Spotlight on members
What advice or resource did you find most helpful in getting published?
Successfully advocating for your own work can be challenging, even for seasoned researchers. How can you better structure, present and revise your work to improve your chances of publishing acceptance? We’ve asked ARVO members with decades of publishing experience to provide their insights.
Sally Atherton, PhD, FARVO
For me, getting published was not the result of any one thing, but rather learning tips from successful authors along the way. First and foremost, to get published, you must start with good science. Then, think about who are going to be the likely consumers of your results and what is the message you want to communicate to them. Choose your journal carefully. Remember that a high impact factor does not mean that it is the best journal in which to submit your manuscript. The journal you choose must be read by the audience that you want to see and appreciate your work. As you prepare your manuscript, tell your research story so that the reviewers can follow the logic of what you did and what it means. As soon as you have a pretty complete draft of your manuscript, let others review the scientific content and the readability and formatting before you submit it. When you receive the reviews, read them carefully before you respond to reviewers’ comments and questions. A thoughtful, complete and non-confrontational response works best.
David Troilo, PhD, FARVO
SUNY College of Optometry
Assuming that you are starting with good data from a well-designed study with an interesting finding to report, my advice is to get plenty of feedback on multiple drafts of the paper before you submit it for review. Weak writing can hurt strong science and your ability to publish it. Get feedback from people who you know to be good scientific writers. They can help you to be more precise with fewer words, help the writing flow and show you how to turn a phrase. Expect to rewrite and edit your work a lot. Hemingway used to write while standing, but he sat down to edit. Think of editing as sculpting your writing and polishing your ideas. Always keep your reader in mind as you try to make your writing flow. The challenge of scientific writing is to convey complex technical concepts succinctly and as smoothly as possible. If you can do that, and the findings are strong, it will help you sail through the review process. You will have a publication that is a pleasure to read and it will likely be a lot more memorable.
Ashvini Reddy, MD
Dean McGee Eye Institute
In this electronic age, I found my local/institutional librarians to be invaluable when preparing publications. They helped with collecting articles, obtaining references I could not find online and accessing programs like EndNote through my institution. I would highly recommend using them as a resource.
Jiawei Zhou, PhD
Wenzhou Medical University
I find that writing a clear “story” is most important to get a manuscript published. A well-written manuscript should focus on a key scientific question and fit within the scope of a target journal. Make clear and nice visuals to show your design and results. I find MATLAB and Adobe Illustrator helpful for clear visualization. Ideally, visuals should allow the readers to get a glimpse of your “story.” Present your work as often as possible, whether it be during a journal club, seminar or conference. Although you could have too many key points during the beginning of the writing process, the feedback from your audience, some of whom could have different backgrounds, could enable you to narrow your story down to 3-5 key points. Write a clean and clear manuscript based on these key messages. Keep information that is directly relevant to your key question. Less relevant details can be moved to the supplementary section or be deleted. Before submitting the manuscript, you could always ask a colleague for feedback and comments and revise your paper accordingly.
Xiaoying Zhu, PhD, OD, MD, FAAO
SUNY College of Optometry
During my years of reviewing manuscripts for various journals, I realized that some authors who start to publish and are relatively new to the process do not have a full knowledge of the existing literature. To be able to publish in a peer-reviewed journal, the author needs to have a thorough understanding of the research landscape to design an experiment that will make new contributions to the science, instead of repeating what has been previously done. Sufficient statistical software is also necessary for publishing. While Microsoft Excel is one of the most commonly used software for preliminary data analysis, it may not be sufficient if complicated analyses are required. Of course, a statistician can come in handy in such cases. Perhaps the most important thing is to have someone who is an expert in the field, who can give suggestions on data analyses and presentation and who can proofread the manuscript. It is important to select the appropriate chart type(s) so the reader can fully understand the results easily and quickly, doing the data justice.
Melinda Duncan, PhD, FARVO
University of Delaware
Just peak at the reviews to get the gist, then lock them in a drawer for a week prior to reading them in depth. Never respond to a review when angry. Wait until you have calmed down and are able to respond to reviews you do not agree with respectfully and professionally. These first two pieces of advice are critical because folks invest so much time and effort into a paper that it can be difficult to not take a negative review personally as the reviewer just called “your baby ugly.” Many people (myself included) often get angry when getting a negative review and are unable to see what the reviewer is trying to tell them at first. Allowing yourself time to calm down can allow you to take in what they are saying and come up with strategies to deal with the concerns. Most of the time, allowing yourself some time to break the review down into point by point concerns will let you realize that the reviews are actually completely fair and addressable. I usually find that the resulting revision really is a better paper in the end.
Respond to all reviewer comments one by one in great depth. Do not just respond in general or to just a subset of the comments. In my experience, reviewers are often reasonable, and they really do have a goal of improving your paper. If you explicitly address/engage with every comment respectfully, even explaining why you cannot do a suggested experiment, they will often be sympathetic. However, if you seem to dismiss some of the reviewer’s comments, you will just make the reviewer mad because they spent a lot of effort commenting on your work with the goal of improving the final paper. Do not worry about how long that rebuttal needs to be to fully address the comments. For instance, I once submitted a “short report” that got three in-depth reviews. The rebuttal to these reviews was 2 pages longer than the paper that was submitted in the first place, but the in-depth rebuttal got the paper accepted in the end.
If your paper is rejected from a journal, do not just resubmit somewhere else. Take advantage of the free expert assessment that the prior reviewers provided and use it to improve the paper prior to submission somewhere else.
In small fields, including many in eye research, your paper may get at least one of the same reviewers as before. This can be fine, particularly if the prior submission was to a very competitive place while the next journal you submit to is a rank down, as long as you addressed the prior comments. Even if the reviewers are different, revising based on the prior reviewers’ opinion will only improve the final paper in most cases. I find that reviewers are more likely to agree about the quality of a paper than not.