Publishing your first scientific paper

By Kate Winter


You have written your scientific paper, addressed co-author comments, and now you are ready to show off all your hard work – congratulations! Now you just need to decide where to publish your work and battle through the submission process. Here are a few tips to make the process as easy as possible:

1.Choose your journal

If you haven’t already done so, the first thing that you need to do is target an appropriate journal. It may be tempting to submit your article to one of the top journals in your field but remember that these journals are very competitive and the projects that they publish tend to be ground-breaking studies with great significance. If you don’t feel that your research has a large inter-disciplinary significance, therefore ruling out popular journals like Science and Nature, but you aren’t sure exactly where your work should go, take a look at your reference list and note down which journals publish the papers that interest you most. Now go and have a look at the websites of these journals.


Most authors compare journals by looking at their impact factor, cost to publish and even speed of publication. The impact factor, which tends to be a well-advertised single or double digit number is the easiest way to compare journals as it signifies the average number of times that articles from the journal have been published over a given time span (often two years). A quick comparison of impact factor values could therefore give you an indication of how many people will reference your work, and therefore how many people will get to know your name and your research findings.

N.B. If you are just starting out on the writing for publishing journey, choose your journal before you start writing – the process will take a while and you don’t want to get to the end and find you need a rewrite to fit to your chosen journal’s specifications. 

3) Register for an account 

Once you have chosen the journal that you would like to submit your work to you should register for an account with the journal. This is free and easy to do, but worth doing early as it takes a while. From there you will be able to look up author guidelines on word, table and figure formats. The most important thing is to find out if your manuscript fits the specified word and figure limit of the journal. If your paper fits these specifications you can start to look at other details like whether the article should be written in British or American English, how the reference list should be laid out, how figures should be saved (pdf, eps etc.) as well as what resolution and size they should be.

2) Write your covering letter

After editing your manuscript to fit the journals specific requirements, the next port of call may be to write a cover letter to advertise your fantastic manuscript. As with all letters, it is best to use letterhead paper, with your institution, postal address, e-mail address and date on the right hand side. Address the letter to a specific editor if possible and in the opening paragraph ask them to consider the manuscript for publication. Include the title of your manuscript along with a brief statement (a sentence or two) about why you think the paper is important and why the journal should publish it (i.e. summarise the main conclusions of the paper). The letter should be short and succinct so aim for about half a page to a page of text then sign the letter off with your signature and full name (typed out).

3) Gather information needed for submission

After you have your manuscript and cover letter you may need to note down some more information in an old school note pad before you start the submission process (you may want to do this with a member of your supervisory team by your side). This may include;

  • Full names (including any middle initials) of co-authors, as well as their institutional postal and e-mail address.
  • A list of key words or index terms that relate to your article which can be used by future readers to search for your article. Note that these could be specific numbered terms which you will have to look up on the journals web page before submitting your work.
  • Bullet points highlighting the key features/findings of your article. These should be short and are often limited to a maximum number of characters.
  • A list of potential reviewers for your manuscript (3 – 5 reviewers are often required), including their full names, e-mail address, institution and institution postal address. Recommended reviewers should be experts in their fields and should be able to provide an objective assessment of the manuscript. If you are unsure who to put down have a look through your references to see who you frequently reference as they are likely to be the experts in your field.
  • Note down any conflicts of interest with potential reviewers. As reviewers should have no financial interest in the paper, no prior knowledge of your submission, should not have recently collaborated with any of the authors and should often not be at the same institution as any of the authors on your manuscript it is a good idea to jot down the names of anyone who fulfils this category who may well be considered an expert in your field by the journal editor.
  • If you have used any copyrighted material in your paper, from sources like the internet or other papers you may need to provide written proof from the owners of the publishing rights that you have permission to reproduce the material.
  • Information on any grants received which relate to the project and their unique numbers. You should also be honest about whether the funding sources had any role in the study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation of the data.
  • The number of words in your article.
  • The number of figures in your article and whether you want them to be in colour or black and white.

Once you have all of this information, set aside an hour or two to work through the submission process, making sure to add in all the required information as you go along, and tick all the necessary boxes. Near the end of the submission process you should be able to check your uploaded files, please make sure you do so, as a missing or old file could really hinder your chances of publication.

4) Just before heading to the pub…

Once you press ‘submit’, but before you head to the pub to celebrate remember to send out a quick thank-you e-mail to those who helped you to write the paper (remember to attach the submitted manuscript and figures). It will be appreciated and you may need their help again very soon to address comments raised during the peer-review process!

Best of luck with your submitted article!



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