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Posted on 5 Feb '24

Understanding the Publication Process

For research to have impact, it has to be communicated. The most common methods to do this are presenting your work at conferences or publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Publishing is an extensive process, with lots of steps that I didn’t expect! As I begin writing my second paper I have realised how much I have learned so wanted to share my top tips with you.

#1 Picking the right journal to publish in is everything

Around 40% of journal submissions are immediately rejected as they are not relevant. It takes time to prepare a manuscript in the correct style so submitting to an irrelevant journal is a waste of time for both the editor and authors. Journals publish their aims and scope online, so take time to ensure your article is closely aligned with their interests. You can also look at the journal most featured in your reference list as this is likely to be the best choice.

It's important to look at the impact factor for the journal. This is an index of how many citations a typical article published in this journal receives, giving you an indication of how much attention it is likely to get. Whilst we all dream of publishing in Nature, unless your work has revolutionised your field, this probably isn’t realistic. Looking at the highest impact journals shows you where to aim, and may give you an idea for a backup journal if needed. Your supervisor should have lots of experience in publishing so don’t be afraid to ask what journal they suggest and go from there.

#2 It is a long process

What I hadn’t appreciated before publishing is that writing a manuscript is only the first step. When you submit it to an editor, they will either reject the article (often if it is outside the journal’s scope, see above) or send it out for peer review. Peer review is when 2-3 researchers in the same area will read your manuscript and provide feedback. There is a phrase within academia of “the dreaded Reviewer 2” as this review tends to focus on the areas for improvement. Don’t be disheartened by these comments (see below). Overall, the reviewers will either suggest the article is accepted in its current state (very rare), give the authors an opportunity to resubmit with minor or major revisions, or suggest the article is rejected. Editors will collate this information and send it on to the authors with their verdict. If you have been invited to resubmit you will be given a deadline by which to make these changes, after which the editor will check they are happy the comments have been addressed. This is an extensive process requiring the time of multiple researchers, meaning it is common for manuscripts to be published months after their initial submission. Be patient!

#3 Getting minor revisions is actually a win!

When I received minor revisions on my paper I was disappointed. I thought this was a negative. However, after talking to my supervisor I realised that this is actually a great result; the peer reviewers haven’t rejected your work, you may just need to develop an idea further in your discussion, clear up any points of confusion, or improve the readability of your article. For example, one of the comments on my paper was to change a lengthy paragraph into a summary table. This was a simple change but improved the readability of the paper. It’s natural to be disappointed if your paper isn’t accepted as it is, but minor revisions is a good outcome. And I’m learning that being accepted on first submission is like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow – we all aspire to it, but I don’t know anyone who’s ever found it!

#4 Use the peer review process as a chance to improve your article

The comments I received in peer review led to a better final paper. The peer review process can be daunting but seeing it as a chance to improve helps frame this in a more positive light. I am grateful for the comments I received as they helped me summarise things more succinctly, improve the readability, and made my article more up to date. It might not feel like it at the time (especially with the infamous Reviewer 2, see above) but the peer review process is there to help!

Going forward, I am trying to remember my own advice as I start writing my second paper. The peer review process is long, stressful and often (in my case) emotional, but it is so worth it to see your name in print and your work online for everyone to read. Keep going!

For any interested readers my first paper is available through ScienceDirect.

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Last Updated: 05 February 2024