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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Some practical tips for getting published at student/trainee level


This may sound rather trivial, but it is certainly true – one of the most important things that it takes to get published is luck! Talk to people who do research in areas you are interested in and express your interest in being on a paper. You might be surprised how many teams would welcome input from a student or trainee.  Of course, the second most important thing, failing the first one, is perseverance.

 

Choose a topic that you are enthusiastic about, as completing a project is very hard work and you don’t want to spend all that time on something of medium interest to you.

 

To produce publishable data is often not the most difficult part. It is not impossible to design and carry out a research project and write up its findings completely on your own, but it usually helps if you do it with someone who has done it before. As with many things in life, choose well who you join! You want someone who has everything for a successful paper apart from what you can provide. Working with someone very famous is not an absolute prerequisite for getting published yourself, and sometimes it is better to choose a person who is perhaps not so prominent but has more time to supervise you. Often the best option is to join a team that includes students who, as a rule, get their work published while working there.

 

Once you have generated the data, make sure you don’t let it lie around for long, because you will start forgetting the details of the project and it will become disproportionately more difficult to write it up, or someone else will have published on the same thing rendering your work less publishable. Also, other things will start to compete for your attention and time, and you can forget about it.

 

Agree at the beginning who is going to be on the paper, who is going to be the main author, and who is responsible for what during the writing up. Don’t try to get the manuscript perfect immediately, start circulating the first draft for comments early on. Don’t feel too let down if your co-authors suggest culling huge chunks of the result of your hard work.

 

Carefully read through the “instructions to authors” section of the journal you have selected for the submission of your manuscript to avoid disappointment. Reading a few issues of the journal will give you an idea how well your paper would fit with the content of that journal. A common mistake is to assume that the reviewers would be familiar with all the concepts, methods, and circumstances in your research – they will likely not be. Make sure your paper is understandable for someone with a less specific knowledge base. Also, check through the spelling and grammar of your paper – few things irritate reviewers more than poor English, which can easily detract from the real scientific value of your work. Last but not least, try and make your style interesting so that reading your paper will be fun.

 

Don’t take the reviewers’ comments too personally – their suggestions can greatly improve the quality of your manuscript! Always respond to every single point they make in an organized way. Also, don’t get disheartened if your submission gets rejected; most journals only publish a small minority of all the manuscripts submitted to them for peer review. Resubmit your improved manuscript to another journal.

 

Once you have published a paper, the next one will feel easier because many of the skills you learnt through getting the first one published will come in handy the second time round.

Dr Robert Dudas, SpR

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