Have you ever wondered, what does the editor think of my paper? Ultimately the significance of the science and clarity of the presentation are the driving factors in acceptance of manuscripts for publication. This post first appeared as a workshop facilitated by Dr. Joe Provost and Dr. Carla Mattos during ASBMB’s 2011 symposium on Student Centered Education in the Molecular Life Sciences.
An Editor Speaks…
One of the most important thing about submitting manuscripts is placing ones science in the proper context. That is, how important is the work being presented? What would be the readership? Are we breaking new ground, etc. If the answer is yes to all the above, then craft a manuscript in the best possible manner and submit it to the best journal, a journal with high impact factor, etc. Suggest reviewers who are experts in the field, even if you think they may be competing with you.
We do have a tiered structure for journals. For example, nature, cell, science, PNAS, JACS are first tier. To get an article published in these journals, the science has to be super good. If the work is not suitable for the top tiered ones, pick a journal which is appropriate for the work. Second and third tiered journals are not bad. Publishing one article in a highly reputed journal is a big accomplishment regardless of where you are (PUI or not). If one is not able to publish in a top tiered journal because of the quality of the work, see if you can improve the science and make it worthy (say takes one more year because you need to strengthen the work). In my opinion, it is worth waiting. Also, do not submit average science to the best journals. This turns off the reviewers, and they are less likely to give you a break the next time. Overall, there is always a journal which is appropriate for the work one does. So choose the one which fits best. Self evaluation of the quality of ones work is important and writing a good manuscript helps you sell your science easier.
And Answers Questions…
When reviewing a MS to accept or decline for publication, what things do you look for? What kinds of science do you find particularly exciting?
Scope: Does it fall within the scope of the journal? Who will be most interested in the work? A paper on a topic that falls well outside the scope of a journal will almost certainly be rejected no matter how good the work
- Significance: How does it fit with other papers published on this topic? Does it pose (and answer) questions that are important to the field? Does it move our understanding of the field forward?
- Logic: Are the experiments logically designed? Do they directly test an experimental hypothesis or are they merely consistent with it?
- Technical Quality: Although the technical evaluation is mostly done by the reviewers, the editor does check that the experiments are performed reasonably.
How much weight do you place on who the PI is or if they are a PUI faculty when considering manuscripts?
- I don’t think I have ever thought about whether an author is PUI faculty. On a related note, however, I and all the other editors I knew did go to several scientific meetings each year, and it is definitely easier to evaluate a paper if we had recently heard a discussion of the general scientific topic or a presentation of the work itself (either as a talk or in a poster). So I would say that taking advantage of any opportunity to present your work in public is important – even if the editor wasn’t at the meeting/seminar, one of the reviewers might have been
“…it is definitely easier to evaluate a paper if we had recently …a presentation of the work itself (either as a talk or in a poster). So I would say that taking advantage of any opportunity to present your work in public is important – even if the editor wasn’t at the meeting/seminar, one of the reviewers might have been”
- I will admit that I do not expect PUI faculty to have access to the same research infrastructure as R1 faculty. So I am less demanding regarding scope or technical virtuosity. However, I remain equally demanding that the experiments presented are appropriate in nature, logical and rigorous in approach, and well controlled. The questions addressed may not always be as “hot” or as “grand in scale”, but the data has still got to back up the conclusions.
Can you tell us anything else that undergrad faculty should know when writing and submitting manuscripts.
- Clear, simple, and direct generally works best – especially when selling the significance of the problem being addressed. If the experimental work is good, it will elevate the question in a way no superlatives or distant connection to cancer ever could.
- Don’t apologize for not having a million dollar mass spec. The power of an experiment comes from the rationale underlying its design, not the expense or newness of the equipment.
- Ask a scientist from a different field to critically read the manuscript for advice on intelligibility and whether the nature and significance of the scientific advance is clear to a general audience.
Don’t apologize for not having a million dollar mass spec. The power of an experiment comes from the rationale underlying its design, not the expense or newness of the equipment
- A concise, edited cover letter setting out the main points of the paper can be very helpful. Tell the editors what YOU find most interesting about the work. Use the opportunity to convey why the paper is important for the field and the readership of the journal.
- When you receive the reviews:
- Read the decision letter and reviews carefully.
- Focus on the scientific issues.
- If the reviews or editorial evaluation cite legitimate limitations or lack of sufficient general interest or if the reviewers’ recommendation is unanimous, it is usually best to submit the manuscript to another journal.
- If the reviewers and/or the editors have misunderstood a key aspect of the paper, it is sometimes possible to email the editor about the possibility of reconsideration with a brief explanation of the relevant points and how you plan to address them.
- ABOVE ALL: Do not respond immediately. You won’t have thoroughly considered all the issues or carefully drafted your response. Wait at least a day…