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Submitting articles

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Once you have chosen where to publish, you must prepare your manuscript according to the requirements of the publisher. You may publish your research in books, journals or conference proceedings. This page guides you through the process of preparing a manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed journal, including:

  • instructions to authors
  • structuring your manuscript
  • submission of the manuscript
  • the peer-review process
  • preprint and publication

Instructions to authors

A key point when publishing in journals is to familiarise yourself with the formal requirements concerning manuscript submission. These requirements are found in the author guidelines, or instructions to authors, commonly found on the journal’s web pages.

The formal requirements include both the content and layout, and the technical requirements for submitting a manuscript. You will also find information about the journal’s Open Access policy. Your funding source or employer may have specific regulations when it comes to Open Access. You need to consider co-authorship and copyright to ensure your rights as an author are not violated.  You will also need to adress any conflicts of interest concerning the work you are publishing. When your manuscript has been accepted for publication you will sign a contract confirming the copyright issues of the publication.

It is common publishing etiquette to not submit the same manuscript  to more than one journal at a time.

Structuring your manuscript

Meta-information

The  meta-information  of the article is very important, it makes your article searchable and retrievable. Without it, your peers may never find the article. The meta-information consists of the title, authors with affiliations, keywords and abstract of the article. These are the elements that are indexed in scientific literature databases, and thus determine what searches will find your article.

  • Title:  The title is essential;  a good title is informative, yet catchy. The title has to be focused and specific enought to indicate the content of the article. Though it can be tempting to play around and find a unique title, this does not always go down well with the journal editors.
  • Authors, addresses and affiliations: Supply the names and addresses of all authors. Indicate clearly who is the corresponding author of the article. There are ethical  aspects to consider when discussing co-authorship, and also variations between the disciplines and fields of research as to what constitutes authorship and co-authorship.  An author may have more than one affiliation; if so, this should be clearly indicated. A typical example would be both the employer institution and the institution funding your research.
  • Keywords: These are given by the authors and the journal. The keywords are essential in retrieving the paper from a literature search. Take some time in deciding on your keywords; both your subject matter and your intended audience can influence your choice of keywords. The journal may ask you to provide standarised keywords such as the Medical Subject Headings used in Pubmed.
  • Abstract: This is your story in a nutshell,  designed to tease your reader to read the whole paper.  Focus on using  appropriate words and formulations; a well-phrased and well-organised abstract is what will get the readers’ attention. For some article types and in some journals your abstract will have to be structured in the same way as the main body of your article.

Content of the article (IMRaD)

The classic scientific article has the follwing chapters:  introduction, methods, results and discussion. This structure is commonly refeered to as IMRaD.  Journals across the scientific disciplines employ variations of this structure in their articles.

  • Introduction: This section is where you give the context for your work. It must contain a general background both for your subject and specificly for this work. You should include:
  1. why the study was undertaken, and why it is important
  2. a review of the relevant literature
  3. the research questions and a brief mention of the chosen methods
  4. the hypotheses
  • Methods/Materials and Methods: In this section you will provide information on the methods of your study. Verifiability is a central principle in the sciences and you should provide enough details of your methods for the results to be re-tested. Important aspects of this section are:
  1. when, where and how the study was done
  2. what materials were used
  3. description of the study group (patients, species etc.)
  4. consider presenting material in tables and figures instead of text only
  • Results: This chapter gives a general description of the experiment and presents the data, including:
  1. what answers were found to the research questions
  2. data often presented in figures and tables with corresponding captions. Instructions to authors will in detail show how to present tables and figures.
  • Discussion: This chapter demonstrates your scientific creativity, thoroughness, knowledge and overview of the subject. Obtained results must be discussed within the context and approach you have chosen, and in relation to the findings by other scientists. Focus on and broadly discuss important or extraordinary results and conclusions.
  1. What do the results show?
  2. Are the tested hypotheses true?
  3. How do the results fit with what other researchers have found?
  4. What are the perspectives for future research?

References and acknowledgements

References and citing: Continuously discussing your work in relation to the works of others is an essential feature of academic writing and part of what makes a work verifiable. Throughout your article you will cite the works of others. Citing in the text and the reference list is done by following specific reference styles that are given in the journal’s instructions to the author. It is recommended to use a reference tool to save time and to handle and structure the large information load. You can read more about this in Reference Managers. The frequency of citations is additionally an important bibliometric tool in formal evaluation of research.

Acknowledgements: No work is done in isolation and you should show your appreciation for the help you have received. It can be challenging to decide who should be listed as co-authors and who should be listed as contributors to be thanked in the acknowledgements. Acknowledgements should include:

  1. supervisors and colleagues that have provided assistance or feedback to the work
  2. granting agencies that have provided financial support
  3. technical support, such as help with figures or proofreading

Submission

Cover letter: When submitting a manuscript to a journal, it is common to include a cover letter to the editor. The letter contains information concerning your submission. Common points to adress are:

  • Are you publishing several works from the same material? Or have parts of the work been published previously?
  • Are there any conflicts of interest?
  • If you have co-authors, have all of them had the opportunity to read and approve the manuscript?
  • As a corresponding author, you will need to give your name and the adress of your institution.

Manuscript file: The requirements of  the file format, including text, figures and tables, will vary for different journals and editors. You must pay heed to such details as page numbers and double spacing. Some journals have separate formatting rules according to the type of article. Most journals have a web-based, electronic submission system.

Response to peer reviewers: If the manuscript is a resubmission after revisions, the response should be formulated according to the instructions to authors.

Accessibility to the data: Sometimes it is essential for the readers to have access to the data behind the article. There are several options as to how and where to store the data in order to make them accessible. Certain research domains have large data archives, and you will be expected to deposit your data there. The journal itself may provide storage space for the data as a supplement to the article, or your institution may provide a service for data archives.

Publishing contract: For each accepted submission you will sign a contract with the publisher. Every publisher have their own specific regulations determining issues of copyright, reuse and accessability. Important matters to consider before signing a publishing contract are:

  • copyright and ownership of the work
  • self-archiving
  • open access or subscription-based access

You will also need to make sure the contract is not violating any terms your employer or research funder has given for publicating the research you have done.

The peer-review process

“Manuscript would need to be revised to comply with the requirements of our journal”.
Letter from an editor

A manuscript submitted to a peer-reviewed journal will be sent to a number of referees chosen by the journal editors. These referees are researchers working in the field within the scope of the journal, and are often experts in the field that the manuscript cover. The referees will together with the editors screen the manuscript and ask questions such as:

  • Does the study have an original scholarly or scientific message ?
  • Do the message, content and topic fit the scope of the journal?
  • Does the work make a useful and exciting contribution to the research field?
  • Is the work focused and presented in a logical manner,  so that the reader will understand the authors’ conclusions?
  • Is the language clear?
  • Does the manuscript follow the journal’s instructions to authors?

“Unsuitable for our readership”.
Letter from an editor

The outcome of the peer-review may be:

  • acceptance of the manuscript without revisions
  • acceptance with minor or major revisions
  • rejection of the manuscript

The referees will often provide new views on the work, with suggestions for further improvement of the manuscript. Use these comments to improve the manuscript for any re-submission. If  your manuscript  is rejected, be even more  stringent in choosing another journal to submit to,  since it is unnecessary work to choose a journal which require a total change in structure and layout. Once your manuscript has been accepted for publication, you will receive a manuscript proof that you have to read carefully, to check that there are no printing or layout errors.

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 Figure: Based on Derntl, 2003,2011.

Preprint and publication

Some journals offer a preprint publication possibility, where your full-text article is published on the journal web site prior to the final version. Traditionally, publishers have discouraged publication of preprints. However, the increasing use of online preprint archives such as arXiv.org (an archive for electronic preprints of scientific papers mainly in mathematics, physics and astronomy) has lead to an increase in acceptance and encouragement for such preprint and self-archive practices. Discussions and reviews of manuscripts in preprint have added an extra level to the peer-review process, as more revised versions of a manuscript are now found openly available.

References

Derntl, M. (2003). Basics of research paper writing and publishing. Faculty of Computer Science, University of Vienna, Austria.

Derntl, M. (2011). Basics of Research Paper Writing and Publishing. Unpublished manuscript, RWTH Aachen University.

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