More advice for submitting a scientific paper

On the heels of an earlier paper review comes another journal submission. This one was substantially worse than the other paper; the last was overall pretty good but came with some obvious inadequacies of choice. Not so with this one, and I was forced to reject it outright. Hopefully I can help people with their future submissions by supplying a few more tips.

  • If English is not your first language, and you are publishing in an English language journal, get the best translating service possible given your budget. If you an afford to pay, pay. If not, have multiple bilinguals assist you in the writing process, if possible. I cannot emphasize this enough; especially if your Results section has reading comprehension issues then your paper will not be accepted. Other sections can be hammered out with an editor, but not this one.
  • If you have data that can be presented clearly and concisely in a 1/4 page graph, make a graph. Don't leave the data in tabular form that eats up almost a full page and then force us to pick through and compare data points, especially when you have multiple levels in your design.
  • Stats stats stats. I cannot emphasize how important it is to be thorough with your stats. For example, if your data looks as if you should get an interaction, but you run a two-way ANOVA and you didn't get an interaction, say that you didn't get an interaction. Don't make us assume that you didn't run an obvious statistic that is completely warranted by the data.

I really, really felt bad having to pan this one. The study design was fine, and the data ultimately were not bad, but the presentation of the results and interpretation of them were too confusing to be sure of what the authors were trying to say. The journal itself was a bit out of this study's league as well, but had the paper been written clearly I might have been willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

That's enough for today. I'll continue to toss out the occasional tip as they come to mind. Some commenters said they found this to be a helpful service. I hope it is, I want to see some stellar submissions come my way!!!


More like this

Ugh. I reviewed a paper very much like this earlier this year. The experiments seemed decent, the results were good and deserved to be published, and the presentation was just awful. Clearly none of the people involved knew English well enough to be writing in it without help, their graphs were inconsistently (and often incorrectly) labelled and full of data that wasn't designated in the legend and wasn't discussed in the text, and the text was nearly absent of any procedural details. I went through two rounds of revision with them, neither of which cleared up the fundamental problems that I kept on pointing out to them, before I finally gave up and recommended rejection.

Thank you for making the point about non-English writers attempting to write in English. Whenever I am reviewing a paper by a non-English speaker and their lack of ability in the language is obvious in the paper, I always feel a pang of guilt in rejecting the paper... but only momentarily. However, I think this is an important issue, and it is unfortunate that more people are not advising non-English speakers/writers on publishing in the language.