Planning ahead: what to think about prior to submission

As the saying goes, if it’s not published then it never happened! However, before starting to write your manuscript, and before you even begin your research, there are a few things to bear in mind to avoid problems upon submission. In the first of our ‘How to get published’ series, Sabina Alam gives an Editor’s perspective on some of the key issues you need to think about early on.

1

What’s your rationale?

Editors are looking for manuscripts which provide a useful contribution. It’s frustrating for editors to try and tease apart the value of particular research findings in a badly written manuscript. Make sure the rationale and purpose is clear – what’s special about the study? Are the findings important… and to whom?

Upon receiving a submission, editors ask some key questions in order to decide if the manuscript will be considered in their journal or not: Why has this study been conducted? How was it done? How was the data analyzed? What are the findings? Are the conclusions in line with the data?

Thinking about this early in the research process will help you later on when you come to write your manuscript. If you don’t have a clear rationale and research question before you start your study, you’ll find it difficult to present this clearly when you come to write your manuscript.

The admin…

There are a few essential ‘administrative’ tasks which will affect your submission that you need to think about before you’ve even started your research.

There are a few essential ‘administrative’ tasks which will affect your submission that you need to think about before you’ve even started your research, let alone written up the manuscript. It’s important to note that many of these can’t be addressed after the study has been conducted or after submission.

Ethics approval

If your study involves humans, it’s not enough to simply state that it was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. Ethical approval needs to be obtained prior to conducting the study, and most importantly this approval needs to come from the local ethics committee where the research has actually been conducted.

When you come to submit, most journals will require the name of the ethics committee which gave approval to be included in the manuscript. If you didn’t get the ethics approval before you started your study, you won’t be able to address it at this point.

Studies on animals and also plants need to be conducted ethically, and so you need to ensure you have followed appropriate guidelines and obtained the necessary approvals. Again, this isn’t something you’ll be able to address once you’ve finished the study.

Clinical trials

If you’re carrying out a clinical trial, it needs to be registered in a publicly accessible database before you start enrolling participants. For BioMed Central journals, these details also need to be included in the manuscript, along with the date when the trial was registered. If you didn’t register your study before you started, some journals may not consider your manuscript.

No consent, no paper

Informed consent needs to be obtained from any participants of a study.

Informed consent needs to be obtained from any participants of a study. As with missing ethics approval, without this, journals usually can’t consider a manuscript.

In addition, if you’re going to need to include any information in your manuscript which could potentially lead to people being identified (e.g. photos or case reports), you’ll need to get their written consent to publish this. You may have difficulty obtaining this consent after your study is complete.

Where consent can’t be obtained, patient images or details will need to be removed to avoid any potential identification. This is an absolute requirement for most journals, and is not something that can be waived by the ethics committee or institution.

Authorship – what counts?

A recent study found that 90% of people are unaware of authorship criteria. This can lead to numerous problems down the line. In some cases disagreement on authorship between co-authors can lead to long delays or ultimately withdrawal of submissions.

Discuss authorship early on – who qualifies to be an author according to ICMJE criteria? Agree this among yourselves and keep a written record. Also remember that the submitting (corresponding) author takes full responsibility for agreeing to journal terms and conditions – so all co-authors should be clear about whose responsibility this is.

Choosing a journal

If you’re considering a journal you’re unfamiliar with it’s a good idea to read through the editorial policies so you’re aware of mandatory information that needs to be included.

And finally…. where do you submit? Well of course that’s up to you, but you may want to think about this early on in the process to ensure your research fits the scope and policies of your chosen journal.

Some authors already have a list of journals they choose to submit to, but if you’re considering a journal you’re unfamiliar with it’s a good idea to read through the editorial policies so you’re aware of mandatory information that needs to be included (for example, will you be expected to share the raw data?). In addition, if you’re considering an open access journal you’re unfamiliar with, remember to Think Check Submit!

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