Determine the basic format. There are three basic formats for peer-reviewed research articles:
Full-length research articles. These articles contain a comprehensive investigation of the subject matter and are viewed as the standard format. It uses the “IMRAD” format: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. (See “Components of a Research Article.”)
Short (or brief) communications. While not as comprehensive in scope as full-length research articles, these papers also make a significant contribution to the literature. Their length will be set by the journal but is usually 3500 words or less and will contain up to 12 tables and figures. Unlike full papers, methods, results, and discussions may be combined into a single section.
Rapid communications. These articles quickly disseminate particularly “hot” findings, usually in a brief communication format. Articles that have immediate implications for public health would be appropriate for such a format, as might findings in a highly competitive and quickly moving field.
Select the journal. There are several factors to consider when choosing a journal. It is unlikely that one journal will have all the features you are looking for, so you may have to compromise. However, there is one essential feature you should not compromise on – manuscripts must be peer reviewed for publication if they are to be considered research articles.
Language. English has become the dominant form for international scientific communication. Thus, if you are interested in communicating your results widely to the international scientific community, then it is essential to publish in English. If, on the other hand, you wish to communicate to a more localized community (e.g., physicians in a particular geographical area), you might choose a journal that permits another language.
Focus. What type of research does the journal publish? Is its focus broad or narrow? Which disciplines are represented? What is the journal¹s orientation – for example, is it clinical or basic, theoretical or applied?
Indexing. Is the journal indexed in the major electronic databases such as Medline, Biological Abstracts, Chemical Abstracts, or Current Contents?
Availability. Is the journal broadly available? Is there an online version of the journal? Are papers provided in pdf format?
Reputation. Although it can be rather subjective, there are several ways to gauge the reputation of a journal. Ask colleagues which journals they respect. Look at recent articles and judge their importance. Check the members of the editorial board and determine if they are leaders in their fields. Determine the journal¹s impact factor (an annual measure of the extent to which articles in a given journal are cited). How selective is the journal in accepting papers for publication? Note, however, these ratings can be artificially inflated in journals that publish review articles, which tend to be cited more than research articles. See (www.isinet.com). Try to find out the acceptance rate of the journal.
Format. Do you like the appearance of published articles – the format, typeface, and style used in citing references? If relevant, does the journal publish short and/or rapid communications?
Figures. Do figures published in the journal have the resolution that you need?
Time to Print. Using the “date submitted” and a “date accepted” that are published on the article, along with the date of the issue, you can estimate the length of the review process as well as the time from acceptance to publication in print.
Charges. Some journals bill the author for page charges, a cost per final printed page. Most journals have a separate charge for color plates. This may be as much as $1000 per color plate. Many journals will waive page charges if this presents a financial hardship for the author; color plate charges are less readily waived and would at least require evidence that the color is essential to the presentation of the data (e.g., to show a double-labeled cell).
Once you decide on a journal, obtain and read that journal¹s instructions to authors. This document describes the format for your article and provides information on how to submit your manuscript. You can usually obtain a copy of the journal¹s instructions to authors on its Web site or in the first issue of a new volume.
Stock the sections of your paper. As you think about your paper, store relevant material in folders marked Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. This will save time and avoid frustration when the writing begins. Stored items might include figures, references, and ideas.
Construct the tables, figures, and legends. Yes, create figures and tables before the writing begins! The entire paper should be organized around the data you will present. By preparing the tables and figures (and their legends and appropriate statistical analyses), you will be certain of your results before you worry too much about their interpretation. You also may be able to determine if you have all the data you need. Note: except under unusual circumstance, you may not include any data that you have already published. (See “Components of a Research Paper.”)
Outline the paper. An outline is like a road map. An outline details how you will get from here to there, and helps ensure that you take the most direct and logical route. Do not start writing without it! If you have coauthors, you may wish to get feedback from them before you proceed to the actual writing phase. And if you have “stocked” your sections (Step 8), those files should be useful here and in the writing that follows.