Publish or Perish: These Tips May Help
It is always a thrill to receive a letter from the editor-in-chief informing you of manuscript acceptance! Publishing remains a competitive process, with acceptance rates hovering between 20-40 percent for most esteemed publications, including each of the Journal of Neurosurgery (JNS) Publishing Group. There are really no guarantees that can be offered to ensure that your papers are accepted, but there are important principles that you should follow to optimize your chances.
First, decide on the right journal and the best format you will follow to submit your work. For example, the JNS offers opportunities for clinical series, laboratory investigations, case reports, case illustrations, historical vignettes, technical notes and literature reviews. Recently, we added a more “free form”, opinion-based opportunity with Broca’s Area.
Follow the 4 Cs of Manuscript Writing
Writing should be Clear, Concise, Consistent and Convincing. Even the most novel and potentially impactful study will be rejected if the writing is flawed. For Clinical Series/Studies and Research Investigations, I suggest:
- Start writing the Results section first, because a review of all your data (graphs, tables and figures) helps to create and then share your story.
- After this, the Methods section can be written, which describes how you obtained the data in your paper. This section tends to be somewhat mechanical, but where previous methods are described and used, please provide references on how you conducted your assays or studies.
- Next, compose the Discussion and Introduction.
- Save the writing of the Abstract until the end. The abstract is perhaps the most important section of your manuscript; it summarizes all of the salient findings in your paper and will be the first part of your study that the reviewers see. Unfortunately, if the abstract is poorly written, it may set the stage for an unwanted, harsh review.
Optimize the Presentation
Obviously, there is no substitute for having good data, so spend time optimizing the presentation of your figures and tables. The reviewer should be able to discern what it is you have done in your study at a glance. Draw the readers’ attention to the most important points of your data by using arrows or by highlighting important features within the figure legends.
Carefully Select a Title
A catchy title, if composed appropriately and professionally, will draw the reviewer into your manuscript with interest and favor. Try not to be too declarative in the selection of words in your title, as the declaration may not be justified from the number of patients studied or from the scope of the experiments conducted. For example, the title “The gene for KLF4 causes glioblastoma”, may be better constructed as “The gene for KLF4 may be associated with experimental glioblastoma”.
These days, a lot of investigators are using systematic reviews and meta-analyses to perform research on a variety of neurosurgical topics. These can be excellent, if done well. However, if you choose to do these types of studies, follow the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines or the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) for clinical trials.
- It is good to remember the value of the economy of words. I have always liked the adage, “When less is More”. Accordingly, it has been said that those who have the most to say often say it with the fewest words.
Once you are over the hurdle of your initial submission and are asked to revise your manuscript towards publication, congratulations! This is a big step forward. On the other hand, there are also some key principles to remember as you tackle reviewer comments and revise your study:
- While all neurosurgeons want to publish their best works in the Journal, there are some things you should never do:
- To publish your research in the Journal of Neurosurgery remains a lofty, but attainable, goal. Once published, your work will help shape your legacy and the legacy of the Journal, which is now approaching its 75th year of continuous publication. I look forward to continued support of the Journal of Neurosurgery, and I hope that these key points will assist you as you prepare your best work for publication.
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