Despite thousands of articles being published every day, it always seems difficult to get your article published. Co-authors bicker. Journals seem to be picky, and peer-reviewers…well, peer-reviewers just seem to be out to get you. (I know. I’m one of them.) Now, there are dozens of guides that offer advice on how to be more successful at publishing. Here, I am going to talk about a new publication guide that just came out. How is this one different? Because I’m going to summarize the whole thing for you.
(Note: There is a conflict of interest here. I’m an author on a few of the chapters in this guide. Sadly, I don’t receive any royalties. Just your admiration.)
Publishing Addiction Science: A Guide to the Perplexed was published online a few weeks ago. I’ll go over the major themes of the book shortly, but first, I want to point on two huge benefits of this book. First, it’s free! Yup, free. Yes, for those that want a paper version, a print copy can be purchased through Amazon, but I won’t even link to the page because it is unnecessary. Download the entire edition by clicking HERE. Second, despite its title, the lessons of this book are entirely generic. Every field is not identical and the requirements for publication may differ, but the process of publication is largely identical across disciplines, with the exception of physics and mathematics who often publish non-peer reviewed articles on arXiv.com, but even they are required to publish in peer-reviewed journals eventually.
Now, on to those themes. Well, more like lessons really, which can be succinctly summarized as plan, discuss, and be wary.
It has taken months, if not years, but you have finally completed your study. The last subject was enrolled, the data has been collected and cleaned, and you are able to answer your research question. Because you think your study is important and will make a valuable contribution to society, you decide to have it published in a peer-reviewed journal, which is an excellent decision by the way. Once you have made this decision, the best way forward is to plan out the entire process ahead of time. Before the paper is outlined, before the first word hits the page, ideally before the analysis is even completed, plan.
First, you need to determine where you are going to submit the manuscript. For better or worse, I take a two-step, hope for the best/prepare for the worse, approach. I search for a journal that I consider a “reach” journal. A reach journal is a peer-reviewed journal that has a high impact factor and is considered one of the pre-eminent journals in your field. Since I often conduct public health or addiction research, the American Journal of Public Health or Addiction may be reach journals for me. JAMA or the New England Journal of Medicine may be reach journals for someone else. I don’t expect the paper to be accepted by the reach journal, but it is worth the extra effort if publication does occur. After selecting a reach journal, I always have a back-up. Or 2 back-ups because I know the risk of rejection is almost absolute. A back-up journal doesn’t mean some unknown journal that isn’t indexed anywhere or an open-access journal that doesn’t even qualify as peer-reviewed. A back-up journal simply means a well-known, second-tier journal that doesn’t have quite the aura of the reach journals.
Selecting the right journal, especially when you are new to publishing, takes time and effort. Journals should be researched regarding what topics they have published in the past and what topics they publish now. Rejection rates, if known, and impact factors, should be consulted as well but not taken as rules. Selecting your journal early allows you to plan how to write the manuscript. Each journal has a unique way of organizing and presenting research articles. Some journals require certain tenses to be used (e.g. present v. past) and certain person-voices to be used (e.g. 1st v. 3rd person). Others focus on the use of active or passive voice, and I can rant for hours about the differences in reference formatting. Knowing this information allows you to plan how you will write your article.
Before you write though, you need to identify who your co-authors are, if any. Who contributed to the project? Who can be counted on to contribute to actually writing the manuscript? Who will be responsible for what parts of the manuscript? These are only some of the questions to consider when deciding on the authorship list.
Hand-in-hand with planning is discussion. The most important discussion you need to have is with your co-authors because the first task after deciding on where to publish is who should be included as a co-author on the paper. Deciding on co-authorship is a classic “easier said than done” issue. It seems really straightforward. Whoever worked on the project should be included as a co-author. But does that include the research assistants who collected the data but may not have the training to integrate the results into a cohesive argument? Does it include the investigator who obtained the funding to conduct the study even if they had no part in the planning, analysis, or writing of the paper? Did anyone who was thought to be a co-author simply not do enough work to merit inclusion?
These can be tricky questions to answer and require open discussion between all parties to avoid awkward, and potentially, angry confrontations. As lead author, it may also require making tough decisions. I was talking with a junior investigator for a very large international research project about publications a few years ago. Hundreds of papers have been produced from this project, and she was working under the supervision of the overall principle investigator. She followed the project’s protocol for retrieving data and proceeded to conduct a unique analysis of the data and write a manuscript meant for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Her and her fellow co-authors had reviewed the draft and were ready to submit to a journal; however, her supervisor, the overall PI of this massive international research project, never got back to her. There was no indication he had made any edits to the paper or was even reviewing the paper. So, she took the PI’s name off the authorship list and submitted the paper without him. Even if a research is one of the greats in the field, they do not deserve authorship credit unless they have actually contributed to the paper.
Finally, Publishing Addiction Science asks the reader to make a mental note of the funding source of articles that are read and to be wary of who funds an investigator’s research. We tend to assume that research is unbiased. That a $1 million project funded by NIH will produce the same results if funded by an industry group if the same methods are employed. Sadly, that is not the case. For a not unsurprising reason, studies funded by for-profit industries typically produce results that are favorable to that industry. Studies funded by government or non-profit organizations typically produce results that are favorable to individual or population-wide health. These two notions, industry and health, are often at odds with each other.
A classic example of this is tobacco, and there are countless examples of the tobacco industry funding research studies that were deemed favorable to industry interests. But I’ll highlight a more recent example. Energy drinks and alcohol do not go well together. People who drink alcohol mixed with energy drinks suffer from significantly higher levels of negative alcohol-related consequences compared to people who just drink alcohol. There are numerous articles and systematic reviews that support this position with the exception of articles funded by the alcohol or energy drinks industries. These studies, funded by for-profit interests, conclude that energy drinks have no effect on alcohol consumption or are even beneficial to the user!
Be wary. Be cautious. Be alert. If you are seeking funding, know who the funder is and what the expectations are. Research must be performed independent from interference of those who may not like some of the results, yet some funders require just the opposite.
The take home message: If you have decided to publish your research in a peer-reviewed journal, plan each step advance, facilitate open discussions with potential co-authors to determine authorship order and division of labor, and be wary of stipulations and requirements some funders may put on grants, fellowships, and other funding mechanisms. And if you don’t believe me, read PAS. It will literally cost you nothing.