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Ten Simple Rules for Getting Published Cheat Sheet by

Rules for first time publishing
rules     simple     publish

Introd­uction

When you are long gone, your scientific legacy is, in large part, the literature you left behind and the impact it repres­ents. These ten simple rules can help you leave behind something future genera­tions of scientists will admire. 

Rule 1: Read many papers, and learn from ...

Read many papers, and learn from both the good and the bad work of others.
It is never too early to become a critic. Journal clubs, where you critique a paper as a group, are excellent for having this kind of dialogue. Reading at least two papers a day in detail (not just in your area of research) and thinking about their quality will also help. Being well read has another potential major benefit—it facili­tates a more objective view of one's own work. It is too easy after many late nights spent in front of a computer screen and/or laboratory bench to convince yourself that your work is the best invention since sliced bread. More than likely it is not, and your mentor is prone to falling into the same trap, hence rule 2.

Rule 2: The more objective you can be ...

The more objective you can be about your work, the better that work will ultimately become.
Alas, some scientists will never be objective about their own work, and will never make the best scient­ist­s—learn object­ivity early, the editors and reviewers have

Rule 3: Good editors & reviewers will be objective

Good editors and reviewers will be objective about your work.
The quality of the editorial board is an early indicator of the review process. Look at the masthead of the journal in which you plan to publish. Outsta­nding editors demand and get outsta­nding reviews. Put your energy into improving the quality of the manuscript before submis­sion. Ideally, the reviews will improve your paper. But they will not get to imparting that advice if there are fundam­ental flaws.

Rule 4: If you do not write well ...

If you do not write well in the English language, take lessons early; it will be invaluable later.
This is not just about grammar, but more import­antly compre­hen­sion. The best papers are those in which complex ideas are expressed in a way that those who are less than immersed in the field can unders­tand. Have you noticed that the most renowned scientists often give the most logical and simply stated yet stimul­ating lectures? This extends to their written work as well. Note that writing clearly is valuable, even if your ultimate career does not hinge on producing good scientific papers in English language journals. Submitted papers that are not clearly written in good English, unless the science is truly outsta­nding, are often rejected or at best slow to publish since they require extensive copy editing.

Rule 5: Learn to live with rejection

A failure to be objective can make rejection harder to take, and you will be rejected. Scientific careers are full of rejection, even for the best scient­ists. The correct response to a paper being rejected or requiring major revision is to listen to the reviewers and respond in an objective, not subjec­tive, manner. Reviews reflect how your paper is being judged­—learn to live with it. If reviewers are unanimous about the poor quality of the paper, move on—in virtually all cases, they are right. If they request a major revision, do it and address every point they raise both in your cover letter and through obvious revisions to the text. Multiple rounds of revision are painful for all those concerned and slow the publishing process.
 

Rule 6: Ingred­ients of good science are obvious

The ingred­ients of good science are obviou­s—n­ovelty of research topic, compre­hensive coverage of the relevant litera­ture, good data, good analysis including strong statis­tical support, and a though­t-p­rov­oking discus­sion. The ingred­ients of good science reporting are obviou­s—good organi­zation, the approp­riate use of tables and figures, the right length, writing to the intended audien­ce—do not ignore the obvious.

Be objective about these ingred­ients when you review the first draft, and do not rely on your mentor. Get a candid opinion by having the paper read by colleagues without a vested interest in the work, including those not directly involved in the topic area.

Rule 7: Start writing the paper the day ...

Start writing the paper the day you have the idea of what questions to pursue.
Some would argue that this places too much emphasis on publis­hing, but it could also be argued that it helps define scope and facili­tates hypoth­esi­s-d­riven science. The temptation of novice authors is to try to include everything they know in a paper. Your thesis is/was your kitchen sink. Your papers should be concise, and impart as much inform­ation as possible in the least number of words. Be familiar with the guide to authors and follow it, the editors and reviewers do. Maintain a good biblio­graphic database as you go, and read the papers in it.

Rule 8: Become a reviewer early in your career.

Reviewing other papers will help you write better papers. To start, work with your mentors; have them give you papers they are reviewing and do the first cut at the review (most mentors will be happy to do this). Then, go through the final review that gets sent in by your mentor, and where allowed, as is true of this journal, look at the reviews others have written. This will provide an important perspe­ctive on the quality of your reviews and, hopefully, allow you to see your own work in a more objective way. You will also come to understand the review process and the quality of reviews, which is an important ingredient in deciding where to send your paper.

Rule 9: Decide early on where to try to publish

This will define the form and level of detail and assumed novelty of the work you are doing. Many journals have a pre-su­bmi­ssion inquiry system availa­ble—use it. Even before the paper is written, get a sense of the novelty of the work, and whether a specific journal will be intere­sted.

Rule 10: Quality is everyt­hing.

It is better to publish one paper in a quality journal than multiple papers in lesser journals. Increa­singly, it is harder to hide the impact of your papers; tools like Google Scholar and the ISI Web of Science are being used by tenure committees and employers to define metrics for the quality of your work. It used to be that just the journal name was used as a metric. In the digital world, everyone knows if a paper has little impact. Try to publish in journals that have high impact factors; chances are your paper will have high impact, too, if accepted.

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