As a researcher, you spend countless hours pursuing answers to important questions about how our world works. This research consumes a significant amount of your time. Sadly, none of it matters when you have to face a sad truth:
your work’s merit is judged by whether your findings are accepted for publication and where.
Several studies have concluded that scientific output is growing exponentially. In fact, one study indicates that the growth rate is roughly 8-9% each year. The increasing number of published articles does not necessarily reflect new knowledge, however. According to a Nature interview of Anthony van Raan, scientists have been splitting their research across several papers. Thus the amount of new findings is probably much less than the number of published works. So, what does that mean for you? Trying to get your article published in a high-impact journal is competitive and frustrating!
The good news is that Thomson Reuters has entered into a definitive agreement to sell its intellectual property and science business. The new owners will probably overhaul the journal impact factor system, but until then, you will continue facing pressure to write articles acceptable to high-impact journals.
So, what can you do to increase the chance that your manuscript will be accepted?
For starters, let’s examine what editors like to read and what they will automatically reject. Elsevier Connect conducted two surveys to understand what editors look for in manuscripts. The results culminated in two sets of publishing tips: “Eight reasons I accepted your article” and “Eight reasons I rejected your article.” Not surprisingly, these sixteen points often fall on two sides of the same coin. In this post, we will boil down the Elsevier Connect survey results into three categories: technical aspects, methodology and issue framing.
By understanding these three points, you will be able to write a stronger manuscript and improve your chance of getting accepted.
Technical aspects: follow guidelines
- Publishers have standards, and they cannot be ignored. Failure to follow a journal’s Guide for Authors will lead to automatic rejection. You can avoid this by using a good checklist and carefully reviewing your article before submission.
TIP: Make sure the formatting is correct and that your documents contain all the parts required for submission.
- Each journal has a narrow scope and aim. Take the time to understand the objectives of each journal and make sure your manuscript matches your target journal’s scope. One way to avoid the problem of mismatch is to write a manuscript for a particular journal.
TIP: The first step in your drafting process should be to decide which journal you want to submit your article to. By doing so, your writing will be focused, and you will decrease the chance of submitting the “wrong” story to the target journal.
- Editors and peers expect articles to be written in clear English. If English is not your native language, and even when it is, reread your article many times and have others review it for errors. We firmly recommend hiring an experienced independent copy editor to review your documents.
TIP: Beyond proofreading, your editor can provide substantive comments about the structure and flow of your manuscript.
Wouldn’t it be tragic if your brilliant ideas were rejected at first glance because you failed to find help to clean up language and style issues? Again, this rejection reason is 100% avoidable.
Methodology: be thorough
- Sometimes articles are rejected because they are incomplete. You should ask yourself whether your manuscript discusses a full study or only makes some observations. Does your article ignore any significant relevant works in your field or use outdated references?
TIP: Make sure your manuscript shows that you are up-to-date on current developments in your discipline and understand the complexity of the problem you are trying to solve.
- Another common reason for rejection is using flawed methods. If you did not follow recognized procedures, then have you explained your methodology in a way that can be repeated by others?
- Finally, does your data support the conclusion presented? We will discuss this problem further under “Issue Framing” below, but remember that your data must logically support your conclusion
- As with the technical aspects described in the section above, the methodology behind your manuscript is fully within your control, with proper review and planning.
Issue framing: ask the right question
- The hardest aspect to address when editing your article before submission is “framing.” Unlike “technical aspects” and “methodology,” framing is a fuzzy criterion. What is framing? It’s how you present your research; it is the question your study answers.
- According to Elsevier Connect’s survey on reasons for acceptance, editors liked articles that “provide insight into an important issue” and are “useful to people who make decisions.” What exactly does that mean?
- Let’s start with what that does not include. We’re not talking about groundbreaking research that challenges paradigms or introduce new theories. While everyone hopes to one day produce this type of result, new theory creation is rare. If you want to contribute many articles, theory development cannot be your primary focus.
- Rather, practical application seems to be what editors are looking for. Can your research impact many people? Can it influence how people make decisions at an organizational or social unit level?
TIP: When you write your title and abstract, think about what important questions people might have in response to your research. How can your research help others? That is the question you should ask in your paper, and your results and discussion should be organized to answer that question.
- Another aspect of “framing” is making sure that your draft tells a good story. Did you frame the right question around the data you have? After discussing your data, is your conclusion the “logical next step” in the story? If not, you may want to think about reframing your study to create a compelling article.
Over the next few weeks, we will explain how to draft your article from start to end. In particular, we will use the three factors above (technical aspects, methodology and issue framing) to teach you how to write a successful article. We believe that with these tips and checklists, you will have the right tools to submit your articles with confidence and improve your chances of acceptance!