Editors and reviewers are the gatekeepers between your academic manuscript and getting published. These are the people you need to convince (and not annoy or offend) to ensure success.
The three most common reasons for accepting a manuscript that is given by reviewers are that the work is:
- Timely and relevant to a current problem
- Well-written, logical and easy to understand
- Well designed with appropriate methodology
These three points are the key to ensuring your article is accepted. But what else can you do to ensure your manuscript has the highest chance of acceptance. I have listed my top 8 most common mistakes that I see when editing academic articles:
1. Lack of knowledge of the existing research
Almost every paper I have ever edited is missing key references. It is essential that you know all of the relevant literature in your field, including studies that were published a week ago. This means conducting a really thorough literature review and leaving no stone unturned. You need to be completely confident that you have found every similar study and addressed why yours is better or different or adds to the body of knowledge.
2. Failure to explain clearly – Why did you do this work?
It sounds obvious, but you really need to spell out in very simple terms why you conducted your research. Often for PhD students they themselves are not exactly sure why they did it – their answer is, my supervisor told me to do it! So, if you are not sure ask your supervisor and keep asking until you are really sure and can explain it in 2-3 sentences.
3. Not checking the aims and scope of the journal
A sure fire way to get rejected is to submit to the wrong journal. Make sure your research is a good fit. If you are unsure, email the editor the title and abstract and ask if your work is something they might consider.
4. Not making use of the cover letter to make your case
The cover letter is your opportunity to sell your research – Who is the audience? (e.g., is it also important knowledge for nurses, allied health professionals, GPs) What gap in knowledge does it fill? How will it change clinical practice? Will it be highly cited?
5. Failure to follow journal instructions exactly
You must stick to the rules – if references are not in the correct style, if the word count is too long, if the abstract is in the wrong format, if there are too many references…these all count against you and could be the deciding factor between instant rejection and sending out for review.
6. Poor writing and structure
It is no coincidence that one of the most common reasons for accepting a manuscript is that it is well-written, logical and easy to understand. Reviewers and editors are busy people and wasting time trying to understand what was done and how and why is annoying and frustrating. It is so important that your writing is clear and concise. It really is the magic ingredient for getting your manuscript accepted.
7. Not being concise
OK, this is kind of included in the previous point as well. BUT, it is so important to be concise. Do not make your introduction a history lesson, just stick to the most relevant points. Keep it short and snappy. Do not repeat information in both text and tables – once is enough. Only include good quality, relevant references.
8. Failing to address research that contradicts yours
Ignoring results from another research group that has recently done a) the same work or b) similar work with a differing outcome will not work. All reviewers will do a literature search to check your work is original. Make sure you address all of the literature, even if it conflicts with your work, in your Discussion. You must cite all the scientific publications on which your work is based.