Editors are your friends, not your enemies.

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For the launch of conpher, we contacted 3 of the world’s most prominent journal editors and asked them to share their own personal publishing experiences and their advice from an editorial perspective on preparation for writing a journal article and their strategy for selecting the journal to publish with. And as they represent some of the journals with the lowest acceptance rates in the world, their advice is well worth taking note of!

Jeffrey M. Drazen, Former Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr Drazen joined the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) as Editor-in-Chief in July of 2000. Dr. Drazen has published more than 300 articles on topics such as lung physiology and the mechanisms involved in asthma.

Richard Horton is Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet. Dr Horton joined The Lancet in 1990. He was the first President of the World Association of Medical Editors and he is a Past-President of the US Council of Science Editors.

Stuart Cantrill, Chief Editor of Nature Chemistry. Before joining Nature Research, he was a lecturer and research associate in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA, where he also ran an editorial office of Organic Letters.

How did you select the journal to publish your research in?

Richard Horton

As a young researcher I did not have a strategy on how to publish, but a mentor. He taught me to write review and opinion papers for general and specialist medical journals. He would select the topic. He would identify a journal. We would discuss the subject and proposed structure of the article. I would write a draft and we would read, revise, and correct it together. It was a tremendously creative experience. 

Jeff Drazen

Starting his academic career, Jeff journal selection strategy focussed on using reference list and selecting the most commonly cited journal to submit his work to. A simple but effective targeting strategy!

Stuart Cantrill

Stuart followed a case by case process whereby “the grad students and postdocs on any given manuscript would discuss with the boss at the outset where the paper could possibly be sent (because that would very much influence the style and format in which the paper was written)”. “We held a perceived hierarchy of journals within the research group (although this was not based on publishing metrics such as impact factors or anything like that) and we would aim as ‘high’ as we thought was appropriate for the work in question, mostly based on the other articles we had seen published in these journals”.

Interestingly Stuart also pointed to additional factors affecting journal selection: “if the group had recently been rejected from one particular journal, we might not go back there with the next paper but go to a different journal that was perceived to be at the same sort of level. Newly launched journals were also a target; it was viewed as a good thing to get a paper into the very first issue of a journal.”

What tips would you give a young researcher to increase the chances of their article being accepted?

Richard Horton

First, find a mentor with experience of journal publication.

Second, just write. Start with letters to the editor. Then perhaps proposals for book reviews and editorials. Once you have found your voice and gained confidence, move onto more substantive contributions (eg, reviews). All this, of course, while building your research skills and career.

Third, never give up. Editors are your friends, not your enemies.

Jeff Drazen

Have someone who knows the field, but not your work read and comment on the work.  Follow their advice. Repeat the process twice (or more).

Stuart Cantrill

(i) Tell a story. Tell the story of the research project you are publishing. Ensure your manuscript flows and take the reader along with you; set the scene – what problem are you tackling and why is it important? How did you go about solving the problem? What did you find? What do these results mean? 

(ii) Use simple language and avoid technical jargon as much as possible. Using complex language where it isn’t necessary just makes your paper harder to read. Short sentences using plain English expressions will have much more impact than long meandering sentences full of acronyms and jargon. And bear in mind your audience. Are you writing for a general science journal or for a specialist journal in a particular subdiscipline of the area of science you work in? You can pitch the language accordingly.

conpher 7 tips on preparing to write an article

Inspired by this sage advice the conpher team got their heads together and created their 7 top tips to prepare writing a journal article.

  1. Try to write and publish with your mentor or other colleagues – more authors mean more citations!
  2. Submit a proposal for a special edition of a journal. It can raise your profile in terms of developing professional expertise, networks and publishing craftsmanship.
  3. Aim to have one article under review while writing the next.
  4. Write a blog. It is an opportunity to publicise arguments, themes from research and/or published work you are engaged with. Remember, blogs are increasingly being recognised as evidence of your impact.
  5. Offer to review articles for journals as part of a longer-term strategy to target that publication for a future article.
  6. Offer to review abstracts for academic conferences. This is a brilliant way to get to grips with the work and current thinking within your own research area.
  7. Get accepted at a conference at least once a year and ensure that you present a whole paper (rather than just PowerPoint slides) then use the critical feedback to turn it into a journal article.

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