Publication tips

Points to consider...

In addition to practical issues such as thorough editing, here are a number of points that you should consider when approaching publication:

  • You may be working in a highly specialized field, but is your work truly novel, a landmark in your field or is it of wider relevance? If the answer really is ‘No’, then aim for the journal with the highest impact factor in your subject area. If the answer is 'Yes', then you have many more options.
  • High impact journals are vital to a scientific career because both your peers and your superiors will judge you largely on the basis of your contributions to these journals. Getting published in high impact journals is determined to a large extent by your results, but your publication strategy can also have a significant impact on your success.
  • Submit to a leading journal and your paper may be rejected, meaning that you will have to reformat and re-submit to another journal. It may be quicker to submit to a journal with a lower impact, as you will probably only have to do it once, but it will not raise your profile.
  • A good general rule of thumb is make a shortlist of appropriate journals, descending from the highest achievable to the lowest acceptable impact factor. Be realistic, but also optimistic, when choosing higher level journals. Once you begin submitting, this approach can become time consuming (and risky if you fear being scooped) but you will generally surprise both yourself and your colleagues.
  • Try to write a persuasive covering letter, outlining the full significance of your results and placing your paper in the context of the current literature, with an emphasis on newsworthy aspects of your findings. What is obvious to you may be less so to a non-expert. Keep in mind that the journal editor may not be experienced in your specific field, so explain your results; especially when submitting to a general scientific journal. If you have discovered something truly novel or have solved a long-standing problem, don’t be modest, go for the very top. Although you might not quite make it, you will eventually be rewarded with a higher impact than would result from a more conservative approach.
  • Spend plenty of time on your title and abstract, as these are essential to attracting attention to your work. With many thousands of manuscripts appearing on most research topics each year, you will have to compete for attention. Ensure that your essential results are covered in the abstract, but focus on those that are novel. This is especially important when aiming for a general scientific journal. These journals focus on landmarks and need to know that a paper will speak to a broad group of readers.
  • Science is often compared to Olympic-level sport. Fortunately there are more winners in science, but leading journals act very much as the winner’s podia at the Olympics. The important difference is that you can decide for yourself if you deserve to stand there. Whether the journal editor agrees with you, you can only discover by trying.