Young Members Committee Update
By Shaifali Sandal
One of the most important aspects of a transplant professional’s career is their research contributions, in particular, their publications. Generating an idea often is the easy step, but transforming that idea into a valid research question and then conducting research based on sound methodology is very challenging. But that’s a topic for another discussion! The greatest challenge may actually come once the research is finished: convincing an editor and anonymous reviewers with expertise in the field that your research is valid, important, of interest to their readership and that the results are of significant impact to that particular field in medicine. This process can be arduous and frustrating, as many articles are rejected during the editorial screening process and never reach external peer review. As Dr. Jeremy Chapman, Editor-in-Chief of Transplantation points out, “an original research paper has a 100% chance to be sent back to the authors for some revisions”. So, what does one need to know to get their work published?
There are five key components to an original research paper: abstract, introduction, material and methods, results, and discussion. All journals have a detailed “Instruction for Authors” section on their submission website, and these guidelines provide a wealth of information on how to structure each section.
The abstract is, unfortunately, one of the most important parts of a manuscript. Dr. Chapman notes that most of your readers will only read the abstract and only if it is of interest will they read the rest of the paper – so make it interesting and accurate. When Dr. Chapman is reviewing a paper for publication, he reads the abstract, then the manuscript, and then revisits the abstract again. He specifically looks for whether the abstract includes the problem and the hypothesis, if it includes relevant and important data, if the authors provide an answer to their hypothesis and whether the authors are honestly and humbly drawing their conclusions and not overstating them. It goes without saying that every abstract must be readable and without grammatical errors.
While the abstract conveys a first impression of one’s work, Dr. Chapman recommends the following order when writing a manuscript: material and methods, introduction, results, discussion and finally, the abstract. He recommends writing the abstract last given the extremely important role it carries in decision making regarding the manuscript, and its future citation potential. So, write the material and methods section first. In fact, for large prospective studies, consider publishing the methodology of the paper ahead of time and referencing it when the study is completed. Some standard and well-known methods and procedures should not be described and an appropriate source should be referenced instead, unless there is a modification to a standard method. Next, write the introduction, in which you will provide the context and purpose of the study and clearly state the research question. Follow this with the results section, which must be concise and factual. Where possible, present your data via easy to understand figures and tables but avoid redundant illustrations or text, and do not repeat in the text what is available in a table. Lastly, use the discussion section to interpret, contextualize and provide commentary on the findings. A common error is to regurgitate the results; Dr. Chapman recommends putting your work in the context of the current literature and arguing for the significance of your work with minimal restating of the findings.
In addition to the five components of every paper, authors should pay particular attention to the title, the cover letter that accompanies each submission, and the references section. On the subject of the title, “make your message clear… uncomplicate it,” suggests Dr. Chapman. The title and the abstract shape the initial attitudes of the reviewers towards one’s manuscript, so it is important that the title be catchy but simple and succinct. The cover letter accompanying the submission is another important piece. Here, authors should provide an overview of the content in one or two sentences to give the editors clear view of their work. Lastly, the reference section must be complete and properly formatted. Dr. Chapman recommends ensuring that references use the correct journal style and using each reference wisely. It is also of paramount importance to include references of experts in the respective field, as these people often serve as your reviewers.
The work is not over. Dr. Chapman recommends first reading the manuscript again and then getting every author to read and edit it. Next, he suggests having a colleague, particularly one likely to be your critic, read and edit it. Make your revisions based on everyone’s input, and read the manuscript again to ensure that after several rounds of revisions the manuscript is not disjointed. Most importantly, have an individual whose first language is English thoroughly review the manuscript to ensure it is readable and that there are no grammatical errors. Be prepared to revise it again and again to get it right!
Some last pieces of advice. First, do not perform any research without an ethics review board approval. Second, be aware that all manuscripts go through a plagiarism checker and journals have a threshold above which the manuscript is at risk of being returned to the authors. Dr. Chapman concludes by saying that while publishing a manuscript in a high impact factor journal is tough, there is a system – use the system and do not try to skip the system.