During the recent Plant Biology conference, editors from the ASPB journals The Plant Cell and Plant Physiology shared insights and fielded questions about how to publish in top journals, to an audience of about 100 early career researchers.
Mike Blatt (Editor-in-Chief of Plant Physiology) recognized the important contributions of the journals’ geographically diverse academic editorial boards (see http://www.plantphysiol.org/site/misc/edboard.xhtml and http://www.plantcell.org/site/misc/edboard.xhtml). He noted that both journals have very high impact and h-factors, and publish research of broad fundamental importance.
Much of what he and the next speaker, Leon Kochian (Editorial Board Plant Physiology, & Cornell University) spoke about can be found in the journal’s Instructions for Authors page, which is mandatory reading for anyone seeking to publish. In particular, they highlighted the importance of making sure that the article you submit fits the mandate of the journal, which is summarized:
“Research Articles must either present original findings that offer substantially new and fundamental insights into the biological processes of plants and/or set out novel and useful approaches, tools and resources that will enable scientific progress.”
They encouraged prospective authors to examine carefully the research areas covered by the journal, as well as the different types of article published, both of which are indicated in the Instructions for Authors. Mike urged authors to read the ASPB’s Ethics in Publishing statement and specific guidelines about how to manage image data.
Leon provided suggestions for good writing practices, including the importance of asking the right question, mastering the relevant literature, having a good story, and telling it in a clear, logical and interesting way (described later as “the 3 Cs: clear, concise and captivating”). He summarized by reminding us that “Writing a good paper is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.”
The second half of the workshop was devoted to a question and answer session, led by two members of The Plant Cell’s editorial board, Blake Meyers (University of Delaware) and Bill Lucas (University of California, Davis). Several questions centered on how the review process works. Blake and Bill pointed out that top journals like The Plant Cell and Plant Physiology use a peer-review system that gets anonymous insights from top scientists (in contrast to some other journals that use professional editors for much of the decision making). Reviewer’s anonymity was discussed, with the majority sentiment being that anonymity can ensure the most useful reviews as well as protect reviewers from repercussion.
The question of having one’s work scooped by another group was raised repeatedly. Two points were made by the panellists: first, that it is extremely unlikely that identical experiments were done, and so your work still has value in its different approach, and second, that the journal editors and reviewers can often coordinate publication of two related papers as back-to-back articles, ensuring that both research groups get credit for their findings.
Finally, the issue of rejection was raised; Plant Physiology initially rejects 70% of its submissions. Learning to cope with rejection is one of the most important and challenging skills you need to acquire. Mike shared a useful guide to responding to rejection that includes the humorous retort “Your rejection was carefully reviewed by three experts in our laboratory, and based on their opinions, we find that it is not possible for us to accept your rejection.” If you want to write an angry letter after reading your reviews, feel free to do so (it can be cathartic), but whatever you do, DON’T SEND IT! Deep breaths, discussion and sleep will help you respond more rationally. All of the panellists wanted to impart the message that the objective of the reviewers and editors is to support the scientist, to ensure that they get useful feedback, and ultimately to publish the best quality research.
And that’s really what makes science work, isn’t it?