1. Skip to Menu
  2. Skip to Content
  3. Skip to Footer

Lessons learnt from publishing

So, after my blogpost complaining about the peer-review process and contemplating when it would be best for me to spend time writing papers, today I got the email telling me that my paper has been accepted for publication! I couldn't have wished for a better outcome. I honestly expected the editor to come back to me with "sorry, but we do not feel your manuscript is good enough for this journal" and had been trying to select the next best journal for me to pursue. No need any more! It's really quite a weight off my mind more than anything else and nice to know that I can send it off and not think about it again until I'm putting together my thesis.

Getting this paper to a state where it's worthy of being published has been quite a steep learning curve for me over the last few months in particular. During uni we all learn to write something that resembles an academic manuscript that might be submitted to a journal, but it's never that good. But, because we very rarely (if ever) actually pursue the goal of getting it published, I don't feel any undergrad (and very few postgrads) actually understand what is required. It's not just the standard of the work, although that's obviously the main thing, it's also making sure you respond to reviewers comments in a courteous and welcoming way, even when you decidedly disagree with their points. I've been reviewing for a couple of journals quite a lot over the last 2 years and have always treated the review process with a lot of care and attention to detail, sometimes even spending 2 or 3 days fully going through the manuscript to ensure they're covering all essential components of the context. But without having been on the receiving end I had no idea if this amount of detail was what the authors would want.

I presumed that the more constructive points to improve the manuscript, the better. However, I now don't think that's the case. I really feel that there's an optimal level of comments that are constructive and improve the work, but don't go so deep that it the review seems pedantic. I know now that the people who give you back 10,000 words of feedback are probably wanting you to do something completely different and that's obviously not the point. However, I'd rather have feedback from those over-enthusiastic reviewers who give me 100 alterations to make than the reviewer that gives an incredibly vague and useless sentence to work from: "I think this manuscript is well-timed and provides a novel approach to covering very topical subject matter. But, I feel the introduction and discussion sections should introduce alternative views and the overall structure needs changing considerably"... Those reviewers really need scrapping from the journal's list.

But anyway, enough of my critical thoughts regarding publishing. Here I figured I'd put a list of a few things that I think every PhD student looking to publish should know.

  • Ask experienced colleagues if your work is novel. This is something I fell down on for the first draft of my review paper. I had a good paper and all the content was well written, topical and interesting, so I presumed it was worth a shot at publishing it. It had taken me 6 months to write it and I was really happy with how much I'd learnt. BUT, I hadn't really spoken to my supervisors about publishing it. As it turned out, everyone in the field already knew this stuff years ago and so there was no demand at all for my paper to be published. So it was back to the drawing board to write a paper that was actually in demand.
  • Be honest - don't lie or exaggerate anything.  This can seem somewhat counterintuitive; you want the editor and reviewers to see what you've done as great and really worthy of being published. But what you intend to come off as emphasising the best parts will probably seem more like bragging or unsubstantiated exaggeration to the editor or reviewers. If you're honest and sincere about the work your presenting, and realistic in describing how much impact your paper will have on the community, you're much more likely to win the favours of those people responsible for getting your manuscript published. Remember, it's unlikely but a major bigwig could be reviewing your paper and they'll definitely know better than you if your paper is any good or will have any impact.
  • Expect submitting your manuscript to take at least half a day. Most journals for environmental science use the ScholarOne platform to manage submissions and have their own area using the online program "Manuscript Central". It's a fairly user-friendly site and once you have a login it's all very straightforward. BUT, it's not as easy as attaching a file and pressing submit. Once you've done it a few times it'll only take you an hour or two but the first time expect at least a few hrs. Don't forget you need a cover letter as well as the manuscript and don't forget every journal has strict formatting requirements.
  • Don't expect a quick turnaround. So you've finally designed, planned, drafted, redrafted, revised, re-revised and got your paper in a state worthy of submission. You spend most of a working day getting it submitted and you now you want to know how likely it is that it'll be published. Well, don't hold your breath, it might be a while! Most journals have relatively quick aims for turnaround (60-90 days seems about standard from submission day to when they aim to have reviewers comments back to you - assuming it gets sent out for peer-review), but you have to remember these are targets and it's always possible that you might be waiting 100+ days. After you get comments back, you might then wait another 60 days if it gets sent out for review again (depending on what the decision was after round 1, and whether the first reviewers checked the box that said they were happy to see another version of your paper or not). Fortunately, to avoid some annoyances of waiting for an email, with Manuscript Central, you can sign in and check the status yourself.
  • Give reviewers the respect they deserve, and more! This is particularly important. Let's face it, you're not going to get accepted with no revisions. You're going to have corrections, and there might actually be LOADS of them. But, don't despair, there is hope for your paper yet! From what I hear, it seems like writing a detailed response to every single comment that each reviewer had about your manuscript vastly improves your chances of getting a paper published. It might take you a very long time to do this but it's completely worthwhile. The subject editor and/or the reviewers are likely to be the one(s) that decide your paper's fate when you resubmit and so showing them that you understand why they've made those comments and that you've addressed every single one appropriately is likely to win you big kudos and encourage them to accept your paper the second time around. My strategy is to write a separate document with every single point the reviewer had written out and a response next to each one referring to the line number and page number of the new document where the changes have been made. Not exactly concise, but very clear!
  • Read it one last time and just jump through the hoops - they're there for a reason. Finally! You've got that email. It simply says "we are pleased to tell you that your manuscript has been accepted for publishing", but that sentence is what you've been waiting for for what seems like a lifetime. Likelihood is you've still got a few minor changes to make but they shouldn't take you too long. After those are done it's time to read over your paper one last time. You may feel like you've read that paper a million times already and once more seems like such a chore. But, it's worth it! Any errors you've made will make it through to the published copy if you don't pick them up now, and you certainly wouldn't want your proud publication to read "All pants were removed" instead of plants! Once you're happy with your paper get a copy of your journal's 'guidelines for authors' and make sure everything on their ticklist is checked off. If it says 2.17532 cm margins, make sure they are exactly 2.17532 cm! At the end of the day, anything that isn't right is likely to come back to you to change over and over until it adheres with their requirements. So you might as well just do it now.

It may seem like a bit of an anticlimax to have all that work boil down to a computer generated email that tells you your paper is worthy, but remember to put everything in perspective. That paper being published makes you more likely to get a (better) job in the future and if you're anything like me, getting the approval from peers and (in all likelihood) superiors, just spurs me on to write more. And the more I get published, the more I feel accomplished. And, at the end of the day, feeling accomplished makes me happy! But then again, so do puppies...maybe I should just work with puppies, that could be very different hoop-jumping!

Puppy hoop

Blogposts

Writing a PhD Thesis in 50 days…

Writing a PhD Thesis in 50 days

Today I'd like to take 10 minutes to ref…

Read More...

Getting a USA J1 Visa…

Getting a USA J1 Visa

I'm not typically one to feel anxious wi…

Read More...

My website was hacked…

My website was hacked

Back in February I got an email from my…

Read More...

Travel with work…

Travel with work

In January 2014 I was lucky enough to ha…

Read More...

Dreaded deadlines…

Dreaded deadlines

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I hav…

Read More...

Working to our limits…

Working to our limits

The work required to complete a PhD is c…

Read More...

Awestruck…

Awestruck

A few months ago, the filmmaker-come-phi…

Read More...

Lessons learnt from publishing…

Lessons learnt from publishing

So, after my blogpost complaining about…

Read More...

Tim Minchin's 9 life lessons…

Tim Minchin's 9 life lessons

In September 2013, Tim Minchin, the "Aus…

Read More...

Non-work life reflection #2…

Non-work life reflection #2

It's been over 6 weeks since I started k…

Read More...

When to write your PhD thesis…

When to write your PhD thesis

I've been AWOL from this blog for the la…

Read More...

Summer 2013 - Fruits of our labour…

Summer 2013 - Fruits of our labour

So far, the summer of 2013 has been incr…

Read More...

Dieting before muscle gain…

Dieting before muscle gain

If you know me and have been around me r…

Read More...

Non-work life reflection #1…

Non-work life reflection #1

So, a little over a week ago I gave myse…

Read More...

PhD Time Management…

PhD Time Management

For most people, during a PhD there will…

Read More...

Being nice and pleasing everyone…

Being nice and pleasing everyone

If at any point in your life you think y…

Read More...

Creating a personalised website…

Creating a personalised website

Over the last few days I’ve had to learn…

Read More...