This may sound rather trivial, but it is
certainly true – one of the most important things that it takes to
get published is luck! Talk to people who do research in areas you
are interested in and express your interest in being on a paper.
You might be surprised how many teams would welcome input from a
student or trainee. Of course, the second most important
thing, failing the first one, is perseverance.
Choose a topic that you
are enthusiastic about, as completing a project is very hard work
and you don’t want to spend all that time on something of medium
interest to you.
To produce publishable
data is often not the most difficult part. It is not impossible to
design and carry out a research project and write up its findings
completely on your own, but it usually helps if you do it with
someone who has done it before. As with many things in life, choose
well who you join! You want someone who has everything for a
successful paper apart from what you can provide. Working with
someone very famous is not an absolute prerequisite for getting
published yourself, and sometimes it is better to choose a person
who is perhaps not so prominent but has more time to supervise you.
Often the best option is to join a team that includes students who,
as a rule, get their work published while working there.
Once you have generated
the data, make sure you don’t let it lie around for long, because
you will start forgetting the details of the project and it will
become disproportionately more difficult to write it up, or someone
else will have published on the same thing rendering your work less
publishable. Also, other things will start to compete for your
attention and time, and you can forget about it.
Agree at the beginning
who is going to be on the paper, who is going to be the main
author, and who is responsible for what during the writing up.
Don’t try to get the manuscript perfect immediately, start
circulating the first draft for comments early on. Don’t feel too
let down if your co-authors suggest culling huge chunks of the
result of your hard work.
Carefully read through
the “instructions to authors” section of the journal you have
selected for the submission of your manuscript to avoid
disappointment. Reading a few issues of the journal will give you
an idea how well your paper would fit with the content of that
journal. A common mistake is to assume that the reviewers would be
familiar with all the concepts, methods, and circumstances in your
research – they will likely not be. Make sure your paper is
understandable for someone with a less specific knowledge base.
Also, check through the spelling and grammar of your paper – few
things irritate reviewers more than poor English, which can easily
detract from the real scientific value of your work. Last but not
least, try and make your style interesting so that reading your
paper will be fun.
Don’t take the reviewers’
comments too personally – their suggestions can greatly improve the
quality of your manuscript! Always respond to every single point
they make in an organized way. Also, don’t get disheartened if your
submission gets rejected; most journals only publish a small
minority of all the manuscripts submitted to them for peer review.
Resubmit your improved manuscript to another journal.
Once you have published a
paper, the next one will feel easier because many of the skills you
learnt through getting the first one published will come in handy
the second time round.
Dr Robert Dudas, SpR