As of December 17, 2009
Decide which information will be presented
The most important decision in the preparation of your work for publication is the choice of information to be presented. Obviously, this will determine the strength of the support for your conclusions, but also will affect who should be considered for authorship. This requires the participation of all involved in the research, and should be conducted as a frank and open discussion within the group. During the course of preparation, this will often change. Final decisions are usually made by the lead author.
Avoid common pitfalls when writing your manuscript
See below for a list of Things to Avoid When Writing Your Manuscript
Ideally, authorship has been discussed among the authors since the beginning of the project. Authors should be identified based upon the criteria outlined in Washington University’s Policy for Authorship on Scientific and Scholarly Publications. For additional information, please visit Guidelines for Avoiding and Resolving Authorship Disputes.
Determine which journal the manuscript will be submitted to
It is important to carefully consider what journal you will submit to. Much time can be wasted by submitting to inappropriate journals. Once decided, you should consult the specific “Instructions to Authors” for that journal, usually available on their website.
Prepare and review your figures, tables, and illustrations carefully
Careful preparation of these items is crucial. Make sure that figures and tables are clear, easily readable, accurate, and make the point you wish to make. Type size that is too small to be read, or figures that are too busy, will discourage people from reading your paper at all. Figure and table preparation often takes more time than any other portion of manuscript preparation. Presentation of poor figures or tables implies a lack of care about your work, which reflects poorly on your research as a whole. When using illustrations in your manuscript, take care to address any copyright issues and cite sources appropriately.
Check all your references
Be certain that you have appropriately cited references, to present a valid picture of both the historical development of your project and of the present state of opinion in the field. See Responsible and Efficient Literature Searching for library help.
Seek help with writing and/or proofreading
Seek help in writing and proofreading the manuscript, particularly if English is not your first language. Poor grammar detracts from your message, and again, reflects on your research as a whole. Use a spell checker, and then check the spell checker. Even computers spell things wrong, and will often substitute an inappropriate word for a misspelled word.
Have others review your manuscript
Ask peers and your mentor to review the manuscript. If their contribution is significant, they should be mentioned in the acknowledgements.
Let it marinate
After “finishing” the manuscript, go away from it for a period of time. You will be surprised how much you will find to change after leaving it alone for a while.
Ensure that all authors review and approve
The lead author should ensure that all authors are given an opportunity to review the manuscript and provide their approval for submission and consent of authorship. It is best to obtain all permissions in writing.
Take pride in your work!
The publication is often the only part of your research that others see. Take pride in it. The quality of all you do will be judged by the quality of your manuscript or presentation. Reviewers look poorly upon sloppy manuscripts and poor publication practices.
Adhere to generally accepted standards when submitting your manuscript for publication
Standards can vary substantially by discipline and/or journal. Researchers should consult the appropriate resources within their field to determine conventions and expectations. See below for a list of inappropriate publication practices.
Things to Avoid when Writing your Manuscript
Authors must include enough information to allow other researchers to reproduce their research.
Improper Use of Statistics
An inappropriate statistical analysis may lead the reader to conclude there is a meaningful difference, or no difference, when in fact the opposite may be true. Knowingly, recklessly or intentionally misusing or skewing statistics is research misconduct.
Ignoring evidence that is contrary to your findings is unethical. Authors should never omit or inaccurately represent relevant literature, methodology, data, and/or results from their manuscripts.
Unnecessarily splitting data into multiple publications wastes resources, falsely creates the impression of greater productivity, and minimizes the scientific contribution of the work. It can also cause fellow researchers to neglect your publications, as all the papers seem trivial.
Inappropriate Publication Practices
Delay of Publication
Deliberately waiting to publish data with the purpose of preventing other researchers from obtaining a key method, reagent, or concept is unethical as it hinders advancement in the field.
Researchers may not submit a manuscript to more than one journal at a time.
Representing old data as new work when it has been published before is misleading to the reader and wastes the limited resources of publication.
Although a technician, student, or postdoc may qualify for authorship, only the PI has the right to determine whether and how data is published. Others may not publish data without the PI’s consent.
Content created by: Jonathan M. Green and PERCSS Task Force III members (James Ballard, Jonathan M Green, Sandra Sue Hale, Erik D. Herzog, Ruth Lewis, Samantha Schlesinger, Cathy Sarli, Joe Henry Steinbach, Frederick Sweet)