Most researchers face the challenge of having to balance different professional tasks; from conducting research to teaching, mentoring, and importantly publishing their work. Getting published is integral to grow your academic career; it helps you secure new research funding, opens up opportunities for future collaborations, and enhance your reputation as an expert in your field. While the constant reminder to “publish or perish” can be stressful, it is important to understand and follow good publication practices.
However, while there are millions of papers being submitted to global journals, only a few succeed in the first attempt. An estimated 90-95% of manuscripts submitted to reputed journals never pass the review stage, with roughly 50-80% being desk rejected,1 typically due to avoidable shortcomings in the manuscript preparation and submission process. Therefore, understanding the nuances of how to get published in scientific journals is critical for researchers looking to get accepted by reputed journals.
Here are some proven steps that will help you deliver an error-free manuscript and increase your chances of getting published.
- Select the right journal for manuscript submission: Identifying the correct journal for your paper can dramatically improve the chances of acceptance and ensure that it reaches the right audience. However, with more than 80,000 peer-reviewed English language academic journals as of July 2019,2 this can prove to be a challenging task. The best way to identify the right journal is to understand the journal’s aim, scope, and focus areas. In fact, it might even help to read some abstracts and articles from the journal to get an idea of the kind of work that will interest the journal so you can make informed decisions.
- Follow journal-specified author guidelines: One of the main reasons for desk rejection is because the manuscript does not conform to the stated structure or format of the journal. If, for example, your manuscript doesn’t match the recommended structure, format or other requirements, it can be returned without ever being sent for a peer review. Most journals follow the standard IMRAD structure, which starts with an introduction, followed by the methods, results, and finally the discussion section. Then you need to include the ethics statement, funding plan, acknowledgments and other supplementary material. So when writing and preparing your manuscript for submission, ensure it adheres to your journal’s house style and submission guidelines for the best chance of acceptance.
- Make your title and abstract concise and engaging: Often considered the most important elements of a research manuscript, the title and abstract of your paper must be impactful. They are the first elements that journal editors and readers see and use to evaluate the relevance and significance of your work. Therefore, the title should be able to clearly convey what your research is about and why it would be of interest to readers; the abstract must summarize the aim and scope of your research; the problem being addressed, the method used, key findings and limitations, and finally the implications of your work. With the move to digital, there is also a shift toward more visual elements so it may be a good idea to explore graphical abstracts and video summaries that can attract and engage readers and explain your findings in minutes.
- Ensure your manuscript is reader-friendly and to the point: Presenting your research in an interesting, relevant, and readable way is another good publication practice. Keep in mind that the reader may be an expert but more likely it will be someone who may not have much knowledge about your topic or field of research. Therefore, when writing your manuscript, use simple, clear language that conveys your research and findings precisely, without repetition and ambiguity. Editors suggest avoiding the unnecessary use of complex technical terms, jargon, and effusive language. Also academic writing is formal and professional, so avoid the use of informal language, casual abbreviations, and statements or comments that may be considered derogatory, sexist or racist. When writing your paper, it helps to follow a set structure and write in easily digestible chunks with appropriate headings and subtitles. This makes it easier for readers to skim through and read your article.
- Carefully edit and proofread your manuscript before submission: English has long been established as the main language for scholarly publishing and scientific communication.3 However, English is a complicated language and even many native English speakers fail to meet the high standards required for publication in a reputed journal. The makes the process even more difficult to those who have English as a second language, who already struggle to communicate and share their work globally. You also have the choice of relying on professional services for not only translating your work but also enhancing it for submission to an English language journal. If you do not have the time or resources for this, explore online AI writing tools for researchers. Paperpal, available on Word and on Web, has been trained on academic text and can help you not only improve your language, grammar, spelling and consistency, but also offer options which allow you to check the more technical aspects.
- Create a well-written, compelling cover letter for your research: The final item on our list of good publication practices, is an effective cover letter that showcases the research done, highlights its novelty and significance, and emphasizes why it is of interest to the journal’s readers. A good cover letter can make your research paper stand out from the hundreds of manuscripts that journal editors need to go through. If done well, the cover letter can not only grab an editor’s attention but also convince them that the submitted research is worth reviewing with higher chances of publication.
While preparing an error-free, well-structured manuscript that will be accepted for review and eventually for publication can seem daunting, it can be achieved. If you’re a student or early career researcher wondering how to get published in scientific journals, these key steps will help steer you in the right direction and maximize your chance of publication success.
- Harzing AW. How to avoid a desk-reject in seven steps. Harzing.com, May 2020. https://harzing.com/blog/2020/05/how-to-avoid-a-desk-reject-in-seven-steps
- Suiter AM, Sarli CC. Selecting a Journal for Publication: Criteria to Consider. Missouri Medicine, Nov-Dec 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6913840/
- Elnathan R. English is the language of science — but precision is tough as a non-native speaker. Nature, April 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00899-y