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Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

C r e a t i n g a n i n

C r e a t i n g a n i n t e g r a t e dresearch and publication planThere is a balance to be struck between trying to produce a “dream paper” that may never get doneand sending out a set of fragmentary observations. One way to find this balance is to integrate yourplans for publication into your research plans. In her book At the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator, KathyBarker suggests strategies for doing this. As you decide on the long-term goals of your research andon the series of experiments or calculations you want to undertake, Barker suggests that you envisionthese experiments or calculations as components of a published manuscript or series of manuscripts.Think graphically; imagine how each set of results will be displayed in a figure, graph, or table. Put yourideas in writing at the outset, sketching out the hypotheses you want to pursue, the methods you intendto use, and the results you hope to get. By integrating research planning, the development of graphicimages of your data, and the work of interpretive writing, you force yourself to focus your energy in away that will move your project forward. The questions you generate as you analyze and write up theresults of each experiment should suggest additional clarifying experiments, the results of which youshould also express graphically. As you write, you will uncover gaps in information and shaky conclusionsand will be able to do experiments that make the work stronger. Eventually, you should be able todecide that you have a set of results that warrants publication.n If my results are primarily of interest to myparticular scientific specialty, which journals reachthe members of that specialty? Within this group,which journal or journals have included articles onmy particular subject area in the past couple ofyears?n Would any journal be particularly interested in mysubject because it fits into a theme it has beenpursuing? Some journals, and some editors,pursue their own special interests over time.The top-tier journals receive far more submissionsthan they can publish. For example, Nature rejectsabout 95% of the biomedical papers it receives.Be realistic about your chances. You will loseprecious time submitting your paper to the wrongjournal.It helps to ask trusted colleagues where they thinkyour paper should appear. If they are frequentreviewers for several journals in your field, theywill have a good idea of what the standards are foreach journal.Making Your Pitch. To make sure you writeyour paper for the right journal, you may wantto submit an initial query to your target journalto gauge its interest in your work. Most journalshave guidelines for submitting so-called presubmissioninquiries. This information can oftenbe found on the journal’s Web site. If the journaldoes not provide guidelines, send an email to oneof the editors, who are usually listed near the frontof the journal and frequently can be found in theelectronic version of English language journals bysearching for the word “masthead” (the namefor the box that contains such information) at thejournal’s Web site. Try to find out the name of theeditor who handles papers in your area of interest.A pre-submission inquiry usually includes:n An abstract stating the purpose of the project,methods, and main findings and conclusions. Thisabstract can be slightly longer than the abstract ofa typical research paper and may include citationsof relevant journal literature. Make sure that theabstract is clear to non-specialists and that theywill be able to understand what the scientificadvance is.126 excellence everywhere

n A cover letter briefly describing what questionsled you to your research project, what you did, whyyou think your findings or methodology are significant,how your findings advance the field, and whythey are of special interest to that journal’s readers.Limit the cover letter to no more than 500 words.If English is not your first language and you arepitching your manuscript to an English languagejournal, make sure the abstract and cover letterare clearly written and that there are no grammaticalerrors. There are many companies thatspecialize in editing English manuscripts writtenby authors who are strongest in other languages.Their services are expensive, but having the inputof people with good command of a language youmay not know perfectly can make the differencebetween a paper being read or not read by theeditors. If you have a colleague who is a goodwriter, has English as a first language, and iswilling to help you, take advantage of the offer.Remember to thank him or her in the acknowledgementssection of the paper.Pre-submission inquiries are typically consideredwithin a few days at the top-tier English languagejournals, but consideration times can vary widelyfrom journal to journal. When making yoursubmission, it is fine to email the journal’s editorto ask about the expected time frame for reviewingthe manuscript and accepting or declining thesubmission. When that time has elapsed, followup with a telephone call or email to the editor. Ifyou make this second contact by phone, use theopportunity to make your pitch a second timeusing the same kind of persuasive arguments youused in your cover letter. Be sure to allude to thelarger context of your research—the big picturethat makes your particular effort meaningful.You can expect a reply of either “we’re notinterested” or “send the full manuscript.” Apositive response to a pre-submission inquiry isnot a guarantee that the manuscript will be sentout for formal peer review. The editor will want tosee the actual paper before making that decision.writing your paperOnce you have decided where you want to submityour manuscript, review the journal’s editorialguidelines (available from the journal’s Web site ordirectly from the editor) and follow them carefully.Pick the type of paper that is most appropriate forthe story you want to tell. For example, a “note”might be described by a journal as a 1000-wordpaper with no more than three figures, while a“report” might be one of 5000 words and up totwelve figures. Which fits your data morecomfortably? You might think of each figure asa distinctive verse in a song. Are you singing aquick, light tune, or a lengthy historical ballad?Either size of paper is good, but you want tochoose the right size before you proceed.Once you have decided what kind of paper to write,print or make copies of a few different examplesof that kind of paper from the journal and analyzethem. How much room does each devote to theintroduction? Is the methods and materials sectionfinely detailed or nearly perfunctory? Is the discussionmixed in with the results or does it stand byitself? Summarize your analysis of the examplesand use the summary as a guide for outlining yourown paper.The main consideration when writing a paper is toclearly describe your most important findings andtheir impact in your field. Do not let your manuscriptlook like a compilation of lab data; makesure the reader can understand how you haveadvanced the field of research. But do not overdoit—claiming that your work is more important thanit really is earns little more than contempt fromreviewers.If you are the primary scientifically trained personinvolved in generating the data, write the paper’sfirst draft yourself. But if the data has been generatedby a student or scientist working under you,you might assign the task of writing the first draftof the paper to the student or scientist in yourlab who did the work. That person should be thefirst author and you should take the role of seniorauthor. In the life sciences, this is usually the lastname among the authors listed. If someone seniorto you at your institution will be senior author, youincreasing your impact: getting published127

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