How to publish a scientific article

How to publish a scientific article

What makes a good paper? The most fundamental ingredient is excellent research. Work with the best scientists you can, in the best lab you can find. You will absorb the most about doing excellent science if you are surrounded by it during your training. Make sure that the questions you investigate are important and of interest to others in the field.

The best way for you to learn to write first-class papers is by getting as much practice as possible. The key characteristic of scientific writing is clarity. For instance, 30–50% of articles submitted to Elsevier journals are rejected before they even reach the peer-review stage, and one of the top reasons for rejection is poor language. In the eyes of the readers, editors and reviewers included, the quality of the paper you send in directly reflects the quality of the science behind it. Thus, data and writing must be free of errors. Check and recheck that all information is consistent. It is critical that the paper is written clearly and that it contains no spelling or grammatical errors, and that the logic is clear. Show your paper to your most critical colleagues and friends, and take their advice seriously. Also, make sure that all authors have seen and approved the submission!

Aiming your paper at the most appropriate journal can save much effort and reveal your results to the world sooner. When assessing the suitable journal, read the aims and scope and author guidelines of your target journal carefully. In addition to your manuscript, remember to submit a cover letter. The content of the cover letter is worth spending time on. Notice that the cover letter is not the abstract of your manuscript. Limiting the cover letter to half a page is recommended.

A good cover letter:

  1. Outlines the main theme of the paper
  2. Argues the novelty of the paper
  3. Justifies the relevance of the manuscript to the target journal.

After editor evaluation, the reviewers are chosen by the editor on the basis of their expertise in the field.  After review, the editor makes a decision about publication, taking into account all of the feedback he/she has received. Hopefully, the journal wants to publish your paper. Still, revision is usually recommended. Remember that the editor and reviewers want to see your paper improved and published. Make all possible attempts to comply with the editor and reviewers’ requests. When you send your revised paper back to the journal, you should include a detailed, point-by-point explanation of how you have addressed each of the reviewers’ and editor’s comments. Also, be polite to your editor.

In spite of your best efforts, you might receive a rejection letter from the journal of your choice. This does not mean that your paper is not good. For example, at Science more than 90% of the papers submitted are rejected. In most cases, the best and most time-efficient course is to reassess quickly your choice of journal, fix any weaknesses that may have been pointed out in the review process, reformat the paper for your second-choice journal, and send it off.

Scientific publications are important for your scholarly career and visibility. To enhance your scientific impact, presence at the academic social networks is recommended. Also, researchers are encouraged, and also required by some funders and publishers, to create an ORCID ID to help attaching your identity to your research work and to support your visibility. Research and researcher visibility is more discussed in the later sections.

Watch the video (37:25): Jarmo Saarti, UEF Library Director: Scientific publishing – from a manuscript to a scientific publication (pdf).

Further information:

Hochberg, M. & Cagan, A. 2019. An editor’s guide to writing and publishing science. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Toikkanen, T., Kaakinen, L. & Jauhiainen, I. 2020. Ohje avoimesta lisensoinnista tutkijoille ja tieteellisille julkaisujoille. Vastuullisen tieteen julkaisusarja 11:2020. (in Finnish only)

(7/2020 KH)