By Pushpanathan Muthuirulan, PhD
In the academic world, publishing a “peer-reviewed” scientific manuscript is a source of anxiety and consternation to many researchers. Do you want to know the inside secret of publishing successes? For researchers struggling to publish their precious data to the scientific world, the NICHD Office of Education organized a “Getting Published: Strategies and Approaches” workshop. Dr. Chris J. McBain, Chief of the Laboratory of Cellular and Synaptic Neurophysiology, NICHD, shared his experiences as Senior Editor for Neuroscience and discussed the process of preparing and submitting manuscripts for publication. He emphasized strategies for figuring out the logistical steps associated with pre- and post-manuscript submission.
The workshop featured key strategies and approaches to publication, with a focus on getting published in highly reputed scientific journals. The workshop covered various topics related to writing processes, figures, article submission, editorial process from a reviewer’s perspective, specific period of time for publication, responses to critiques, and requests for revisions.
Start with good writing
With respect to the manuscript writing process, Dr. McBain pointed out that the author should first and foremost have a “complete story” prior to writing a manuscript. This is highly critical for crafting a storyline that will attract a wide readership. The writing process should also parallel the creation of clearly defined figures, which are the driving force of every manuscript. Remember, said Dr. McBain, “A figure is worth a thousand words.” The manuscript should be well written, using plain language that emphasizes clarity, brevity, and avoidance of long-windedness. Plain English is 90 percent of a good and effective manuscript, according to Dr. McBain.
Editor’s triage on submitted manuscript
There is an enormous volume of manuscript submissions every year. The journal editors reject almost 70 percent of the submitted manuscripts during the initial screening process. Initial screenings help to prevent frustrating the authors by avoiding incubating their paper in a review process for a long time and then rejecting it. Often highly busy editors only look at three essential components of a manuscript to decide if an article should continue to the review process. These three important components are:
- Manuscript title (it should be a small, descriptive, and catchy one-line statement)
- Abstract (it should be grammatically correct and concise to explain significant findings)
- Figures (should be clear and effectively correlate with the scope of article)
Structuring a successful scientific manuscript for publication
To organize an effective scientific manuscript, the first thing to consider is the order of sections, based on the order of items in the journal check list (this will be different for each journal). Authors should carefully go through the journal guidelines to avoid a delay in getting published. Structural components of most manuscripts include:
- Cover letter (not too long or long-winded)
- Title (concise and catchy)
- Abstract (grammatically correct and describes only the findings)
- Compelling Introduction (start with a good review and end with a catchy statement and author contributions in the article)
- Methods (provide experimental details that are reproducible)
- Results (what you have found? Describe your research findings)
- Figure (clear and helps explain your research findings)
- Discussion (should confront your findings and convince readers)
- References (cite reference in format as per journal guidelines)
Responses to critiques and submitting revisions
It’s not always easy to respond to reviewers’ comments. Get it right, and you could see your paper published! Get it wrong, and it could lead to rejection. To increase the chances of success, don’t hesitate to write to the editor explaining, honestly, why you agree or disagree with the reviewer comments, which will help the reviewer and editor to understand your point of view, and ultimately help them make a better decision about your manuscript.
Overall the “Getting Published: Strategies and Approaches” workshop unmasked the secrets behind publishing success. As a participant, I strongly believe that this workshop can empower researchers to stand proudly in the scientific world by publishing their marvelous findings in highly reputed scientific journals.