Find Your Idea: Getting Published in Academic Journals

Prof Nader Bayoumi
Prof Nader Bayoumi
MD, FRCS (Glasgow)
Alexandria University
Professor of Ophthalmology
Alexandria, Alexandria, Egypt
Research Interests: Pediatric glaucoma

Getting published in academic journals is the ultimate dream of any researcher; ‘being there’ - being recognized, adding to the path of humanity to glory; this is worth all the pain. 

There are several steps to pass through before getting an article ready for publication. The components of any scientific article include the idea, the research work and finally the presentation. The most important part of getting an article published is actually having something to publish; that is, the idea of the research.  One source for ideas is real-life experience.  Being in the medical field, the researcher is usually a practicing physician. During the process of patient care and the haunting tasks of diagnoses and treatments, every physician faces problems; some tend to be repeated with practice. With these experience, and after a thorough literature search, an idea can be uncovered which has been studied or reported before, and as such, this represents a potential idea for a research that is likely to gain acceptance. After all, that idea came from actual every day practice and if faced by one physician is likely to be faced by others -  hence is apt to be accepted for publication as a broad audience are expected. The second source of an idea comes the other way round actually, from review of available data. Every practicing physician undoubtedly performs some sort of internal audit for self criticism and development. These records and their regular review might sometimes reveal a certain pattern, or an uncommon finding, or other potential issues that could present ideas for research.

Having formulated an idea for the research, there comes the crucial step of conducting the research. The sound steps for this task include the basic rules; have the question of the research clear and as simple as possible, clearly define the study methodology and stick to it faithfully, be a vigil observer and an extremely bureaucratic writer in recording every single detail of the findings. Have the forms ready for recording the findings before hand and with this done, proceed with the statistical workup fairly rapidly, statistics provide a meaning for the findings.

Having finished the research, formulated the results and made the conclusions, now is the time when all this has to be brought into the light, the research is ready for presentation, now is the time to start writing the manuscript. The first step therein is writing the initial draft. This initial draft is first formulated as a bulleted list, comprising –in order- the question of the research (aim of the work), then the actual steps of conducting the research (methodology), and then the salient findings of the research (results). At this very point a crucial change sets in: the researcher needs to put a meaning to the findings of the research, the significance of every point, in simple plain language: “the common simple outcome of the research”, what is technically known as the ‘Discussion’. The best way to write this crucial part of the research is to provide a split view of the manuscript draft so far, with the results on one side and the writing window on the other side. It is best to scroll down every item of the results, study it thoroughly and write down in a simple bulleted list, the simple ‘meaning’ of that specific result, as well as any implications therein. By the end of this step there should be a bulleted list of simple phrases describing the results of the research in simple -almost lay- terms. Having finished this, the initial manuscript draft is finished by a short bulleted list introducing the problem to the reader in a logical sequence that starts with ‘what is known’ about a certain fact and ends up with the question of the research. Although it is labeled “The Introduction” of the research it tends to be written towards the end of the research writing scheme. Finish this stage of writing by formulating final conclusion(s); one or a few simple phrases that wrap up the whole research; the single phrase that will be added to the milestones of mankind on the path of the issue studied.

Having finished this initial draft with all the components of the research put down in written words, the manuscript is now ready for the semifinal draft. A simple description of this task is that another split view is started, and every item in the bulleted list just formulated is converted into proper language with full sentences in a logical grammatically acceptable format. Relevant citations are inserted in the text at this point. Citations are inserted in the introduction, methodology and discussion sections. An additional step in the discussion during this stage is the comparison of the findings to relevant studies published, noting similarities and emphasizing them, and differences and hypothesizing reasons for such differences.

The final finish involves writing down the title page, moving the references to their correct location at the end of the document and inserting citation numbers in their proper order, as well as writing the abstract. Although the first part of any published article, yet the last part written. This is a summary of the research, explaining –under relevant headings- why, how, where was the research conducted, most relevant results and the final conclusion(s).

Having prepared and finalized the manuscript, there comes the critical step of choosing the relevant journal for submission. This is very important to avoid a long path of frustrations. Definitely, submitting to a journal that is not relevant to the research, or submitting to a very high profile journal much beyond the actual value and outfit of your research is a definite guarantee for rejection. And any researcher would not like that. Hence, to choose a journal, first, know quite well the value and weight of the research, avoid over or under estimating the effort done and the final product. Choices are broadly categorized into general journals and specialty journals. General journals are generally more competitive with higher rejection rates, specialty journals offer broader platforms with –relatively- easier acceptance. The list to choose from simply comes from the references already cited in the manuscript. The journals that have already published articles relevant to this research are probably more interested in the topic of the research than other journals that do not appear in the references list at all.

Once the choice of the journal has been done, a log in onto the journal online submission system to formulate the manuscript according to the specific journals author guidelines is mandatory. Always keep copies of every stage of manuscript preparation, both on the local device and on the internet, in a self sent email or in the cloud.

Once submission has been done, the researcher starts the long patience training exercise; waiting for the journal response. While this might take several months, the researcher must prepare alternative journals and plans during this lag time. A rejection is a potential response that the researcher must be prepared for and have alternative journal(s) to submit to once a decision has been taken from the submitted journal. The latent period between a rejection and submission to a new journal is an important contributory factor to the research becoming ‘old’ and ‘out of fashion’, making finding a suitable journal for publication more and more difficult.

Once the initial, or subsequent, journal gives a response of ‘Revise’ rather than ‘Reject’, this process of manuscript revision and fulfillment of reviewer/editorial comments has to start and finish as quickly as possible, editors must get the impression of the researcher being very keen on their research and very knowledgeable about it.

Finally, the difficult path of repeated rejections has to be taken sometimes, despite the pain therein! The golden rule is ‘good science will find its place’; the researcher must never give up trying. Simply, find another journal, and another, and another, and so on taking into consideration of course each journal’s reviewer comments and modifying accordingly to improve on the quality of the manuscript.

Academic writing is a talent that is gifted, a skill that is acquired, and a passion that is almost born with us! Love what you do, and it will definitely love you back, and save no effort nor resources to deliver your message to the world.