10 tips for a successful manuscript submission

At the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon, journal Editors participated in workshops about key publishing activities, specifically manuscript submission and peer review. Each of these sessions opened with the Editors giving a brief prepared presentation, before moving to more general discussion prompted by questions from the audience. In this blog post, and the next three to follow, I will be summarising the workshops. For those who attended, they will act as a reminder of key points, and for those that did not attend, I hope these posts will provide insight to the sessions.

In this first post I will list (and expand upon) the key tips on manuscript submission proposed during the presentation delivered by Pat Soranno (Editor-in-Chief, ASLO’s Limnology and Oceanography: Letters) and Robert Pincus (Editor-in-Chief, AGU’s Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems).

1.Be compelling – tell your story in context

A good manuscript will be a story explaining a single key thing learned. All of your writing should support that idea.

2. Be compelling – learn to write well

Most scientists aren’t trained to be writers. Therefore, we need to spend time teaching ourselves and learning from others. One way to do this is to identify examples of writing you enjoy reading, work out why, and try to emulate that in your personal style.

3. Be compelling – love your figures

Figures are key to conveying your message and need to be easy to interpret for readers less familiar with the data as you are. Clarity can be maximised by paying attention to aspects like colour, clutter, and text.

4. Be open – seek friendly reviews before you submit

While it is scary to show other people our writing, readers often see issues not apparent to authors. By showing colleagues our manuscripts early in the process they can pick up issues that would otherwise be noticed by reviewers later, allowing these issues to be rectified and (hopefully) easing the peer-review process.

5. Be prepared – plan for reproducibility and access

Increasingly journals are requiring the data and code underlying results presented. It is, therefore, a useful practice to be in the habit of documenting, storing, and taking care of your data in a way that you would be proud to share with other people.

6. Be focussed – pick the right journal and think about your audience

Having an idea of who we are writing for can help us target particular journals and potential reviewers early in the process. Writing your article with this audience in mind can assist in selecting a targeted message to convey, and appropriate style in which to do so.

7. Be concise – write summary material carefully

While writing the Abstract may be one of the last tasks we do in preparing a manuscript, it is often the most important and needs to be treated as such. Also important is to carefully write any other summary text required by the journal such as significance statements, 5 dot point summaries, tweetable abstracts, or public summaries.

8. Be aware – know what to expect from the editorial process

The editorial process can seem mysterious, but by discussing it with co-authors, reading blog posts about the process, or approaching researchers who are serving on editorial boards, you can quickly gain an understanding of the steps that are typically followed. By understanding the process you can take away much of the mystery, and become more confident as you navigate it.

9. Be open – use every bit of feedback to improve your work

Receiving feedback can be difficult, and having to re-work parts of a manuscript you thought was close to finished is often hard. However, the Editors in this workshop emphasised that they have only seen manuscripts get better as they move through the review process, never worse. It is worth, therefore, considering the feedback received. Even if you don’t make the specific changes suggested, reworking the section that prompted comment will likely improve the clarity of your manuscript.

10. Be a good colleague – participate in the process with kindness

While this list has focussed on your own manuscript submission, it is worth noting that much of this relies on the kindness and service of others, and their willingness to contribute to improve your manuscript. You can have the same positive effect on someone else’s work by contributing to the process yourself, either formally as a reviewer/Editor or informally as a colleague reviewing an early draft for one of your colleagues.

These points summarise the presentation given by Pat and Robert. However, most of the session was a question and answer period. In the next post, I will highlight one of the key points covered during that part of the workshop.

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