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Practical Information and Insights About Scientific Editing, Scholarly Journals, Peer Review, and Research Paper Writing

 

research publication review

What editors and reviewers look for in a manuscript?

The peer review process is an important step toward research publication. Reviewers evaluate the accuracy, appropriateness, and scientific importance when assessing manuscripts…

research paper writing

The structure and outline of well-written research papers

An important – and sometimes daunting – step in the research process is writing a quality manuscript. Here, we will explore some helpful tips to ensure the manuscript you deliver for academic review…

journal peer review

How to respond to reviewers’ and editors’ comments?

Peer review is a vital step in producing trusted academic works for research and publication. However, it can be confusing to know how to proceed after receiving reviewer feedback on your manuscript…

 

research paper writing

How to Write High-Impact Research Papers?

What is a research paper’s scientific impact? Learn more about different scientific impact metrics and how to write high-impact research papers…

research paper writing

How to Edit Your Research Papers After Peer Review

Learn more about the peer review report and journal reviewers’ comments. Draft an effective response letter and incorporate changes appropriately…

journal peer review

What are the Major Research Paper Formats?

Learn more about the major research writing styles and formats. Find useful information and guidelines about APA and MLA and their similarities and differences…

 

Research Writing: Short Questions & Answers

 

How to write the problem statement?

The problem statement is one of the core elements of every scientific research study. The research statement should be defined and written with the overall research goals, objectives, scope, and limitations in mind.

The problem statement needs to accurately and succinctly describe the research problem at hand, its characteristics, and its importance. The reader should be able to immediately appreciate the significance and potential contributions of the study from the statement of the problem. The statement should be included in the abstract, and be further elaborated in the introduction and, possibly, in the discussion sections.

A well-written statement has the following characteristics: (i) it is succinct and to-the-point, (ii) it is accurate, simple, and easy to understand, (iii) it covers the broad scope, objectives, and limitations of the study, and (iv) it is not vague or dubious and clearly reflects significance of the study and its potential contributions.

 

Abstract vs. Introduction: What is the difference between abstract and introduction?

An abstract is the only stand-alone section of a research manuscript. A knowledgeable reader should be able to understand and appreciate the significant features and characteristics of the research by only reviewing the abstract. Therefore, it must include all the essential aspects of the research study succinctly. In particular, it is essential to incorporate the following critical information into the abstract: statement of the problem, research scope and objectives, methodology, specific results (if any), and conclusion(s). Although you do not need to discuss specifics and details, yet you need to present a very brief, yet accurate, picture of the whole research. The research significance, contributions, and conclusions should be addressed in the abstract. Also, if applicable, consider writing briefly about the gap-in-the-knowledge and how your research attempts to address it to help readers appreciate the research’s importance.

On the other hand, the purpose of the introduction section is to elaborate on the statement of the problem, research background and the available knowledge, and exploring opportunities to fill the gap-in-the-knowledge. Therefore, unlike the abstract, the research methods and materials, results, and conclusions are not discussed in the introduction. In the introduction section, the authors need to comprehensively evaluate the research background, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the existing methodologies. Therefore, they can better elaborate on how their research would help address the existing limitations and knowledge gap. Besides, relevant opportunities for potential practical implications and applicability of the research can be explored in the introduction to highlight the proposed research’s significance and importance.

 

How to find journals?

A reliable starting point would be your research’s references section. Especially, if you have cited multiple articles from a particular journal, it would be a great candidate for submitting your research manuscript. Of course, you should also search for your research’s title and keywords in the research and abstract databases such as  PubMed among many others.

Also, many scientific publishers such as Elsevier have a Journal Finder tool, where you can search for related journals by keywords, title, and abstract. Always try several of these tools to include journals from different publishers. For example, Springer ( Journal Suggester ) and Wiley ( Journal Finder ) have their own journal suggestion tools.

The key is to review the candidate journals’ scopes carefully to make sure your paper’s subject is within their scope and areas of interest. Otherwise, it will be rejected immediately regardless of its quality.

 

What are the most important things about research writing?

There are several issues, which are essential to be carefully addressed in professional research writing including the problem statement, research scope, contribution(s), research methodology, and conclusions. However, arguably, the three most important characteristics of a well-written research paper or proposal are: (i) clear and appropriate elaborations on the contribution(s), originality, and novelty of the study, (ii) accurate description and definition of the statement of the problem and its significance, and (iii) proper structure and organization of the paper or technical report.

In order to be considered seriously by scientifically rigorous venues, a research manuscript must include sufficient evidence about how it contributes to addressing a gap-in-the-knowledge. Accordingly, it is critical to elaborate on the novelty and originality of the study. Also, the research’s significance should be reflected in the statement of the problem.

Finally, it is essential to organize and structure the research manuscript appropriately. Generally, a research manuscript is composed of the following sections: (i) abstract, (ii) introduction and background, (iii) methods and materials, (iv) results, (v) discussion, (vi) conclusions, and (vii) references. The problem statement, research scope and limitations, methods and materials, results, research contribution(s), and conclusion(s) need to be logically incorporated into the different sections of the manuscript.

How to find journal reviewers?

The corresponding authors of your references are potentially good candidates to review your paper as they are probably familiar with your research’s subject. Even if they are not available for review, they can share their colleagues’ and co-authors’ contact information with you. In case you cannot make a list of potential reviewers, you should contact the journal’s editor-in-chief and let them know. They will still be able to send your research paper for the peer review step if it meets all other journal submission requirements.

Should I revise or withdraw my paper?

If you receive a minor-revision decision, you should almost always revise accordingly as the acceptance chances of your paper after revisions are significant. Plus, it usually doesn’t take much time and effort to perform a minor revision. Journals also tend to process resubmissions with minor revisions quickly.
However, it becomes a bit tricky when you get a major-revision decision on your research manuscript. Usually, you can find clues in the reviewers’ comments on whether they will be accepting your paper after undergoing their requested significant revisions. For instance, if a reviewer wants you to change your research methodology significantly, s/he has a very different perspective on your overall research. Besides, it is challenging and time-consuming to perform such revisions, and the structure of the new research will become fundamentally different from your original one.
If you see one or more of such comments in the peer review report, probably it would be better to withdraw your paper and submit it elsewhere. One of my colleague’s paper was revised six times for a single journal before it was eventually rejected. The paper was later accepted for publication in a much more prestigious journal in its nearly original version. He could get it published about one year earlier if he had withdrawn after receiving the very first major-revision decision from the first journal. Plus, he hadn’t had to work so hard to significantly change his research’s structure to appeal the first journal’s reviewers who eventually rejected it. However, you should still take benefits of some of the comments and revise accordingly before submitting elsewhere to improve your paper further.

 

Do I need a cover letter to submit my paper?

If the journal doesn’t require it, you don’t need one. I have published 30+ peer-reviewed journal articles and have never included a cover letter. Journal editors pay much more attention to your paper than the cover letter to make an initial decision. Journal editors are familiar with and experienced in the general area of your research so they can understand the scope, methodology, and contributions of your work by quickly reviewing your research highlights, abstract, and conclusions. If they initially find your paper interesting to their journals’ audience, they will review the rest of the paper before finalizing their decision on whether to send the paper to the next step for peer review. Yet, feel free to enclose a cover letter if you have the time, and include your research scope, significance, and contributions. Keep it brief and to-the-point, and explain why you think your research is within the scope and interest areas of the journal. You can also briefly explain about the originality and novelty of your research. Finally, you don’t need a template for your cover letter. Address the journal’s editor-in-chief and include your contact information and your role in the research (e.g., corresponding author) and sign the letter by hand.

 

What if I do not agree with most of the journal reviewers’ comments?

Probably you’ll need to withdraw and submit the paper elsewhere. Always try to take benefits of the peer review comments, as much as possible, even if you don’t agree with most of them. Alternatively, you can give it a try by addressing all other comments carefully and elaborating on your reasons for not considering most or all of one of the reviewer’s comments. The journal’s editor may still decide to accept your revised manuscript despite significant negative comments from one of the reviewers.

 

Should I ask my colleagues to review my paper before submitting it?

It is highly recommended to have your paper reviewed by peers before submitting it. A thorough review of your paper before submission can improve its chances of being accepted for publication by journal editors. Let your pre-submission reviewers know specifically on what aspects and sections of the research you’re looking for comments. In particular, ask for their comments and recommendations on improving the overall structure and organization of the paper, flow of information, proper language and grammar use, appropriateness of your methods, materials, and analysis (if any), and soundness and accuracy of your conclusions. Try to address their helpful and applicable comments and incorporate their recommendations and revise your paper accordingly. Ask them for a quick second review of the revised version to make sure the paper has been improved after revision. If it looks good to your colleagues, it’ll probably look good to journal editors and reviewers as well. The best peer reviewers have recent experience and expertise in closely-related fields and have already published similar research papers in related journals.

 

I have borrowed a few paragraphs from my own already published paper(s), do I need to rephrase?

It is recommended to rephrase and rewrite them to fit the current paper’s scope and objectives in order to avoid self-plagiarism. If you need to use the same words, put them in quotation marks. In either case, do not forget to cite your original article/source.

 

How to design and get my research published?

Probably, the most critical step is to find a gap in the knowledge in a specific and narrow area of your research field. To be able to identify a knowledge gap, one needs to carry out a comprehensive literature review in the first place. By the end of this step, you should be able to determine a statement of the problem and your research scope and objectives. Then, it is critical to design and plan an appropriate research methodology including deciding about the most feasible and promising methods and materials according to the research goals, objectives, and limitations. If you can prove the significance of your research, its contribution(s), and robustness of your methodology and analysis/reasonings your paper will more likely to be accepted for publication in your selected journal. Besides, you’ll need to take care of your paper’s overall structure and organization, the flow of information, and proper use of language and formatting among others. However, once you have established the importance of your research contributions along with the accuracy of your methodology and analysis, everything else may be addressed more easily and quickly through minor revisions if needed.

 

Should I submit my paper to open access or regular journals?

Some researchers do not like the idea of paying for getting published as there is an immediate incentive for journals and publishers to accept more submissions. Some believe open access journals are less stringent and reputable. Nevertheless, other researchers think that there are high-impact hard-to-publish fully open access journals in many fields. Also, by publishing in open access, you might be able to disseminate your research findings to more researchers better as it will be freely available to the public. In summary, it depends on your purpose of publishing. If you do not care much about the open access fees and prefer your research to be quickly available to anyone you might want to publish open access. If you’re opposed to the idea of paying for getting published and believe the quality of the peer review process is lower in the open access option, you might consider the conventional free publishing option.

 

Why my paper is rejected before being peer reviewed?

Primarily, it is critical that the research be within the scope of the journal. Otherwise, it’ll be almost always immediately rejected regardless of its scientific importance or quality. In addition, the overall research should initially look sound and significant to the journal editor(s). Journals are not likely to publish insignificant research findings that are not interesting to their readers. Thus, it is essential to clearly communicate the research’s significance, novelty, and contributions.
Also, all journal submission requirements such as the manuscript’s structure and organization, word limit, table and figure formats, etc. should be met.
Although journals usually include in the rejection letter reason(s) for early rejections, they do not generally give specific reasons. It is common to receive a generic and quick rejection letter similar to this one: “… thank you for your interest in our journal. Unfortunately, we are not able to publish your manuscript at this time. We hope you’ll consider submitting your future manuscripts to our journal…”. Therefore, you’ll need to explore different possibilities such as the journal’s scope or formatting requirements among others as discussed above.

 

Does citing several articles from a particular journal help my paper get accepted for publication in that journal?

All journals need citations to their articles to improve their impact factor and reputation. It also may help demonstrate that your paper is relevant to the journal’s scope as it has already published several similar articles. However, the peer reviewers are not affiliated with the journal and therefore will not care about such citations. Moreover, they may raise concerns if you cite several articles from a particular journal and ignore other closely-related articles that are published elsewhere. In summary, it might have a minor positive effect, if any, in the initial phase of evaluation of the appropriateness of your submission for that particular journal.

 

Where and how should I elaborate on the contribution(s) and novelty of my research?

The readers should be able to grasp the novelty and contribution(s) of your research by quickly reviewing the research’s abstract. Therefore, it is essential to include and briefly discuss them in the abstract section to highlight the importance of your research. Then, in the introduction section, you will need to comprehensively examine the “statement of the problem” and its background. The current knowledge and its “gaps” should be discussed thoroughly. Subsequently, you should elaborate on your approach/methods and let the readers know how your research can potentially fill the “gap in the knowledge.”
Throughout the rest of the paper, you should prove the claims you’ve made, in the abstract and introduction sections, about the contributions and novelty of your research study. In particular, the discussion is a reasonable section to further elaborate on the research results and how they contribute to filling the identified gap in the knowledge.

 

Do I need a discussion section?

Generally, if you have a significant amount of data and outputs in the results section, you’ll need a separate discussion section to explain about them. You can interpret the results and elaborate on the meaning and applicability of the research findings in the discussion section. In particular, essential research aspects such as practical implications can be comprehensively addressed under the discussion section. Your research limitations and recommendations for future studies can also be included in the discussions.

Can a domain expert native English speaker perform a good language editing and proofreading for me?

It is recommended to separate “scientific editing” from “English editing.” Domain-expert editors should review and edit (if necessary) the research manuscript from a scientific standpoint. Similar to the comments you receive from a journal’s peer review report, they should provide you with practical insights and actionable recommendations to improve different aspects of your research paper such as the appropriateness and accuracy of your research methods, experiments, and analysis.
On the other hand, for English or language editing and proofreading, you should have professional and certified language editors and proofreaders correct your manuscript before submitting to a journal. Native English speakers are not necessarily competent to edit your paper for language unless they have received relevant training and are experienced and certified in different aspects of professional copy editing, writing, and proofreading.

 

Is a journal’s acceptance rate correlated with its scientific rigor and/or impact factor?

It is difficult to say for sure because many journals do not publish their acceptance rates. Also, not any journal with a published acceptance rate has an impact factor. Nonetheless, some researchers believe that the acceptance rate is negatively correlated with the journal’s impact factor or quality. However, there are numerous reputable and high-impact journals with relatively high acceptance rates. On the other hand, there are many less reputable journals (with low or no impact factors or other published quality metrics) that have relatively low acceptance rates. Therefore, in summary, journal acceptance rates are not always strongly correlated negatively with their impact factors.