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Tips for Talent: Getting Your Paper Into a High-impact Journal

H ow do you get your papers into high-impact journals? In this installment of " Tips for Talent", Stephen Simpson shares insights from his job as an editor with Science magazine.

Decide where to submit

Ask yourself where your paper should be pitched--a top journal, or a more specialized publication? Consider your study in the context of other work in your field. Does your work represent a major advance or overturn conventional thinking on the subject? Some journals consider pre-submission enquiries, where the editor may be willing to offer some preliminary feedback on whether your study might be of interest to the journal.

Invite your own critique

Run your own "mini-review" process by obtaining feedback from others in your department or institute. Include someone in your own specialty, someone in an unrelated specialty, and someone who is a good editor for the English language.

Think about presentation

Outline and organize your thoughts before you write. Be concise; check the journal's instructions to authors, and stick to the journal's criteria for length and format for submitted papers. Always aim to keep your writing succinct and to the point.

Keep your reviewers in mind

A reviewer who enjoys reading your paper will likely see the science more clearly and come away with a more generally positive opinion. This may also help them offer more constructive criticism of your work than if they had been obliged to struggle through poorly presented arguments. Before submitting, ask yourself what else you would like to see if you were reviewing the manuscript. Is the paper clearly written; does the message come across well?

Keep your readers in mind

A clear introduction is always important, but for a journal like Science it is especially valuable to have the general, as well as specialist reader in mind. Try not to assume specialist knowledge on the part of the reader: Although it is not always possible to explain every basic concept when introducing your work, do so where possible. Outline the larger context of your work, and articulate why your study offers a major advance. This is especially important in the abstract of the paper.

Avoid over-interpretation

Frequently, papers don't do as well as they might at review because, although the data may be correct, the claims of the authors have been stretched. Where interpretations are made, keep the language moderate and avoid wild claims of novelty in your writing.

Work with your editor

Keep in mind that in helping you revise your paper, the editor is working on your behalf, as well as for the readers of the journal. Try and work with that person to incorporate the reviewers' suggested revisions--as well as those of the editors--as completely as possible. If you're resubmitting (or submitting a revised manuscript) offer a concise written outline of how you have revised your paper in responding to reviewers' requests. Include in this any objections and clear explanations of why you haven't revised according to a specific suggestion.

Stephen Simpson is an associate editor at Science. After receiving his Ph.D. in immunology at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, UK, he did postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, where he subsequently held a junior faculty position. He was a senior research scientist at the Edward Jenner Institute for Vaccine Research, UK, before joining Science magazine.