30 November 2022
During the INHSU 2022 conference in Glasgow, INHSU EMCR (our early-mid-career researcher special interest group) hosted a session called ‘Tips and tricks for getting your research published’. With publication being an integral part of any researcher’s career, and the ever-competitive journal process, this session provided valuable insights from people who have been there, done that.
Although much useful information was shared the core takeaway was clear. When it comes to getting your research published in scientific journals, there are no rules or norms – editors differ in their approach and therefore what works for one editor will be different for another.
Panel members included Dr Annie Madden from the International Network of People who use Drugs and Associate Editor for Harm Reduction Journal, Professor Alison Ritter from UNSW Sydney and Editor-in-Chief at the International Journal of Drug Policy (IJDP), Professor Jason Grebely, UNSW Sydney, who is also INSHU President and a Senior Editor at the IJDP, and Professor Joanne Neale from King’s College London, who is Senior Editor at both Addiction and the IJDP.
Thank you to our moderators, Chris Byrne a post-doc at University of Dundee and Shelley Walker, a Research Fellow at Burnet Institute, and our highly-engaged audience for their questions. Below are our key takeaways from the session. Thank you also to the EMCR Committee who authored this article.
What should I consider when choosing and pitching to a journal?
- Choose a journal that has the best impact for your work and where your topic is well suited.
- Think about who you want to read your paper and target a journal for that audience.
- If your paper isn’t accepted, when re-submitting to another lower-impact journal, make sure to revise and adjust the text (particularly the introduction section) so that it aligns with the goals and the audience of the new journal
- Check you are citing relevant material for the target journal
- If you need inspiration for journals to submit to, consider the website JANE, which takes information from your paper (e.g., abstract, keywords) and suggests relevant journals and peer-reviewers.
What should I write in a cover letter to the editor?
The cover letter and the abstract are both important at the initial review stage, but it became clear in the panel discussion that some Editors focus more on one than the other. Make sure the cover letter isn’t simply a reiteration of the abstract. Instead, try and link your main findings to any important implications (i.e., clinical, policy, public health, significant new knowledge).
The cover letter is also the chance to raise any issues that may arise with managing the paper, for example, word count, reviewers, or ethics. It’s also a good opportunity to recap any discussions you may have had with the editor in advance of the submission. As one of the first documents reviewed by the Editor, it often sets the tone for the paper, so it is important that it is well-written and presented professionally.
Sometimes the author may not agree with a reviewer’s comment. How should this be handled?
It’s important for the overall response to reviewers’ comments to be balanced and to include a bit of give and take. If you disagree with a comment, which can happen, the reasons should be justified. It’s always important to be polite in your responses too.
In the rare case that a reviewer is offensive or inappropriate, it is best to contact the editor separately, outside of the journal submission system. Editors appreciate and need feedback like this for quality assurance.
Junior researchers are often asked to contribute to peer review. What advice do you have for a good quality peer review?
- The first time you do a peer review, it’s good to ask someone more senior than you to help or to shadow you through the process
- If you have no time or expertise, decline the invitation to review as soon as possible
- Make sure your review is fair and constructive – the tone is as important as much as the comments
- It is critical to always match your recommendations and responses to the Editor, with what you’ve said in your comments to the authors. If you don’t, this can create problems for the editor; for example, if you tell the authors that the paper is excellent but indicate to the Editor that you believe the manuscript should be rejected
- Consider classifying your responses to authors as major points and minor points in a cohesive way that follows the structure of the paper
- It is useful to refer to line numbers and pages when possible. Depending on the field of the paper, you could refer to the STROBE or CONSORT guidelines
I often try to involve a “peer peer-reviewer” in the review process. I find that there is interest from people with lived experience to be involved, but unfortunately, not a lot of training opportunities exist for them to acquire the skills necessary to do a peer review. There certainly is a need for more support and training for this group.
How do I address issues around authorship?
It’s important that authorship is discussed early as a team, however, it was noted that sometimes it can be hard for junior researchers to start the conversation with more senior colleagues. If problems occur, EMCRs should try to discuss these as soon as possible within the team (even if this is difficult). If necessary (because the issue cannot be resolved internally), help can often be sought through any university dispute resolution process for authorship.
The panel also noted that the authorship model is different in different disciplines. However, regardless of the field, the principle remains the same; if you’ve contributed in a way that justifies authorship (i.e., design of the project, data collection/analysis, writing sections of the paper, etc.) then you should probably be an author.
The new CRediT taxonomy was recommended, which can be used when making a decision about authorship. If a person can’t attribute their name to any or very few of the elements of CRediT, perhaps they should not be an author. Instead, they might be listed in the Acknowledgements.
It’s also important that alternative ways—other than just written reviews—are considered when seeking input from co-authors (for example, having one-on-one or small group meetings with authors to elicit feedback/comments).
With community members/people with lived or living experience integral to many research studies, finding ways to support engagement, build capacity and to properly (rather than tokenistically) acknowledge their input and involvement is important and needs more work.
Should EMCRs identify themselves as junior researchers at the time of submission?
The panel recommended not to specifically mention that you’re an EMCR when you submit a paper, as the decision on whether to accept a paper for publication should be based on scientific value only.
There are some society-owned journals, which in contrast to publisher-owned journals, offer several training opportunities to EMCRs. One example is the Society for the Study of Addictions (SSA).
What should I do about data availability and sharing?
It can be a good idea to share data, but structures should be put in place early-on for this to be implemented. There should be ethical approval to make the data publicly available. It was also suggested that sharing the code could be an option, and that there’s more complexity around qualitative research where issues of anonymity can arise.
I’m a qualitative researcher, and often have to publish in a low-impact journal. Any advice?
Journal options for qualitative researchers working in substance use tend to be limited, and the ‘impact’ of the journals available may be lower. Problems often occur because journal word lengths in high-impact journals are quite strict.
In the future, some journals may begin to relax their word counts as online-only publishing becomes the norm. While it’s still important to be as concise as possible, this could lead to more opportunities for qualitative researchers.
Always mention in the cover letter that you are over the word count and explain why. You might find that some editors are willing to accept that.
What are your views on pre-prints, and should we upload copies of papers to sites like ResearchGate?
The panel explained that pre-prints are manuscripts made available on an open-access basis (multiple repositories exist) without peer review or publication charges. They are a mooted solution to the open-access/funding problem which exists, but are not an ideal one.
It was noted that many journals accept papers that have been posted to pre-print servers as long as they are made aware during the submission process, so don’t worry too much about that if you’re thinking of posting one, but do ensure it is at least internally peer reviewed before doing so.
I would like to mention first that IJDP accepts papers that have been on pre-print servers, as long as it is acknowledged by the authors in the cover letter. My personal view on pre-prints is that they are problematic as they can encourage “junk science”. Peer-review is an important part of generating quality research—not just scientific, but also political and moral quality. For example, pre-prints may be using stigmatising language and there are limited ways to keep that in check.
The panel strongly recommended against posting accepted versions of articles to websites like ResearchGate, due to issues around copyright. Publishers, in the past, have actually taken legal steps against ResearchGate (and similar repositories) for collecting and disseminating published papers that are copyrighted to specific scientific journals and/or societies. Indeed you may risk your own ability to publish in future by posting published versions of papers. Still, it is usually acceptable to post pre-print/pre-typeset versions of your manuscript to such repositories, and you should clarify this with the journal in which you are publishing. It may, however, be wiser to post the title of your paper,and respond regularly to requests received from your peers for access to the work.
As part of the submission process, some journals refer you to a ‘sister journal’ that is open-access. What are your thoughts on that?
The panel suggested that, as the author, you have the final choice on where to submit your work and seek publication; don’t follow what the journal recommends blindly. However, it was noted that for time-sensitive publications it may be preferable to avail of ‘sister’ open-access journals.
Some journals that do this include Clinical Infectious Diseases, Journal of Hepatology and Drug and Alcohol Dependence Reports. If I’ve already submitted my article to several journals and it’s been refused, I might consider this option, especially if it’s a time-sensitive publication.
However, remember that this is only one option of many and to ensure that your manuscript actually aligns with the objectives, and submission requirements, of the sister journal.
Our final takeaways
The session provided myriad valuable insights and recommendations, but one thing was clear. Each editor and journal work in a slightly different way, and although there’s common advice, always ensure you tailor your approach and communications accordingly. And, be persistent!
My first article required eight journal submissions, so I’ve become familiar with rejection in academia early on.
Rejection is part of the process and with each rejection, learnings are gathered that will ensure success in the future.