure yours has a clear, persuasive message.
Once your paper passes editorial triage, it will be sent to peer reviewers who will scrutinise the body of your paper in greater detail.
There are variations between journals (again – always check the guidelines for authors!), but published articles are generally structured as follows:
I will look into what each of these consists of in more details in the following sections.
Here, you have a chance to communicate why your story matters: set your work within context and show why this paper is going to be a worthwhile read.
Keep it short and sweet, and build interest for the reader: you want them to want to read on!
In the materials and methods, clearly communicate how you conducted your study: have you given enough detail so that a peer could repeat the study?
Make sure you outline:
Data is important for proving reproducibility and allowing others to build on your work. Many funders mandate data deposition to repositories so check the journal’s policies and your funder’s instructions.
Clearly, logically and factually communicate what you have found – you should objectively state your findings in this section. Interpretation of your results comes later. You can consider using tables and figures to more clearly tell your story.
In the discussion, you can outline your interpretation of your results, and show how they answer the questions posed in your introduction.
Often your conclusion will be the final paragraph of your discussion, although some journals will publish this as a separate section at the end of your paper.
Your conclusion should not contain any new information, but should instead snappily summarise what you found and what this means – your take-home message for readers.
It is vitally important that you acknowledge the work which has laid the foundation for your study.
Your reference list:
To keep your editor happy and speed up the time to publication, you should ensure:
A guide like this can seem overwhelming, and submitting your work for peer review and editorial scrutiny can be intimidating.
Remember that you are part of a team – here are a few suggestions for asking others for help before submission: