The journey from finishing a scientific study and getting it into the public eye can be long and strenuous. It is estimated that over a million manuscripts are submitted to journals every year, but only about 22% of them are published. High-impact journals like Nature are even more competitive; they only publish around 8% of the 200+ manuscripts they receive weekly. So while you may be making amazing progress in your research, getting your findings known to the world can be a whole other arduous journey in itself.
No matter which journal you’ve set your heart on, all look for the same fundamental qualities in their submissions. The following are some essential tips to get you going in the right direction.
Tips for Getting Your Manuscript Published
Write clearly and concisely
Scientific authors often tend to confuse being a native speaker with knowing how to write. But these are two separate things. Being a native speaker can definitely help you get the grammar and spelling right, but to be able to effectively communicate your ideas on paper requires the skill of writing. Therefore, whether or not English is your first language—rest assured! Effective writing is a skill that can be learned.
So what is good writing? Good writing is short, clear, and concise. An easy way to get there is by reading through your manuscript carefully and analyzing whether each sentence adds sufficiently new information to be worth keeping. When you force yourself to do this, you’ll find that many things can be cut out or rephrased. Next, go back through it again and analyze whether each word is worth keeping. You might be surprised by how many filler words you use that don’t necessarily add anything to the meaning of the sentence. Need a place to start? This article offers fundamental tips on how to optimize your sentences.
Ensure your abstract is perfect
The abstract is incredibly important. It is the first (and many times—the only) section that people tend to read in its entirety. Just listing a summary of your results is not enough—especially if you are writing for a journal with a broader audience. Therefore, unless otherwise specified, you should always aim to structure your abstract in a way so that it not only includes the necessary components, but that it tells a story. Don’t know how to get there? These abstract-writing tips will get you started on the right path.
Follow the journal guidelines METICULOUSLY
If your study is great, your story in place, and your figures and writing clear, you can further increase your chances of acceptance by following the journal guidelines in absolutely every detail. For high-impact journals (like NEJM), in particular, the list can be long: word count, reference format, section order, requirements for titles, headings and subheadings… But spend the time to get it right; it’s worth it. By meticulously following the journal-specific guidelines, you are showing the editor that you have made the effort…which increases your likelihood of being published.
Do not dismiss the importance of the cover letter
After spending so much time on your manuscript, sometimes it is tempting to start sending out submissions with a hastily-composed, generic cover letter. Do not do this. Never underestimate the importance of the cover letter that you send to the journal editors. Remember—you are trying to convince the editor to select your manuscript among the huge pool of other manuscripts out there. Therefore, the content of your cover letter should be carefully thought out. Make sure that you not only outline the theme of your paper, but that you also point out its novelty, and then conclude by explaining the relevance of your paper to that specific journal.
With all that said, remember this: never be discouraged. For many scientists, the path to publication is an immense learning opportunity in and of itself. So even if it takes a while for you to get there, do not think of it as time wasted, but rather—learn from it. And you will get there.