Publishing your research: an Editor’s perspective
written by Dr. Smith, ScienceDocs Psychology Editor
In this post I will reflect on what I have learned from my 10 years working as an Associate Editor at a scientific journal, providing some simple tips to aid researchers in publishing their work. The post is aimed primarily at neophyte researchers but my reflections might also be of use to more experienced researchers too. Some of the advice may seem a little simplistic, but in my experience success in publishing (as in other areas of life) depends mostly on doing the simple things very well.
Firstly, it is very important to submit the manuscript in the correct format. Pay close attention to all the author guidelines provided by the journal and follow them to the letter. Nothing is more annoying to editors and reviewers than manuscripts that authors have not bothered to format correctly. This is commonly the case in manuscripts that have been formatted for submission to a particular journal, rejected from that publication and then the authors have not taken the time to carefully re-format for the new target journal prior to submission. Though this is unlikely to be a reason for outright rejection, it puts the editor and reviewers in a negative frame of mind with regard to the manuscript, as it appears that the author has scant regard for their specified requirements. On a similar note, do not (ever) exceed the journal’s maximum page/word count. This is really annoying to editors and reviewers as it appears that the author could not be bothered to make his or her manuscript sufficiently concise. In addition, they may interpret this as the author thinking that his or her work is more deserving of journal space than that of other researchers.
Another issue that neophyte researchers often find tricky is how to respond to reviewers’ comments. Though it may not seem like it to an author on the receiving end of a negative set of reviews, the vast majority of reviewers are motivated strongly to help authors maximise the quality of their work. So never dismiss reviewers’ comments out of hand, and always make a genuine effort to address them. It is very frustrating for editors and reviewers when their comments are sometimes ignored or misinterpreted as a personal insult rather than as a genuine attempt to improve the author’s work. That said, do not be frightened to rebut comments where appropriate; just be sure to provide a very clear justification for this. Be sure to make life easy for the editor and reviewers by providing a detailed list or table of responses to comments, including the changes made. It can be very time-consuming and irritating for reviewers to have to trawl through the manuscript to try to find the changes that have been made, so please make it easy for them by signposting and detailing these changes in the clearest manner possible.
Another issue to consider is whether your work is ready to submit to the chosen journal in the first place. Though there is great pressure on researchers to publish, career advancement in science is very much a matter of the quality of your research rather than quantity. Do not be afraid, for example, to collect more data if your study is a little underpowered. This will enable your study to be published in a better journal. Make sure to use valid and reliable measurement tools, and if using a new measure make sure it is properly validated. Sometimes researchers developing a new tool, such as a psychometric measure, are so keen to use it that they do not always rigorously test it before rushing into print. And your validation work can of course yield some great papers!
Do not be tempted to fragment your work by publishing parts of larger studies piecemeal. Such a temptation is understandable, but you run the risk here of diluting the quality of your work. One strong publication is worth much more than several weak ones. Therefore, the opposite approach to fragmentation, one of consolidation, is much preferred. Two-study papers can be really effective as the findings can have double the practical impact; in fact, in my time as an editor the only two manuscripts I have ever seen accepted on initial submission with no changes requested have both been two-study papers.
My final tip is not to confuse correlation with causation. This is a common reason for manuscripts being rejected. It is not unusual for studies to use complex regression-based designs to try to elucidate cause-and-effect relationships, but ultimately the only way to be sure of a cause-and-effect relationship is to design a study in such a way that causation can be determined rather than correlation. This can be really problematic as often variables can be correlated when the relationship is not a causal one, thus findings from such studies can be very misleading. Therefore, design your study very carefully in this regard, and check your manuscript prior to publication to ensure that you do not make statements suggesting a causal relationship when all you have found is a correlation.
As mentioned at the start of this post, this advice might seem simplistic but it all relates to the most common mistakes, and reasons for rejection, that I have seen over the last decade as an Associate Editor. Therefore, the advice is well worth taking; just do the simple things well and this will be hugely advantageous throughout your research career.
Learn more about Psychology Editor Dr. Smith