Carrying out innovative medical research, making groundbreaking findings, and having these findings published in a globally reputed medical journal for the world to take notice of, is a goal that all medical professionals, researchers, and educators pursue. Very few, however, successfully manage to have their research articles accepted and published by the top medical journals that they pursue. This blog offers crucial tips for success in the area of medical research article writing and publishing.
Set Out With The Intention Of Contributing Something Unique, Innovative & Vital Importance To The Existing Base Of Medical Research Literature
Start with a good idea. In today’s pressurized climate of publishing or perish, it is easy to lose sight of the simple fact that the purpose of a medical research paper is to contribute to the total of existing medical knowledge and know-how (or, in the case of journal articles to distill a certain area of knowledge to make it easier to digest). One of the most common and damning comments from reviewers on rejected papers is “doesn’t add anything to existing literature”. This cannot be rectified in the review process – if you don’t report anything important or interesting, no one will publish your medical research article, no matter how well written or how rigorous your research methods are.
So, before embarking on large medical research projects, ask yourself –
- Am I choosing one of those medical research paper topics that are genuinely interesting and important?
- Do I have a clear idea of the purpose of this article?
If you feel the pressure to start publishing but can’t think of a suitable research project or don’t have the time, you can start small. Medical case reports are less time and labor-intensive than general research projects, but they generally have a very high rejection rate – medical journals usually receive a large number of case reports, and the vast majority of these publications would rather publish solid research. An increasing number choose not to publish them at all. Also, keep in mind that a good medical research project published in a respected medical journal will carry more weight on a CV than many case reports in lesser-known or relatively unknown medical journals. If you want your report to be published, make sure it contains a “learning point”. Few medical journals will publish a report just because it deals with an unusual or rare case.
Determinating & Picking The Best Medical Journal For Your Brand Of Medical Research
This is essential and should be done before you start writing your article. Make an honest assessment of the likely scope of interest for your article –
- Is it of interest to the whole medical community?
- Or just the surgical community?
- Or a certain surgical specialty or sub-specialty?
and choose a journal that addresses the appropriate stratum. Having a clear idea of where you intend to submit allows you to tailor the article to this journal. This will increase your chances of publication. When deciding on where to submit, you should look to aim high but also be realistic. You want to be published in the most prestigious journal possible, but you don’t want to waste time being rejected by journals that will never publish your article. There’s no substitute for experience in making this decision, so talk to your senior colleagues and get advice. When you have chosen a journal, make a shortlist of other suitable journals as a backup, usually in descending order of prestige and breadth of readership.
Important To-Dos To Fulfill Before Proceeding To Write Your Manuscript
- Read the ‘instructions to authors’ for your planned medical research article. An incredible percentage of medical journal articles are submitted in the wrong format or style – it’s a sure-fire way to make a negative first impression on the editor.
- Do your homework. With a little effort, you can glean useful information from your planned medical journal. Read a few recent issues, especially the editorials, and get an idea of the tone and direction of the journal. If an editor tries to steer a journal in a certain direction, they usually won’t make a secret of it and you may be able to find clues about the types of articles the editor would like to receive.
Preparing, Refining & Fine-Tuning Your Medical Research Manuscript
Poorly written medical research articles will be at the top of any journal editor’s pet list. In theory, the presentation should be a separate matter from the content. In reality, this isn’t so, of course. Everyone judges the intellectual value of a piece of writing by the quality of the writing itself. Don’t assume that a sub-editor will polish the article for you if accepted – even if this is true, the reviewer sees the article as you submit it, so make sure the spelling and grammar are perfect. More than that – make sure the writing is direct and succinct.
Brevity is the key to good research writing. Your summary, in particular, should be punchy and engaging. If written English is not one of your strong suits, seek help from your peers and colleagues. Refer to websites with comprehensive stylistic and structural guidelines for writing medical research papers.
Be prepared to rephrase your article several times before it is ready for submission. This is probably the most time-consuming and painstaking part of writing a medical research article, but the ratio of effort to the increased likelihood of publication will be better than at any other point in preparing your manuscript. Have a colleague read and check the paper after each draft – there will always be mistakes you miss. Figures, diagrams, and pictures should be an effective way to convey information, so don’t overcomplicate them or repeat data in the text that has already been shown in a figure or table. Once you are satisfied that your article is as good as possible, you are ready to submit it. Write a short cover letter thanking the editor for their consideration and explaining the main idea of the article while including your contact details. Some journals also accept suggestions from suitable reviewers.
Finally, check your chosen medical journal’s submission guidelines and be sure to include all required documentation. You will receive an acknowledgment shortly after submission, with details of the review process, timeline, and instructions on how to check your article’s progress.
Don’t harass the editors until the specified review period has passed – it’s just as much in their interest to process your article quickly and they’ll do their best.
Dealing With Peer Review Outcomes With The Utmost Professionalism
There are three potential results for your submission –
This is extremely unlikely to happen to your article, especially if it is one of your first. Even if an item has been positively reviewed, some improvements can usually be made, in which case you will be asked to review and resubmit your manuscript.
Review and Resubmit
This means that the reviewers have found merit in your medical research paper, but some edits need to be made before the paper can be published. In the language of fishing, it is a “bite”. All you’ve got to do is roll it up carefully and don’t rock the boat. You will receive selected comments from the reviewers and the editor, to which you must respond. Be sure to cover each point well – be prepared to rewrite your article significantly if necessary. Include a cover letter with your new submission explaining how you changed the document. If you disagree with any of the comments or suggested changes, clearly explain why in the cover letter. Avoid clashing with critics’ comments – there’s nothing to be gained by being combative.
Unfortunately, probability dictates that this will be the most likely outcome of the peer-review process. Most medical journals only accept about a quarter of papers and more prestigious journals accept even fewer (journals like the International Journal of Medical Sciences and more specifically the British Medical Journal or BMJ, for example, reject 93% of all research papers it receives; the Annals rejects about 75 %). Rejection doesn’t imply you have to give up your paper. Many articles are rejected, often by several journals, before being published.
Even papers that are now considered groundbreaking have often been rejected on the first submission and the toilet walls of many Nobel Prize-winning scientists are adorned with letters from editors rejecting their greatest work. In most cases, you should treat the rejection the same way you would an invitation to review and resubmit, the only difference being that you are resubmitting to another journal. You will receive comments from the selected reviewers and possibly additional comments from the editor explaining why your article was not accepted. Take it all on board, rewrite the paper, and submit it to the next journal on your list.
Persevere Is Integral To Success In Medical Research Publishing
There is no hard and fast rule as to how many times you must resubmit your article. If more than one set of reviewers say your paper is fundamentally flawed data-wise, it’s time to cut your losses. As a general rule, though, if reviewers’ criticisms are about things that can be remedied, correct them and resubmit your paper.
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