Dear Editor: How can you conclude that my manuscript is not acceptable for publication?

Dear Editor: How can you possibly conclude that my manuscript is not acceptable for publication?

Most of us in academia have wanted to write such a letter at some time in our career. We all know that, fundamental to a successful career in academia is the ability to effectively publish your research findings. In an earlier post (June 22, 2016) we discussed some of the increasingly complex reasons why this is becoming increasingly difficult – especially for publication in what are considered “top rate” journals. Of course, the primary reason that submitted manuscripts are not published is lousy data. However, there are multiple other relevant reasons that, importantly, are potentially easily fixable!

In this respect, there is a recent published scientific analysis of manuscripts submitted for consideration for publication in Emergency Medicine by Taylor and Brown. These authors carried out a detailed study entitled: “Analysis of the study design and manuscript deficiencies in research articles submitted to Emergency Medicine” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11903429#). In this report, 58 manuscripts submitted to Emergency Medicine were analyzed for the primary reasons that they were: a) accepted; b) accepted pending revision; or c) rejected. Of the analyzed manuscripts, 29 were accepted (~50%); 19 were rejected (~33%); and 10 were accepted pending revision (16%). Key reasons for rejection were identified by the authors and included issues such as:

“ambiguity of the methods (77%) and results (68%)”
“conclusions not warranted by the data (72%)”
“poor referencing (56%)”
“inadequate study design description (51%)”
“unclear tables (49%)”
“an overly long discussion (49%)
“limitations of the study not described (51%)”
“inadequate definition of terms (49%)”
“subject selection bias (40%)”

Astute readers of this blog will note that, while study design and research findings and interpretation are clearly included among the reasons, there are many (seven out of 10) reasons that have almost nothing to do with the research findings (e.g. “overly long discussion”). Based upon our own extensive experience in reviewing manuscripts and serving as a journal editor, these findings are not uncommon. Indeed, they would be quite consistent with the authors’ own conclusions from the study that: “Deficiencies in manuscript preparation are more frequent than mistakes in study design and execution.” and that: “Specific training or assistance in manuscript preparation is indicated.” We would agree.

We at GWSW have, for many years, recognized the current deficiencies of many first-time proposal applicants in knowing how to write a good grant application. We have also recognized that success in the proposal writing arena must be accompanied by an equal degree of success in getting manuscripts published. The latter requires strong publication writing skills. In fact, these two activities contribute equally to a successful research career in that one without the other is not likely to be adequate since one drives the other and vice versa. In other words, publications are required for successful grant proposals, and success in research funded by the grant award must be published in order to demonstrate productivity in the grant, which is required for successful grant proposals and so on.

Specifically, within this framework, we have written and have made available to the manuscript-writing public, a comprehensive book entitled Writing for Biomedical Publication (Morrison, D.C., Papasian, C.J., and Russell, S.W.). In this publication, we provide detailed insights into the entire scientific publication process, including detailed suggestions for how to (succinctly, efficiently and – hopefully – effortlessly) write each section of a scientific publication (Abstract, Key Words, Title, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion, Acknowledgments and References). We also discuss dealing with editors and reviewers, rejections, and re-submissions. This book should be of value to any biomedical investigator interested in increasing the efficiency of communicating the results of your research. We guarantee that it will help you to effectively overcome the “Writer’s Block” that frequently plagues new (or even experienced) authors.