• David Wright

7 tips to get your manuscript published and why you should chant "Om Sanecharai Namah"

Everything is under control.

You have finally got a consensus from all of the authors. The references have been meticulously checked for the third time. And you have definitely spotted the last editorial mistake in your paper.

It's time for submission!

At this point it seems as if you are handing over all of your hardwork to the fate of a Roman emperor - will the journal editors give the thumbs up and spark celebrations, or the thumbs down and condemn you back to the drawing board?

In our second blog post we met with Samuel Brod to uncover some of the mysteries around getting published and provide some much-needed tips to avoid that dreaded fate...

Thanks for spending some time out of your busy day. Could you tell us a little about what you do?

Hello! I work as an editor for Scientific Reports, an open access ‘mega journal’ that’s part of Springer Nature. The large size and scope of the journal means I’m managing review and publication for dozens of manuscripts simultaneously. It’s a pretty dynamic role with a lot of balls to juggle, many hats to wear and little time to come up with original job-related metaphors. It suits my personality perfectly!

So let's get right to it - what are your tips for getting a manuscript published?

I’m going to put aside the obvious stuff as there are plenty of basic guides online. However, here’s a few bits and pieces that come from experience:

1) Don’t play games

A productive academic can push double figures for the number of papers they get published each year. Your average editor will see that number of submissions in a week. It doesn’t take long in this job to see all the subtle and not so subtle tricks authors play to try and get their paper out:

Feeling pleased about that piece of experimental data cunningly omitted from your results, ready to be brought out with a flourish when a reviewer demands it? Well, here in the Editorial office, we saw it a mile off and its boring. Tactics like this won’t typically stop you getting published, but it will make an editor scrutinise your work far more thoroughly and greatly slow down the review process.

2) Try not to overwrite it

For a happier life accept this truth: over the course of its review your paper will be re-written. Your words and opinions, overlaid with that of others. So try not to get too attached.

More importantly, avoid letting too many author write your paper. Manuscripts ‘written by committee’ tend to be overly dense and hard to read – it can prevent your data from shining through.

3) Let your conclusions match your findings and speculate with subtlety

Ah, the discussion section. You pull all your data together into a tidy little conclusion and wax lyrical over the exciting prospects your findings may have. That’s great and all, but broad sweeping statements on how your work might, for example, cure cancer will likely be met with both exasperation and scepticism by a reviewer. Especially if these conclusions aren’t adequately supported by the data you present. Try to be judicious with your findings, allow the reader to ponder its potential.

In the best papers, the data does the talking.

4) Embrace altmetrics

Journals are (finally) getting more social media savvy and many will actively seek out submissions that are likely to be shared across platforms. If you can find a hook for your work that makes it more likely to get re-tweeted then don’t be afraid to make it clear in your paper. This will raise a journal’s interest in your paper and, provided it gets through review, increase the breadth and depth of the demographic who see your work.

5) Ponder pre-publication

Pre-pub is all the rage these days. It allows authors, especially those who fear being scooped, get their data out quickly. The public scrutiny can also give your paper a bit of extra weight when you submit if for review. Be aware, not all journals will accept submissions that have a pre-print.

6) Cool heads prevail but call out p**s-takers

Review is critique, subjective critique at that. Differences of opinion happen and things can get heated. In these situations stay calm and resist the urge to be sarcastic, scathing or insulting in your rebuttal, it will typically stall the review process and often end in rejection through stalemate. Stay polite and at the very least keep up the pretence of being open to constructive criticism.

However, if a reviewer is showing evident ill will or bias against your work, do not be afraid to lay out your case to the Editor. It is their job to arbitrate in these situations and typically the polite party prevails.

7) Don’t use the word ‘indeed’

It dates you.

I hear that you get a few somewhat speculative submissions. What is the most bizarre one you have recently seen as an editor?

I received a timely submission a few weeks ago where the author had discovered that across history a particular alignment of the planets coincides with terrible plagues befalling the earth! (Coincidently we are currently experiencing such an alignment).

The author posited that the solution to avoiding such calamities is for all the people of the world to come together and chant as one the mantra ‘Om Sanecharai Namah’.

Sadly, our journal does not accept submissions from the field of astrology ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

With so many changes occuring within science and publishing, what does the future look like to you?

A decade ago I declined a role in publishing because I thought the rapid decline of print media and the rise in open access journals spelled the end for the industry. Now I work for Nature…

This is a long way of saying, I don’t wish to speculate. I will say publishing is in a time of great change, having adapted relatively well to the internet, the industry is experiencing a surge in novel ways to showcase research. Open access is on the rise, plan-S is finally underway and we are seeing a long awaited shift in focus towards publishing reliable rather than sensational science. I can’t say what this means for publishing in the future but it’s certainly an interesting industry to work in.

If you would like any assitance getting your papers published then get in touch for writing assistance or just some friendly advice tailored to your situation.

At the very least we can chant together and relief the stress of publications while saving the world.