Beginner’s Guide to Scientific Publishing

Career strategies for young European scientists
by Troy Hibbard, Labtimes 02/2014

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Receiving a helping hand

It is now time to get some feedback from your supervisor and colleagues on that draft. This is usually around the point where researchers get really nervous. After all, several months of stress and edits have culminated in the work that they are about to review.

A very important thing to remember is that this review is only meant to help you resolve errors in how the work is displayed. It is not a reflection of your value as a scientist and should not be taken personally. One way to look at this is that your manuscript is also the work of your supervisor, which means that they want to invest time into the quality as well. They have not worked through as many drafts of this article as you have and it is now time for them to catch up. This could potentially result in a request for some significant modifications to the draft but do keep in mind that this is a perfect learning opportunity, granted from an individual with more experience.

The light at the end of the tunnel

You have worked through many sleepless nights, more experiments took place than you care to remember, manuscript draft number 30 came and went a while ago, and finally, you reach a place where your supervisor is satisfied with how your research will be communicated to the public. No matter to which journal you decide to submit, tradition dictates that your manuscript is submitted with a cover letter.

This is where you get to pitch how wonderful your work is and how the novelty of your observations can benefit the scientific community. Editors want to ensure that your work is truly suitable for their journal, and that the time provided by you and your referees is not wasted.

As journals increase in impact factor, they tend to receive more submissions, making it necessary to have an increasing screening system. Hence, a rejection does not always mean that your work is not of high quality. It could simply be due to the fact that the journal has been forced to become much more specific with regard to their area of scientific focus. So, if rejected, try again elsewhere. If accepted for review, then your work has shown potential for their journal and now goes through the gauntlet of being assessed by your peers. This is where the light at the end of the tunnel starts to emerge but the bridge to get there has a 50/50 chance of collapsing from under you.

Referees are intended to be specialists in your field and should provide supportive critical assessment of the work. This should include how well your experiments were planned and executed but some will also focus heavily on how novel or “sexy” the work is. With this in mind, be prepared to justify why your methodology is not only logical but has a unique aspect, of which the scientific community needs to be aware. As stated earlier, be prepared.

All downhill from here

You have just received the exciting news that your article is accepted, with minor changes required. This is it! The most difficult parts of the process are behind you. The changes required could be many different things but, most often, they simply need clarification of specific results or discussion points.

Given that you have lived and breathed your project, finding a new way to explain and justify your decisions may simply role off the tongue. However, if the changes require further experimentation, at least now you can feel confident about what your peers want to see in future publications. This can be thought of as an exercise in humility that will exponentially increase the quality of your scientific output with each subsequent publication. Another few days in the lab and you will be able to join the international community of officially published scientists. Congratulations!

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Last Changed: 21.03.2014

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