Preparing a Manuscript for Submission

Carrying out research is only really part of the story, because if you don’t tell people about the results you might as well never have bothered. At some stage you will want to write a manuscript and submit it to a journal to be considered for publication. Each step in this process has possible pitfalls to be avoided:

Selecting the target journal

You need to choose an appropriate journal to receive your manuscript, and this choice should be made on the basis of the subject matter, the research methods, the results and their implications.

Your research may focus on retinal cell physiology and perhaps it was conducted on non-human animals, so the appropriate journal’s scope would include visual neuroscience and physiology, and not optics, clinical practice or public health. On the other hand, your research may have addressed a clinical issue such as the management of convergence insufficiency, and in this case the journal’s scope should include clinical practice. You need to consider which group of readers would be interested in this subject matter. Does it have implications or interest for vision scientists conducting research on visual pathway structure and/or function or for those researching instrumentation (e.g. visual field test methods), clinical care (e.g. glaucoma treatment) or epidemiology (e.g. prevalence data)? Perhaps it has implications/interest for clinicians themselves, and in fact it may well be of interest to different groups of readers, such as both clinicians in practice and those in the laboratory conducting basic research. It is important to consider the target audience as part of choosing the appropriate journal.

The research methods you have used may have included psychophysics, electrophysiology, clinical methods or perhaps survey or other qualitative methods. Alternatively maybe you conducted a review and did not use ‘hands-on’ research methods. Whichever approach you took, this may influence your choice of journal. For example, some journals have a particular focus on visual electrophysiology (e.g. Documenta Ophthalmologica) while others may feature more research using survey and other qualitative methods (e.g. Ophthalmic Epidemiology). Your methods are unlikely to dictate the journal of choice, but they overlap with the subject matter in this regard, and will to some extend influence your choice.

Again, the ideal target journal will be one that is widely read by people who will be interested in what you did and in your results. If the results have implications for clinical practice you would aim for a journal with a focus on ophthalmic practice (such as Clinical and Experimental Optometry, Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology, Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, Optometry and Vision Science, among others) where it would reach at least some reader who would be likely to find it of interest, and possibly applicable in practice.

When deciding on your target journal, you might also consider its impact factor, which is an indication of the extent to which articles in that journal are cited by other authors. In general, journals with a high impact factor are considered more prestigious than others, but it is important to consider that lower factor does not imply that fewer people will read your article, just that on average the articles in that journal are less widely cited. You might target a journal with a high impact factor and then find that your article is cited or viewed very little, while it might have generated more interest and more citations in another journal with a lower impact factor but with a readership more closely aligned with your subject matter.

When choosing between a few target journals, always go to the journal web site, look at guidance for authors, and find the journal’s scope of practice. Consider this along with the factors outlined above.

Carrying out research is only really part of the story, because if you don’t tell people about the results you might as well never have bothered. Click To Tweet

Getting ready for submission

Once you have read through your target journal’s guidelines for authors you will know the format they want and may need to make some adjustments to your manuscript accordingly. For example, the Abstract will need to be written in a specific format and within a given word count for that journal. The references will need to be written in a style suitable for that journal. Figures and captions will also need to be formatted appropriately, as specified in the author’s guidelines.

Equally importantly, you should read through your manuscript very carefully to ensure that it makes sense, is likely to be understood by readers of that journal, and that there are no typographical or grammatical errors. The vast majority of scientific journals are written in English so if the author’s first language is not English this can be very difficult. It may be wise in that case to ask a native English speaker to proof read the manuscript before submission. Do not expect the journal’s reviewers to correct it for you – their position is voluntary and they are not expected to point out or correct small errors in the writing. If they do see a number of such errors, however, they are more likely to suggest that the manuscript is rejected, so it is important that you identify and correct these before it reaches them.  

During the submission process, the journal may give you the option to nominate preferred reviewers, and even to nominate reviewers you would like to avoid. Consider nominating potential preferred reviewers who have published in your field previously and who you feel will understand the significance of your research and your findings. You may not want to name a non-preferred reviewer, but if your research area is controversial it may be sensible to avoid people who have a very strong view one way or the other, and nominate instead people who are likely to view the research from an unbiased, or even sympathethic, viewpoint.

It is worth bearing in mind publication bias: research with ‘positive’ results (e.g. a significant effect) tend to be published more readily than those with a ‘negative’ result (e.g. showing no effect). This form of bias contributes to a relative lack of research showing little or no effect of interventions, while there is plenty of research showing that the intervention works. If all of the research were published we might find in fact that the research is equivocal rather than suggesting an effect. It is therefore really important to minimise publication bias. If your research has a negative result, it may be worth mentioning politely it a cover letter on submission that such results are of value as part of the overall body of research evidence.