---Last week, I posted a blog about the long time it takes for scientific papers to get published. (Thanks to all who submitted emails on their "paper waits". Samuel C. from Atlanta submitted the longest time between submission and publication, 22 months. He will receive the free book).--
This week, we talk about how to consistently publish scientific papers, in spite of this paper wait. This is important because employers, promotion committees and anyone who might evaluate your productivity will look carefully at your bibliography. Long gaps between publications could be viewed as lapses in productivity.
If you are a scientist, you always need to have publications, but especially at certain times in your career. When you are at the point of completing the last years of your doctorate training or postdoctoral fellowship, when you are about to be considered for promotion, and when you are planning to submit a grant proposal, you need to have publications ASAP. Notice that biosketch formats do not allow you to include sections that list "Papers in Preparation" or "Papers Submitted". Those don't count and some review panels may not like it if you include these in your bio. Only "Papers Published or Accepted for Publication" really count.
In spite of the long wait times from submission to publication of scientific papers, you will still be expected to maintain a consistent output of publications if you work or study in an academic setting. Here are some tips and suggestions for keeping a consistent flow of research papers in your pipeline.
Mine your data. Periodically scan your research results to see if there’s anything that is already complete enough for publication. If so, make writing and publishing that paper a top priority in your schedule and give yourself a deadline for submission.
Having a bunch of different projects going on at once is nice (and necessary), but will lead you to have many unfinished works and no publications. Instead, try to focus on the project that is closest to being a complete story and submit that for publication as soon as possible. You can work on the other projects while you WAIT for this one to be reviewed by the journal, which can be a long wait as we discussed in the blog last week.
Be realistic. Don’t waste time sending your paper to a journal with a super-high impact factor only for the purpose of getting a review with the plan to work your way down the impact factor ladder. If realistically, your paper is not material for the one-word journals (Science, Nature, Cell…) then don’t try to send it there anyway hoping to get comments that may be useful for sending it to another journal. If your paper is amazingly groundbreaking, then fine, by all means, send it to one of these journals. But, if realistically your paper is not at this level, then send it to a journal where your paper will be a better fit and where it will be given serious consideration. Be honest with yourself and don't waste your time aiming for the stars, instead, focus on a good solid target.
High impact vs fast impact. How do you choose to which journal to submit your paper? Do you have a system or process for selecting a journal?
There are many factors to consider when selecting the perfect journal for submitting your precious paper, not just the impact factor.
One consideration should be the average time to publication. Once you have short-listed some potential journals, check the average wait-time for each journal (the time between "first submission" and "accepted for publication"). This can influence your decision tremendously. For example, the difference between a journal with impact factor of 4.9 and another with a 4.2 is not such a big deal. But the difference between a journal that publishes within 6 months and one that publishes in 18 can be huge when you are trying to build your bibliography quickly. Sometimes you may need to sacrifice sending your paper to a journal with a slightly higher impact factor and instead consider sending it to one that has a faster publication turnaround. It all depends on your goals for that particular publication.
The point is, consider the journals' average wait time as part of your journal selection process. To help you compare journals, you can download the free fill-in forms from Chapter 7 of my book How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide.
Watch out for junk. Unscrupulous publishers know that many scientists are in a hurry to publish. They take advantage of this by promising quick publication, for a fee. Do not fall for this type of predatory journals. Sending a paper to one of these journals is almost the same as throwing it in the garbage, the difference is that it is much more expensive. I will write more on this in an upcoming blog. For now, suffice it to say that there are plenty of legitimate journals that will complete a solid peer-review of your work and publish your paper in a reasonable amount of time. Just be patient and don't be tempted to throw your science away or leave it sitting in a drawer.
Recommend reviewers. One factor that can potentially slow down the review of your paper is the time it takes for the journal's editor to find peer-reviewers. Everyone is so busy these days that it is hard for many researchers to say yes to every request to serve as a reviewer for scientific journals. So, journal editors spend a lot of time trying to find the right reviewers with the right expertise who will agree to review in a timely manner.
Help your editor by submitting the names of two or three potential reviewers for your paper. Potential reviewers should be people who know about the topic, have not worked with you in the past and can be impartial in the review process. Many journals now request that you include names and contact information for potential reviewers upon submission of the manuscript. For others journals, you may include the names in the submission letter. Although the editor is under no obligation to actually use the reviewers you recommend, it can be very helpful if you recommend reviewers.
As you continue to improve and systematize your scientific writing, you will start to develop a pipeline in which you will have papers at different stages of completion and publication. Keep working at it and you will have a consistent stream of published works.
I have created a template to help you evaluate and choose the right journal for your paper. Click HERE to download a free copy.
Dr. Luz Claudio is the author of the book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide, a workbook that teaches you precisely what to do and when to do it when writing scientific papers. She is a tenured professor of preventive medicine and has mentored hundreds of students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty. She blogs about life in academic research.