The art of landing your paper

IPAN’s Associate Professor Lisa Barnett lets us in on her 12 golden rules to give early career researchers the best chance of having their research accepted by a scientific journal.

A/Prof Lisa Barnett

A/Prof Lisa Barnett, a children’s physical literacy expert, has more than 170 peer reviewed papers to her name, and broad experience as a reviewer and editor for several scientific journals (140+ reviews and 100+ papers as Editor).

In her view, publishing research is as much an art as it is a science. So, if you’ve received a revision, you have the potential to land your paper. Here are Lisa’s best tips and tricks to boost your chances.

  1. Answer the question!

It sounds basic but there is nothing that annoys a Reviewer/Editor more than if researchers skip over the question or don’t answer it in full.

  1. Make the Reviewer/Editor feel heard

This may mean reading between the lines to really answer the question (see: rule 1) and respond to their thoughts. This is where the response is just as much about psychology as science. What are they really asking for?

  1. Provide a point-by-point response

Lisa writes out every reviewer point, numbers it and then addresses each numbered point showing where she has changed the manuscript below that point, using line numbers.

“In the manuscript I show with coloured shading how I have changed the point. Track changes is messy and I would avoid that unless they ask,” she advises.

  1. Do not respond informally

It is tempting when trying to be on the same level to act as comfortable colleagues and use informal language. This is off-putting to a Reviewer/Editor – you are not friends. Be formal.

  1. Drop your ego

It is normal sometimes to feel affronted especially if your work has been misunderstood. Try to drop your ego and approach the conversation with respect. Get your perspective across in a calm and measured way – following all the other rules.

  1. If the Reviewer/Editor says it is unclear – then it is unclear

You might think the Reviewer/Editor has the problem not you, but if one person finds it unclear then others may too – change it!

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff!

Do what the Reviewer/Editor asks unless it is wrong. If you can do what the reviewer asks, and it is not wrong, then be agreeable.

“Another way of putting this is: pick your battles! Save your energy for what counts,” Lisa says.

  1. Don’t be overly verbose

Editors/Reviewers have other work to do that day and don’t want to read an essay on each response. But at the same time, you do have to answer the question properly (see: rules 1 and 2).

  1. If the Reviewer is wrong, then politely rebut

You do not have to agree with everything asked for. If they are wrong and it is important, then rebut.

It’s also possible to use one reviewer who supports your views to defend against another who does not.

  1. Use a respectful, polite formal tone – but don’t grovel

Be respectful, but don’t reveal your junior status (if you are an ECR) by grovelling.

  1. Engage with the Reviewer/Editor in academic dialogue

This is your chance to have a meaningful discussion and build rapport with someone who has taken the time to read your work. Engage with their thoughts in a polite, academic way.

  1. Take your time and do many drafts

Do not rush. Lisa advises working through multiple drafts until each author agrees with your response and you have covered each point. She suggests putting all comments in a table with three columns (comment, response, and change in the manuscript) to make it easier. Then, ensure your language is clear and concise and that there are no typos.

“Sometimes the response can seem like it takes as much effort as writing the article in the first place,” she says.