January 2019

RESIDENTS

YES connect
What it takes to publish research in a peer-reviewed journal


by Liz Hillman EyeWorld Senior Staff Writer

Many young eye surgeons have some experience with research and the publishing process from their time in training. Sadly, many of them do not continue to pursue these efforts after they no longer have the direct mentorships to help guide them through the process. 
In this month’s “YES connect” column, Nick Mamalis, MD, Arsham Sheybani, MD, and JCRS managing editor Genie Bailey discuss the process of publishing and how to maximize your success. A thorough review of the literature is critical to determine what information is available and how to fine tune your questions and focus the research. It is important to follow the formatting aspects and other requirements for a journal’s Guidelines for Authors. Both Dr. Mamalis and Dr. Sheybani recommend starting with the materials and methods section first and building the rest of the paper around that. Addressing critiques and questions from the reviewing process will improve your odds of a paper being accepted.

David Crandall, MD,
YES connect co-editor


Medical editor and experienced reviewer share their thoughts on improving chances of getting published in peer-reviewed journals

Many ophthalmologists, whether in private or academic practice, have been involved in publishing research in peer-reviewed journals. Some get their start in undergrad, others in residency, and others in later years.
No matter when you get started, Nick Mamalis, MD, professor of ophthalmology, John Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and co-editor of the Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (JCRS) with Thomas Kohnen, MD, said having a mentor is critical. That mentor, he added, is usually involved well before you sit down to start writing a manuscript. They are priceless when it comes to helping shape a well-thought out research idea and well-designed study, not to mention they bring valuable insights as you are drafting a paper for submission.
Aspects of writing the paper could start as early as when you’re creating an Institutional Review Board (IRB) proposal, said Arsham Sheybani, MD, assistant professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis.
“You have to do quite a bit of literature review and writing just for the IRB review. Take that time to start writing the introduction to your paper: the reasons why you’re studying this, the historical perspective. The writing of the paper starts even before the data collection,” Dr. Sheybani said.
Dr. Sheybani recommended writing the materials and methods section of a paper before beginning the research as well.
“Most of the time, people will write all that after they have collected data. I recommend doing that ahead of time because it will make you focus and hone in, which usually results in a better project, which means you’ll have a better chance for publication,” he said.
Dr. Mamalis took a similar stance.
“I recommend writing it inside out. Write the things that you know initially. First off, write the materials and methods. Then, write the results. When you are writing the introduction and the discussion, that’s when you dig into the literature and you want to know it cold. What studies have been previously done? What have previous reports shown? You want to make sure your report is well referenced. In the discussion, you highlight the findings of what your study shows; you want to put a lot of thought into this,” Dr. Mamalis said, adding that the last sections he recommends writing are the abstract and conclusion.
In terms of what journal to submit your paper to, Dr. Sheybani said the literature review you performed to determine the relevance of your research and write the introduction to your paper can give you some clues.
“You’ll start to see what the journals are like as far as the quality of the data set. As you get more experience, you get a sense of journals that take certain types of articles,” he said, noting that it’s important to consider the type of study you performed. “Is it basic science-oriented vs. clinical? Is it technique-oriented or data? … If it’s a case report, there are case report journals; a lot of journals won’t take a case report anymore. If it’s prospective, masked, and randomized, it’s generally going to have more scientific merit than a retrospective series,” Dr. Sheybani said.
Dr. Sheybani cautioned that while it’s “great to aim high,” submitting to a top tier journal, if the paper is rejected, you might need to mention this rejection when submitting elsewhere. This rejection, Dr. Sheybani said, could taint the reviewer or editor, even subconsciously. Plus, it’s added time and effort.
“It’s all about being efficient and getting it to the right spot,” he said.
Dr. Mamalis said that while the major journals are tight about how many manuscripts they accept —some have a rejection rate approaching 80%—he doesn’t think it’s harmful to submit to what you consider a top journal.
If your paper is rejected from any journal, Dr. Mamalis, quoting the film “The Godfather,” said, “It’s not personal … It’s business.” At this point, he said to take the reviewers’ comments and consider revising your paper, if necessary, before submitting elsewhere.
“They usually have the reviewers write why for a rejection; consider those to strengthen the study before you go back and submit,” Dr. Sheybani said.
If a paper is provisionally accepted, Dr. Mamalis said this means the author is sent back revisions or questions and should address them in the revised paper accordingly. If you at least answer the questions that were raised by reviewers, Dr. Mamalis said the papers he has rejected at this point are few.
“The ones that I have rejected are ones where the authors refused to answer the questions raised by the reviewers or the editor or didn’t answer them adequately,” he said.
Drs. Mamalis and Sheybani had some final pearls to increase the likelihood of paper acceptance. First, make sure you follow the instructions to the author, Dr. Mamalis said. Every journal has specific instructions, usually found online, that dictate everything from submission format to figure resolution. If you don’t follow these instructions the paper will immediately be sent back to you, he said. Dr. Mamalis also said authors need to be realistic about how long the submission/publication takes. The average paper takes about 6 months to make it to print.
Dr. Sheybani said papers need to be grammatically flawless and read well.
“Read the paper out loud to yourself to make sure that it reads well. If you read it out loud, it helps improve flow, and that matters when people first read it,” he said. “I’ve reviewed many articles for multiple journals; the main thing that will turn [a reviewer] off is grammar and readability. The other one that does it is if you get a sense that there is something disingenuous about the data set, how it has been collected or is it something that’s not novel, it’s not adding anything.”
Dr. Sheybani said one should also be respectful to the reviewer. “These are people volunteering to review your paper. When you write your response back, make sure you’ve given it some thought, be respectful in the letter you draft,
and give your own reasoning; the more you can support it by your data or prior literature, the better,” he said.

Editors’ note: Dr. Mamalis and Dr. Sheybani have no financial interests related to their comments.

Contact information

Mamalis
: nick.mamalis@hsc.utah.edu
Sheybani: sheybaniar@wustl.edu

What it takes to publish research in a peer-reviewed journal What it takes to publish research in a peer-reviewed journal
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