Ask the editor
Publishable research falls into two main categories. These are: work that, as far as you are concerned, is ‘complete’, and work that you know to be somewhat preliminary, or lacking the killer experiment (owing to your inability to do the necessary work). There are other categories of work too, of course, but I am not especially interested in helping authors of poor quality work to choose a journal . . . .
The most important issue is to maximise the visibility of your work. Normally this goes hand in hand with identifying the relevant journal with the highest impact factor (IF). If you are unfamiliar with the options, then use Scopus to identify journals and impact factors, and search by relevant subject area (www.scopus.com).
You should never submit work to a journal that you do not read yourself. If you do, the chances are your work will be rejected. This is because you will not have the necessary ‘feel’ about what is appropriate. You won’t have the necessary sense of the ‘culture’.
When you have identified 3-5 relevant journals that you read, then the best option is to send your work to the journal with the highest impact factor (IF). However, please use some common sense. You may well read Science and Nature regularly. But unless your work is rather special, it will not even be sent for peer review if you submit it to such journals. As a rule of thumb, any journal with an IF of more than 10 is a journal that adopts a discerning posture to authors. By all means have a ‘punt’ with a high IF journal, but expect to be rebuffed.
My rule of thumb with a ‘decent’ piece of work is to submit to my ideal realistic target journal. The aim is to obtain either acceptance or at least some helpful feedback. If I over reach myself, and send my work to a too discerning journal I am likely to receive a rejection without any useful feedback – a waste of everyone’s time.
Having selected an appropriate journal, based on familiarity, IF and a judgement about the feasibility of acceptance, then it is essential the article be submitted in perfect English and in journal format. If English is not your native tongue, beg the help of a trusted colleague to make a final proofreading of the manuscript before submission. Choosing a journal is intimately linked with the art of writing a paper, and achieving a good publication requires both.
Finally, many authors are too ready to admit defeat when critical referee reports (and possible outright rejection) are the first result. It is always the right of the author to revise and resubmit. No paper is ever accepted ‘without change’ after first submission. Therefore, choosing to resubmit is perhaps the most critical decision an author may make. Resubmission requires taking all the referee comments and addressing them as positively as possible (no matter how caustic or bluntly presented) in an itemised letter of rebuttal.
There are no other salient issues. For guidance on how the manuscript assessor will approach your submission, see Curtis and Shattock (1994). Good luck.
Sam J. Enna, Editor-in-Chief, Pharmacology & Therapeutics
A good title is one that is clear and concise. It should always contain the species studied (rat, human, etc.) and, for pharmacological studies, the name of the compound, or compound class, investigated. It is critical to determine the message you want to convey with the study and to repeat the message over and over to ensure the reader remembers what you feel is the most important aspect of the study. The title, which should be the last thing written when preparing a manuscript, should be a variation of this message. The title should be the final thing you write as the preparation of the report should be driven by the data, not by a title that was created before fully working through the results. The final presentation in the paper should determine the most appropriate title. In addition, the title should be one that will be appreciated and understood by the audience you are trying to reach.
Current Opinion in Pharmacology
Considerations before putting ‘pen to paper’
- What has prompted you to want to prepare a review?
- Be sure that there is nothing comparable already in the literature.
- Many, if not most reviews are ‘by invitation’ from a journal,’ so before embarking on the venture be sure that the journal allows you to submit unsolicited material. If you are invited to submit then this alters the situation but even ‘articles by invitation’ are subject to refereeing.
- What will be the length of the review? This will, usually be determined by the publishers. A maximum length including all displayed items and references will be indicated and so it essential that you work within this limit. When you begin to write it soon becomes apparent that you can easily write much more than is permitted. This is where the skill of a good reviewer becomes evident. The author Mark Twain once sent an urgent letter to a friend and at the end of many pages he made the apology ‘I apologize for the long length of this letter but had I more time it would have been shorter’. The aim of any text is to be as succinct as possible without losing the sense of what was intended in the original text.
- Define the boundaries of your review. It may often be the case in pharmacology that some underlying physiology or biochemistry is required to explain the significance of any statements or observations.
- When thinking about the scale/extent of the review it will be necessary to consider your target audience. For whom are you providing the review? Will it be read primarily by senior researchers, research assistants or students or even by non- specialists who are familiar with the type of article that appears in ‘New Scientist”.
- How many diagrams/figures/tables are you likely to include? In many cases the displayed items you want to use are from previously published articles. In all cases these will require permission from the copyright holder and this is often the publisher and, maybe, the author. Permission for any of your own previously published ‘pictures’ is also required. Permission for each item should be sought at an early stage to prevent delays.
- An important part of any review is the list of references and in many cases e.g. Annual Reviews in Pharmacology the list is extensive with no restriction on the number cited. By contrast, in other journals the number of references allowed may be limited. For example, in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences the number allowed for each review is 50. This figure may be negotiable but probably not by much.
Putting ‘Pen to Paper’
- The initial phase is to prepare a written list of topics covering the extent of your review. Within each of these topics you may be able to make subheadings with a brief note under each heading to indicate what you wish to include.
- Undoubtedly, there will have been some published articles that have, in part, prompted you to want to write a review. You will be referring to these. However, it is essential that you provide an introduction to the area of the review before embarking on any critique of these articles. The introduction should also provide the reader with an overview of the contents.
- When you refer to any published or even unpublished data, make sure that you interpret the results correctly. You might wish to suggest that the interpretation given by the original author is inappropriate or even wrong. This may be due to more recent findings showing opposing results. In any event any criticism or reversal of the original outcome should be supported by experimental data.
- After preparing each section make sure that you read through the text to check initially that it fully expresses what you want to say in a manner that is a pleasure to read. How many times have you obtained a copy of an article and started to read it then, for some reason that is not immediately apparent, you put the paper down saying that you will read it later and never do. If the paper is well written this does not happen. A tip that I have always stood by is that when the paper/review is finished I take the final conclusion and incorporate this into the introduction. This makes the article much more appealing to read. I then redo the conclusion.
- Check that all your references have been included in the list and that all the references in the list are cited in the text.
- Finally, ask a colleague to read it. They often see errors or omissions even though you have read it countless times.
Francesco Visioli, Editor-in-Chief, Pharmacological Research