These tips will help researchers for whom English is a second language, and who work at universities and research institutes where the international publishing culture is still young. The tips cover content, selecting a journal, writing, proofing and editing, and dealing with reviewer comments.
I imagine that you are under pressure to publish in prestigious journals. Perhaps you have sent papers to the journal I edit, Technological Forecasting&Social Change, which is an SSCI-indexed journal with an impact factor of more than 2.0, and thus attractive in the eyes of your dean or director. Let’s look under the bonnet to see what goes on at TF&SC.
Ten years ago, TF&SC received 200-some manuscript submissions each year. We enjoyed taking time to help authors improve their work and make their papers publishable. This year we will receive more than 1000 submissions. We publish the same number of pages per year, so this means our rejection rate must be much higher than in the past. Instead of finding ways to help authors, we must find ways to reject papers. A sad development, but of course it has further increased the prestige and quality of the journal.
This means indexing and impact factor should not be your only criteria for targeting a journal.
- Ask how many manuscripts arrive per year, and what the acceptance rate is. This is an indication of how much attention and interaction you can expect from the editor.
- Choose a journal that has a policy of mentoring authors (Systemic Practice and Action Research is one such), or
- Submit your work to a special issue of a high-prestige journal when the guest editor promises such mentoring.
- Alternatively, “practice” by submitting your first papers to a newer or un-indexed journal. (But NOT a predatory, author-pays, open-access journal.)
As TF&SC’s submission rate has skyrocketed, we must favor papers that are not just correct, but important. I am now based in Asia, and I meet many scholars here who, under publication pressure, submit work that is correct but very incremental in its contribution to knowledge. Few prestigious journals will publish such work.
Your choice of analytic methodology makes a difference too. Some techniques are popular in their country of origin (for example, grey forecasting in China) but of little interest to international audiences. When research communities were smaller and more local, editors and reviewers knew everyone active in a field, and would trust authors who use methodologies that heavily depend on researcher judgment (like structural equation modeling, in which the factors are not chosen objectively). In today’s globalized research arena, when editors see a manuscript from an unknown author from an unfamiliar country, that trust is not necessarily present. Use techniques that are internationally well-known and as objective as possible.
When writing in English, observe a simple rule about semicolons; don’t use them. Ever. Be cautious about homonyms and sound-alike words. Give careful attention to subject-verb agreement, and try not to dangle or misplace adjectival phrases. These are among the most common errors I see in manuscripts. If you do not know what I’m talking about – or even if you do – have your paper looked at by a native English speaker who is familiar with scientific writing.
Self-styled “professional editors” may not meet these criteria. I see much truly awful English, submitted by authors who claim to have engaged a professional English editor. To be blunt, these authors have been ripped off. Check out independent editors most carefully before hiring them.
The global research community values cultural diversity and the new insights international researchers bring to scientific investigation. However, it takes a strictly mono-cultural view of plagiarism. Plagiarism is stealing. It is intellectually dishonest, it can lead to an author being blackballed from journals, and it can end academic careers. An author from one country, who did not attribute certain passages in her paper, told me, “I am dishonoring my teacher if I do not use his exact words.” One from another country pleaded, “Here, what we say to each other is far more important that what we write on paper.” If you share their sentiments, you must put them aside before submitting work to international journals.
Some cultures place surnames before given names; other cultures (like mine) do the reverse. This can confuse you when you build your paper’s reference list. But that list must be correct, and in your target journal’s prescribed format! If in doubt about the name of the author you wish to cite, ask someone who is familiar with that author’s culture.
Did you know there are 185 active researchers named Wei Wang?* To ensure you get the credit when your work is cited, especially if you have a fairly common name like Mr. Wang, get a unique researcher identifier at www.orcid.org, and use it when you submit papers. Then too, looking up a researcher on ORCID can help you determine which is his/her family name and which the given name.
Finally, you have persuaded an editor to send your paper to reviewers, and you have received their critiques. A new inter-cultural obstacle rears its head: Your national culture values criticism that is gentle and indirect. The reviewer comes from a nation prone to bluntness. To avoid conflict, people in your country always channel criticism through a third person. In the journal world, the reviewer writes directly to you. You feel like you’ve been assaulted.
Remember, the reviewer is not attacking you. She or he may be attacking the way you expressed your research results. Perhaps attacking the results themselves. But not attacking you as a person. Don’t reply immediately. Let the review sit on your desk for a week or two. After that, try to discern how the reviewers’ comments could improve your paper, and revise the paper accordingly.
Science is equal parts investigation and communication. Communication involves strategically choosing audience and channel (journal), and being wise to inter-cultural matters. Pay attention to the quality of your communication just as you do to the quality of your lab work and fieldwork. And remember, the best way to learn to write journal articles is to read journal articles.
(This was originally posted as an invited guest blog at Falcon Editing. Other journal editors have added their tips at http://falconediting.com/en/blog.)