14 Top Tips for getting your Precious Paper Published
I was 26 years old when I was appointed as a lecturer in academia; I was awaiting the results of my master’s degree and was writing my first research article. Of course, I wanted to do a good job, but what a challenge! Even though I read many papers while working on my master’s, I just did not “get it”.
I still remember the introduction of my first paper – it sounded like the opening paragraph of a novel. The draft was going forwards and backwards between myself and my supervisors with track changes everywhere. My poor supervisors. I always saw myself as talented academically, but this publication thing was really daunting and getting the better of me. I spent many, many, many hours on this paper, and it felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. And then came my very first acceptance email from the editor… that feeling made all the effort worth its while!
I realised that using my experience to assist others in getting their work published would make all those hours I spent on my first paper more valuable. It will mean that those hours did not just produce one publication, but they produced multiple publications by many who will walk this road after me. And that is why I decided to turn my experience into something concrete – this blog post. To export the files in my head into a format accessible to you so you can spend your precious time wisely elsewhere. More of these “files” can be found on researchmasterminds.com and the Research Masterminds YouTube channel.
In 2020, I wrote the first version of this blog post, which contained 10 top tips. In 2022, when I planned a Live Workshop for the members of the Research Masterminds Success Academy, I expanded it to 14 Top Tips. Let’s say your research data are analysed, and you are ready to share your results with the world. This blog post will give you a glimpse into my top 14 tips for getting your precious paper published. Share this post with someone close to your heart. And, if you prefer video above text, scroll down and watch the video instead.
#1 Follow the reporting guidelines
This is a brilliant tip that I only (embarrassingly) came across, “not soon enough”. There is a reporting guideline or checklist for almost every study design out there. Experienced researchers with good insight into each study design put together these valuable documents. This means whether you are doing an observational cross-sectional study or a scoping review, you’ll find a reporting guideline or checklist somewhere to guide you in writing your manuscript. I mostly use these two websites, but if you know of any others, let me know: Equator Network and Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP).
#2 Model others
Download some published papers in your area of research that have used a similar study design as yours; even better if you can download a few articles published in the journal you are aiming for. Learn from these authors. Model what works, and once you are done, (you and) your work will be a role model for others. Take note of the difference between modelling and copying – refer to top tip number 6 (“Never copy and paste”) for clarity. So, if you are writing a scoping review for JBI Evidence Synthesis, download a few scoping reviews from this journal to get an idea of the end product. This tip does not replace but complements the important top tip number 4 which says “Read the Guide for Authors – carefully”.
#3 Be strategic
There is no need to start writing the research article from the top, i.e., first the title, then the abstract, then the introduction… and so on. You will find a suggested order on this Research Masterminds YouTube Playlist, explained step-by-step. Each video on this playlist elaborates on a step, starting with deciding on the focus of the paper, then choosing a journal, building an outline, constructing the method section, and so on.
#4 Read the Guide for Authors - carefully
Read the journal’s instructions to authors thoroughly and carefully comply with the requirements. Take note of things like the word count limit, abstract format (structured or unstructured), cover letter requirements, title page requirements, and Article Processing Charges (APCs). It is deflating to get a paper back two hours after you submitted it, in other words, two hours into your celebrations, with a request from the editor to “please add line numbers and resubmit”.
Find the Guide for Authors of your target journal by typing “[target journal name] guide for authors” into your search engine. Some journals refer to this guide as “authors’ guidelines”, “author instructions”, or “submission guidelines”, but a simple search will get you to this information relatively quickly.
#5 Be super pedantic (but not perfectionistic)
Suppose you submit your manuscript at a near-perfect level, free from minor issues (of course, free from big issues as well). In that case, you will increase your chances of winning the editor and reviewers over. If the paper presents as “sloppy”, the editor and reviewers may think that the science behind it is also “sloppy”; they lose hope and move their attention to the next paper (and they receive many papers).
Employ your eye for detail and ensure consistent use of acronyms/abbreviations of appropriate concepts and constructs, consistent formatting of tables and headings, no typographical or grammatical errors, good flow of information in each section, and no unnecessary repetition of information.
Now, be very careful not to fall into the trap of perfectionism. At some stage, you need to stop reviewing your paper frantically over and over and get to clicking that submit button.
#6 Never copy and paste
This is dangerous! Don’t ever copy and paste text from published sources into your article, not even if you are planning to remove it later. I have heard so many horrible stories about accidental plagiarism. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
#7 Don’t try to fit too much in
I know exactly how difficult it is to create a 3000-word document from a dissertation or thesis. The best papers out there carry a single message which is well-elaborated upon. Before you dive right in and start working on your first publication, plan the entire project’s papers all at once, i.e., zoom out before you zoom in. A blank piece of paper or whiteboard will come in handy here.
#8 Avoid salami-slicing
Don’t “cut” your data too thin when planning your projects. This editorial describes salami slicing as “each paper is so thin (akin to slices of salami) and that the whole purpose of multiple outputs is to bolster author CVs, perceived performance and scholarly standing rather than disseminate research findings with integrity”. Find the balance between “Don’t try to fit too much in” (top tip 7) and salami slicing (top tip 8).
#9 Stick to the focus
You have done a layout of the papers that will emanate from your project, and you decided on the focus of the paper at hand, in other words, the message that you want to convey to your reader. Formulate your objective(s), and then ensure that you align all sections to your objective(s). Remind yourself of this focus throughout the writing process because it is easy to go down the rabbit hole.
#10 Make daily progress
Chances are that you won’t finish the process in one day and you’ll probably work on it over a few weeks or months, depending on the time you have available. Don’t leave the paper unattended for more than one day. The longer you don’t work on it, the more difficult it is to get back into it and the easier it becomes to procrastinate.
#11 Note down the next steps at the end of today
When it's time to call it a day, write down the next steps in the form of micro-to-do items such as “download two articles on the prevalence of injury” or “revise method section” or “format Table 3”. This way, you will know exactly where you will kick off when you open your laptop tomorrow. When I don’t know where to start, I am much more likely to procrastinate. Having this list of next steps available will help you to get started immediately, especially if you suddenly get given the “gift of time” - even if it is only 30min. That 30min that you work on your paper brings you 30min closer to your submission date (and thus 30min closer to the celebrations). More on this in this blog post.
#12 Face “writer’s block” head-on
When you get stuck, close your laptop and go and do something you love – not for too long though – take a walk in the garden, drink a cup of tea, take a refreshing shower or have a chat with your housemates. When you get back, and you still don’t feel like tackling that document of yours, open a blank document and just start typing or writing. I often get stuck with the discussion and taking a short break helps clear my busy brain. If your writer’s block is really severe, a day or two away from the paper may just be what you need.
#13 Create impact
Consider this for a moment: is it enough to publish your research in a peer-reviewed journal? Yes, publishing is a must so that others can find your work, but are there other ways that you can boost the level of impact? What about sharing your results through a series of presentations to stakeholders, a handout or infographic, or…? You will know your research area and the potential areas of impact best. Go for it! Change the world!
#14 Add value to the lives of others
Once you have been through this experience, find ways to guide others through this daunting process. Share what you have learnt and empower others to get their work out there.
The Research Masterminds website and YouTube channel are useful resources to get going. You can follow the Publishing your Research YouTube playlist step-by-step. Complete one step before you move on to the next. And enjoy every step of the way.
If you prefer video above text, here you go:
If you are a (post)graduate student working on a master’s or doctoral research project, and you are passionate about life, adamant about completing your studies successfully and ready to get a head-start on your academic career, this opportunity is for you! Join our awesome membership site - a safe haven offering you coaching, community and content to boost your research experience and productivity. Check it out! https://www.researchmasterminds.com/academy.
I’d like to acknowledge the website https://www.pexels.com/ for the image used in this blog post.