Skip the Queue and Publish More Quickly

Dr Theophilus I Emeto
Dr Theophilus I Emeto
PhD, MSc, BSc (Hons)
James Cook University
Senior Lecturer Biostatistics
QLD, Australia

Publishing research is important because it adds to the knowledge pool. This addition could be good, bad, or neither. A critical appraisal of the publication helps determine the quality of the evidence presented. Hence, one needs to be careful to tell the story if it is worth telling and not whether it demands or begs telling. 

In this article, my plan is to give a brief overview of what I think may help to get published. The key word here is preparation. What do I mean by this? Essentially, the amount of time you spend on the below will determine the quality of your output:

  • Researching your topic area
  • Collecting appropriate data
  • Systematically categorizing and filing your data
  • Appropriately reviewing the available evidence
  • Diligently documenting your daily activities either virtually or in hardcopy. This also includes time spent choosing the appropriate journal that targets the right audience for your work.

In essence, do the grunt work, if your research proposal was accepted, then you should be able to achieve a publication.

To ensure one is skilfully able to skip through the myriad of obstacles on the way to publishing, one should endeavor to describe the problem clearly and thoroughly. Key issues to all interested parties and a generalization of the problem are stated. Give details of, and reasons behind, the selection of putative and specific solutions. You should also be able to critically appraise and describe the implementation of a specific innovative solution in terms of its potential application to the field of study.

Everyone has something to say, but the key thing is how you say it. This underpins the publishing process within academic journals.

For example, looking at the following two sentences:

  1.  “Molecular imaging technologies employing nanoparticles have been proposed as novel ways to quantify pathological processes, such as inflammation, within AAAs as a means to identify AAAs at risk of rapid progression or rupture”.
  2. “In recent times, molecular imaging technologies employing nanoparticles that can identify key changes in the pathophysiology of the deteriorating aorta at risk of rapid progression or rupture in the diagnostic imaging of AAA, such as inflammation, apoptosis, remodeling has been proposed and have become a major focus for researchers”.

The first sentence taken from my recent publication is much better than the second taken from one of the earlier drafts, although one could potentially still improve on it. The first sentence is concise and delivers the key message without being too messy. The second sentence is too long and a bit repetitive. Every article goes through a series of draft, redraft, and revision stages until one reaches an acceptable finished product or stop trying. This “finished product” is submitted to the journal of interest for consideration.

In addition, the right combination of authors and affiliations is also important. Choose your co-authors strategically in terms of reputation and affiliation. Are they recognized experts in the topic area? Are your co-authors in the same institution as yourself or affiliated to an institution known for her high quality research? Are you working with co-authors with dodgy reputation or with unreliable affiliations? The answers to these questions is very important. You also need to ask yourself what you want to achieve with the publication. Do you want to be the king of the castle (sole authorship)? Do you want to share the glory of your innovative research with other authors? Do you want to get the most out of the research process and potentially get more articles published (collaborative effort)? The latter is more likely when you collaborate with other researchers to publish. In my opinion, everyone wins when researchers collaborate. A greater amount of high quality research outputs result from collaborative research efforts.

In preparing the manuscript, it is always a good idea to use the article template provided by your journal of interest in the drafting stages. This will help keep you on track and ensure you adhere strictly to the format/presentation style of the journal. It is important to familiarize yourself with similar articles available on the journal website. This have the added advantage that you are able to get a feel for what is acceptable by the journal. Avoid jargons and clichés as much as you can. Tell the story as best as you can, because, ‘it is worth telling!” Keep it simple and to the point. Understating the impact of your findings is much better than overselling it. Do not forget to discuss the limitations of your study and to highlight the strengths too. A significant number of authors spend time on dwelling solely on the weakness of their study and forget to highlight the strengths too.

Once you are happy with (or sick of the sight of) the manuscript and your co-authors have read and given their consent, you should submit it. 

There are three main possible outcomes. First, the editor and reviewers thinks your article is the best thing since the Beatles, and they recommend “accept” with minor corrections. This is the best result you can achieve. Second, both editors and reviewers think it is great but want you to do some work, and request a combination of minor and major revision as a criterion for final acceptance. Third, editor reads your cover letter, and/or abstract, and politely reject your article with some cleverly crafted prose that essentially calls your bluff. There are several variations to these three main outcomes, and you may have to go back and forth a few times with the review process before the article is finally given the green light. The first and third outcomes are in my opinion, the best ones. With the first outcome, you are very close to “Go” and can literally smell the money. With the third outcome, you save weeks, sometimes months of having to wait for a final decision on your manuscript and you can just send it somewhere else. The second outcome can be handy sometimes, in that you can incorporate the feedback given by the reviewers and either resubmit to the same journal or go somewhere else.

I believe everyone has something to say, but how you say it makes all the difference. Finally, if you have to tell a story, tell the story because it is worth telling and not whether it demands or begs telling.

Reference List

1. Emeto TI, Alele FO, Smith AM, Smith FM, Dougan T, Golledge J. Use of Nanoparticles As Contrast Agents for the Functional and Molecular Imaging of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. Frontiers in cardiovascular medicine. 2017;4:16.

2. Chipperfield L, Citrome L, Clark J, David FS, Enck R, Evangelista M, et al. Authors' Submission Toolkit: a practical guide to getting your research published. Current medical research and opinion. 2010;26(8):1967-82.

3. Dowsett SA, Van Campen LE, Bednar LA. Developing good scientific publishing practices: one pharmaceutical company's perspective. Current medical research and opinion. 2010;26(6):1249-54.

4. McGaghie WC. Scholarship, publication, and career advancement in health professions education: AMEE Guide No. 43. Medical teacher. 2009;31(7):574-90.