#STEMSaturdays: Publishing Your First Scientific Article
This past year, I’ve been working on my biggest challenge yet: getting a scientific article published in a journal! Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve used to help get me to the finish line.
When I finished my Master’s degree, I knew that I wasn’t done with the hard work even though I was to take a break between my MSc and PhD degree. I wanted to get parts of my MSc research published and realized I had no idea where to start.
With a giant manuscript, I thought I could churn out a few papers but got the best advice: don’t “salami cut” just to get your publication number up. Do not rush in submitting your article for publication—take your time in presenting new or novel ideas. People would rather read one really good paper with multiple dimensions than a few mediocre articles. But what if you can’t even connect pen and paper and are having a massive brain fart?
The advice of “write drunk, edit sober” is toeing the line of an appropriate solution. While we don’t condone drinking and writing, the idea of just writing everything and anything down, not inhibited by your writer’s block is essentially what this boils down to. It’s easier to edit ‘word vomit’ than a blank page. #Protip: Send your edits to anyone who is kind enough to give your work a read. This can include colleagues and also those outside of your field! Just like any other writing, you want to avoid jargon (if there is some, define it) and passive voice. Your article should be relevant to its field and delivered clearly without surrounding “fluff.”
What isn’t fluff? Any opposing viewpoints. Acknowledge the opposing viewpoints in your article to display that you understand both views of your topic and can provide a balanced discussion. This avoids any black-and-white statements that can be easy to find faults with. Also not black-and-white? Your readership! Remember that your article may be read by international readers – don’t forget them when talking about measurements, acronyms, etc.
Each and every journal has a certain way they do references and sources, so make sure you do them currently! References are your source of credibility in an academic paper (i.e. reference relevant articles that help boost your article, widely cited references, references published from the journal you are submitting to, etc). Don't randomly select papers just to have a reference.
Oh yeah, we brought up journals. That’s an important bit! #Protip: target an appropriate journal. By ‘appropriate’ I mean don’t just submit your article to a “big” journal for the heck of it. I was strategic in selecting my journal to target, doing research on certain aspects (like aims and scope). By doing research on what journal you want your work featured in, you can increase the odds of publishing your first article. Make sure you keep an eye out for deadlines to make sure you don’t miss out!
Once you have a journal picked out, read the author guidelines carefully. Agreeing on the order of authorship can be an awkward conversation to have with collaborators, but it’s best to get it out of the way in the beginning of this long journey instead of the end all you guys want to do is submit the darn thing. Normally, if it’s your MSc and PhD, you would be the first author with your advisor and any other collaborators being behind you. If it isn’t this clear cut, you can always do what one paper did and determine it with a 25-game croquet tournament.
If croquet isn’t your game, there’s always arm wrestling! While everyone arm wrestles (or plays croquet), don’t forget to submit a cover letter with your manuscript. You don’t want to repeat your abstract in the cover letter—repetitiveness does no one any favors.
And then, the hardest part… the waiting. Once you hear back, steel yourself against anything. This process will help you develop a thick skin for criticism, and my biggest tip is to not take anything personally. After all, a rejection can be the first step to an acceptance if you play your cards right! You want to address the reviewer comments carefully and can strengthen your writing process and the article as a whole by listening to what they have to say. However, if you don’t agree with some recommendations, you can challenge what the reviewers say – with a well-argued justification for why you aren’t taking their advice.
Any modifications suggested by the reviewers that you make to your article need to be highlighted in the revised manuscript. You will also need a letter with the authors’ responses illustrating that you all have addressed all the concerns raised.
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