One of the core responsibilities of researchers is to document and disseminate knowledge in the form of publications. The saying “publish or perish” is true in research, but rather than publish for the sake of publishing, it is crucial for researchers to think about how they can work with journal editors to smooth the publishing process and maximize the impact of their work post-publication.
Here, we break down research publishing into three stages: pitching, peer review, and post-publication, and share effective communication techniques that can help researchers gain more exposure of their work.
The acceptance rate of journals can differ widely. For instance, top journals like Nature have an acceptance rate of eight percent. Journals within the same publishers can also have a wide range of acceptance rate such as six percent for Science to 15 percent for Science Robotics. To maximize the chances of getting a paper accepted, it is useful to read recent papers from the journals to ensure that your paper is the type that the editors are looking for. Some journals also invite readers to submit a pitch to editors. Through pitches, editors can offer their professional perspective on whether a paper is suitable or is better for a sister journal. For example, most Nature Reviews journals have an online system where authors can send a short one-page pitch (instead of a fully written manuscript) for editors’ evaluation.
However, most journals do not have a formal platform for authors to send in pitches. Therefore, it can be helpful to send pitches directly to, or discuss them informally, with editors. Some avenues to do so might be at conference booths where authors can interact with attending editors and panel talks organized by publishers. Sometimes when a publisher is launching a new journal, they will also sponsor and organize a “happy hour” for editors to interact with potential authors over drinks and snacks. This is a good time to socialize and pitch to editors.
Remember that deadlines are negotiable if there is a valid reason.
During the COVID pandemic when travel was restricted, online connection through social media became an important way to reach out to colleagues. LinkedIn is a great way to connect with editors and open a discussion about the suitability of manuscripts. In some cases, publishers like Frontiers invite researchers to be editors of special topics. These researchers often use LinkedIn to publicize and attract submissions.
To pitch an idea effectively to editors, there are a few main points to take note of. Let the editors know who you are and why your team can be trusted to write on a topic expertly. For instance, does your team consist of pioneers in your field, and does it consist of experts with differing views to present a balanced viewpoint? It is equally important to explain why your proposed topic is impactful and why now is the best time for the journal to have a paper on it. These simple rules will help you to communicate effectively to editors during the pitching phase.
Peer review can be an excruciating wait for authors, especially when there likely aren’t enough volunteer peer reviewers in senior positions and a lack of recognition for peer reviewers. Because of these factors, sometimes correspondence slips between the cracks. Most journals publish statistics on the average duration for peer review. When authors feel that they have waited too long for a response based on those metrics, it is often useful to send a reminder email to editors. This is particularly true for journals such as those under the American Chemical Society, whose editors are also full-time researchers juggling many other responsibilities.
After receiving peer reviews on their manuscript, most authors rush to address the comments to “please” the peer reviewers. However, it is important for authors to know that ultimately, editors are the ones who make the decision to accept a paper or not. When it comes to addressing comments, there are a few tips that can go a long way.
First, have a systematic manner of responding. One good way is to introduce page and line numbers in the manuscript and refer peer reviewers and editors to your responses by page and line numbers.
The communication with editors does not end after a paper is published.
Second, be professional. At times peer reviewers may be unrealistic in asking for more data. If their requests are unreasonable, let the editors know why you think the requested revisions or new experiments are unnecessary. For instance, a peer reviewer may ask for data for 10 more cancer cell lines when you have already reached the same conclusions using 10 other cancer cell lines. Let the editors know that the additional experiments will not add substantial value to the work and could delay the timeliness of the science. Another example is when reviewers ask for expensive, hard-to-get testing on large animals like non-human primates when the study is on basic cellular neuroscience. Explain why you think in vitro testing is sufficient and why in vivo studies are not necessary.
Third, be transparent. It is common that a student leading a project might have graduated and left the lab and would not be able to lead the revision experiments. It is acceptable for authors to ask for deadline extensions to respond to reviewers. When many labs were shut down during the COVID pandemic, journal editors provided generous grace periods for authors to submit their rebuttal to peer reviewers. Remember that deadlines are negotiable if there is a valid reason.
The communication with editors does not end after a paper is published. In fact, at this stage, many journals have started introducing initiatives such as cover images, research highlights, videos, and laymen articles to help authors maximize the impact of their research. Authors can email editors to discuss with them the possibility of being a part of these initiatives.
In each issue of Science, for instance, there will be research highlights for papers published in journals under the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) and other journals. Wiley also has several magazines to highlight specific areas of research, such as Wiley Analytical Science, which focuses on microscopy, spectroscopy, and separation science. Authors can work with editors to simplify their science so that their research can be understood by the public and companies interested to collaborate.
Additionally, established publishers sometimes produce video content to reach the laymen audience. For example, earlier this year, AAAS produced a video about how lizards cut off their tails to escape danger. Authors should try to make full use of the video production process to learn from editors about how to communicate ideas more effectively, such as creating storyboards for videos and using simple language.
Almost all journals offer statistics such as number of citations, number of downloads, and a paper Altmetric Attention Score. Some journals like Advanced Therapeutics even give out awards such as Most Influential Paper of the Year. The higher these numbers, the better it is for authors and publishers. To create a win-win situation, it is useful for authors to communicate with editors on how they can cooperate to maximize publicity of the paper across print and digital platforms.
While English is still the main language used in science and English-speaking countries still account for most publications, publishers have started to offer translated articles and feature science from different parts of the world. For instance, Springer Nature introduced Nature Middle East, a portal for information on scientific and medical research from Arabic-speaking Middle East. Wiley’s Advanced NanoBiomed Research has also started inviting authors to write a summary of their work in Mandarin to reach out to Mandarin-speaking researchers through its Materials View China WeChat channel. Authors from these regions who wish to have their papers featured in these platforms can email editors to let them know, and editors are very helpful to connect them to fellow editors.
Publishing is an important aspect of being a researcher. Communicating effectively with editors can ease the pitching and publishing process and boost research impact at the post-publication stage. It is useful for authors to keep in mind that editors are professionals who are there to evaluate and showcase good science, so whenever they need assistance or clarifications, editors are simply being good allies.